RAVENNA, Ohio - They met by chance in the infants and toddlers section of a Wal-Mart. One woman was shopping for baby clothes. The other was looking for a baby.
They talked casually about pregnancies and learned they lived just blocks from each other. Theresa Andrews told Michelle Bica that she was due to give birth to a boy in about a month.
The conversation turned out to be a death sentence for Andrews.
Bica, 39, had lied to neighbors, relatives and even her own husband for months, telling them she was pregnant. With her fake due date approaching fast - her weight made it appear she could be pregnant - Bica was desperate to produce a baby.
On Sept. 27, police say, Bica lured the 23-year-old Andrews to her house by pretending she wanted to buy the Jeep that Andrews and her husband, Jon, were selling.
Just inside the back door of her laundry room, Bica killed Theresa Andrews with a single shot to the back, then immediately performed a crude Caesarean section to deliver the baby.
Bica passed the baby off as her own until five days later, when she committed suicide in a locked bedroom as police arrived to question her about calls made to the Andrews' house. The baby was sleeping in the adjacent nursery.
The case stunned this quiet community of 12,000 located about 30 miles southeast of Cleveland, a town better known for its hot-air balloon festival.
''It's very difficult for a small town like ours to have to go through this sort of tragedy,'' said Mayor Paul Jones. ''We're the kind of town where everyone knows everyone.''
Police say it took Bica just six hours to lure Andrews to her home, kill her and remove the baby, bury Andrews' body in the dirt floor of the Bica garage, clean up the bloody mess and then call her husband to tell him she had just given birth to a boy at home.
When Thomas Bica, a county corrections officer, asked his wife why she hadn't called to say she was going into labor, she told him she was in too much pain. He believed her.
''I would characterize him as being naive,'' police Chief Randall McCoy said.
Neighbors described Thomas Bica as a friendly man who stutters and appears to be gullible. He met Michelle in 1994 while she served a jail sentence for receiving stolen property. A 1997 work evaluation said he was sometimes ''out of touch with commonsensical type of behavior.''
Police said evidence shows Bica acted alone and her husband has not been charged. DNA tests confirmed the baby was the Andrews' child.
''Michelle Zonko Bica has been living a life of fiction and deception,'' Thomas Bica, 41, said in a statement Friday. ''Thomas Bica and family members truly believed that Michelle was pregnant.''
He said he would not attend his wife's funeral.
The depth of Michelle Bica's deception shocked people who knew her.
She started telling people she was pregnant in December. She showed off an ultrasound picture - possibly from a previous miscarriage - talked about doctor appointments, had people touch her abdomen and held a baby shower.
She and her husband toured the birthing facilities at Akron General Medical Center. They met with a priest to talk about the child's christening and rented a hall for the celebration.
Psychiatrists said she wasn't necessarily psychotic.
''The urge to have a baby can be very strong. Sometimes when there is a miscarriage, a woman feels she cannot have a baby and that desperation becomes so much stronger,'' said Phillip Resnick, professor of psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University.
Neighbor Renee Pinkley said Bica didn't look very pregnant a couple of months ago, but the 5-foot-3, 180-pound woman explained that her doctor had said she wouldn't start showing until just before her due date.
Bica sometimes asked Pinkley, mother of girls ages 2 and 6 months, unusual questions such as what a birth certificate looked like and what type of care package the hospital sent home with new mothers.
Jon Andrews is in seclusion with his first child, who was named Oscar as his wife had wished. The boy is healthy and weighs almost 9 pounds now. A memorial service for Theresa Andrews was scheduled for Sunday.
Some questions may never be answered. Investigators can't figure out how Bica managed to move the victim's body from her house to her detached garage about 10 feet away in daylight and bury it without anyone knowing.
They don't know what she used to cut Theresa Andrews open or how she did it without hurting the baby.
Such incisions are not easy, said Dinesh Shah, director of maternal-fetal medicine for University Hospitals of Cleveland.
''An incision in the uterus involves carefully cutting through layers of muscle fiber without injuring the fetus because the fetus is right under there,'' Shah said.
Pinkley is still unnerved by one of her last conversations with Bica.
''She said 'You can't trust anybody.' It's sick she would say that. It gives me the creeps knowing her,'' she said. ''She was in my home and watched my girls. To think she seemed so normal.''