PLEASANT GROVE, Utah -- The infants were found in cardboard boxes, each one rolled up in a shirt or towel and tucked into a plastic bag. One had been stillborn, their mother, Megan Huntsman, told police. The other six, she said, she had strangled or smothered immediately after giving birth, and interred them in the garage of her family's pink-brick home here.
For more than a decade, Ms. Huntsman's pregnancies and the short lives of her seven babies apparently went unnoticed by relatives and neighbors. Then, this weekend, as her estranged husband and other relatives were cleaning out the garage, they found a tiny body in a plastic bag, uncovering a grisly scene that has left veteran police investigators shaken and exposing a story that has stunned families across this city.
"I just can't imagine how something like this happens," police Chief Michael Smith said. "I don't think there's any motive that could ever be given that allows you to wrap your mind around it in any way."
On Monday, as a Utah district judge set a $6 million bail for Ms. Huntsman -- $1 million for every count of murder she is expected to face -- investigators sought to unravel questions about how a mother of three who baby-sat for neighbors' children could have concealed such a terrible secret for so long, and how nobody else could have noticed. "There are still things we're still puzzled about," Chief Smith said.
In an affidavit released Monday, a Pleasant Grove detective reported that Ms. Huntsman, 39, said she had given birth to the seven children at home from 1996 through 2006, and that all but one had been born alive. After waiving her rights against self-incrimination, the affidavit said, she admitted to killing six of those children.
But neighbors said that, in addition to her two adult daughters, Ms. Huntsman also has an adolescent daughter who was born during that period, raising further questions about the timing of the deaths, and why one child may have lived while seven others died. Police have said DNA tests were being conducted on the murdered babies to determine their biological parents.
Police declined to answer any questions about Ms. Huntsman's background or her mental health history, and the affidavit makes no mention of a motive.
In Pleasant Grove, people are left with little else but questions. Neighbors who knew the family for years called Ms. Huntsman a shy but kind neighbor who would occasionally watch their children and grandchildren. Her weight seemed to fluctuate, but they said she often wore baggy clothes.
Neighbors said Ms. Huntsman, her now-estranged husband, Darren West and their two oldest daughters had moved into the Pleasant Grove home more than 15 years ago, and some neighbors offered fond recollections of play dates and backyard barbecues. But those days did not last.
In December 2005, West pleaded guilty to federal charges of possessing chemicals used to manufacture methamphetamine, although he said he was an intermediary and did not make the drug or even know how to produce it. He was recently released from prison and was in a residential re-entry management program in Salt Lake City, according to a federal prisoner database.