The Case of the Two Abigails

One infant dies with her head in a noose, another dies inside a toy chest. Each was in a father's care, and homicide cops want answers

The last morning of Abigail Nicole Lahnan's short life begins peacefully.

It is March 23, 2005, a Wednesday.

Abby, who was born at Phoenix Baptist Hospital on November 28, 2003, awakens in her crib across the hall from her parents, Deanna and Patrick. The young family lives in a second-story unit at the Papago Park Apartments on Taylor Street in east Phoenix.

Matt Bors
Abigail Rose Minor, shortly before her death.
courtesy of Faith Nyman
Abigail Rose Minor, shortly before her death.

Both parents work long hours, Deanna for a Mesa real estate firm and Pat as a baggage handler at Sky Harbor International Airport. On his days off, Pat works out of his home for a local mortgage company.

Deanna feeds Abby a waffle, a banana and milk before leaving for a work-related class at 8:30 a.m. After that, she plans on heading to her job.

It's one of Pat's days off from his airport job.

Pat places Abby in her crib for a nap about 9:30, and closes her door behind him.

He takes a shower, and then goes to work on his computer.

Time slips away. About 11:30, Pat goes to check on Abby, who's been in her crib for going on two hours.

He opens the bedroom door.

Moments later, Pat starts to scream.

The last day of Abigail Rose Minor's short life also begins peacefully.

It is August 26, 2005, a Friday.

This Abigail was born October 24, 2002, at Thunderbird Samaritan Hospital, to Amy and Eric Natzel (they weren't married when Amy Minor bore her first child, named after the celebrated Beatles LP Abbey Road).

Eric is 26. Amy is 22, and just a few weeks from giving birth to her second child, who's going to be a boy.

The Natzels live in a two-bedroom unit at the Cactus Trail Apartments, near Interstate 17 and Deer Valley Road.

Amy Natzel works at a CVS pharmacy, where she's known as dependable and friendly. But her co-workers, friends and family know of her miserable home life.

Though she's pregnant, Amy looks dangerously underweight, and often seems depressed.

They blame Eric, her husband of two years.

Eric is unemployed, and he tends to Abbey while his wife works.

His idea of a perfect day is playing video games and smoking weed. His latest obsession is Metroids, a game in which alien predators suck the life out of their prey like leeches.

That's how Eric's in-laws view his relationship with their daughter. They consider him a self-centered boor with a hair-trigger temper.

Abbey awakens her father about 10:30 a.m. on the 26th. Dad and daughter shower together as Amy putters around. Amy serves Abbey a bowl of ramen noodles before leaving for work about 12:30 p.m.

Eric soon takes Abbey to a nearby park. But it's awfully hot; the high temperature in Phoenix will reach 109 degrees. Eric and Abbey soon return to the air-conditioned apartment.

By now, it's early afternoon, and Eric tells Abbey to go watch cartoons (Lilo & Stitch) in her room before napping. He loses track of time, saying later, "I was enthralled in the video game I was playing."

Amy phones him from work sometime after 5 p.m. She asks where Abbey is, that she'd like to say hello. He looks around the child's cluttered bedroom, but can't find her. Eric gets back on the phone and tells his wife.

Amy tells him to look in the bathroom. But Abbey isn't there, either.

She suggests that Eric look more carefully in Abbey's bedroom closet, where a cardboard toy box with a domed lid sits on the floor. Amy had seen Abbey playing in and around the box a day earlier, and knows how the colorful cartoon characters painted on it attract her little girl.

Eric returns to the phone and tells Amy there's a problem.

Abbey is choking, he tells his wife. Get home.

He hangs up and dials 911.

It's 5:37 p.m. A ceiling fan hangs from the middle of Abby Lahnan's bedroom. An electrical cord entwined with a decorative chain runs from the fan across the ceiling and down a wall to an outlet.

Abby's crib is up against that wall.

Pat Lahnan says later that Abby somehow pulled the cord into her crib in the shape of a noose. He will say he saw Abby's little head tangled in the "noose," and that she wasn't breathing. He'd freed her and pulled her out of the crib.

Pat doesn't think to call 911. In fact, he's not thinking at all.

He runs down the steps with Abby in his arms.

Oklahoma resident Shawna Rogers is sunbathing by the complex swimming pool. She's visiting her father, who lives at the complex.

A man holding a baby to his chest rushes toward Shawna shouting, "Oh my God! Help me!

"The lamp cord was around her neck!" he tells her. "She's not breathing!"

Someone calls 911 at 11:50 a.m. It comes in as a possible child drowning.

Shawna takes Abby and places her on a patch of grass near the pool. She performs CPR on the baby, but her efforts are futile.

Phoenix Fire Department paramedics pronounce Abby dead at the scene.

Someone covers the baby's body with a blue blanket.

Officer Steven Butler goes upstairs to the Lahnans' apartment.

Pat is sobbing on his living-room floor as a firefighter and a neighbor try to console him. He's called Deanna at work in Mesa, but about all he could get out is to come home, and that it's about Abby.

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My Voice Nation Help

This case has haunted me for years and I wish there was something more I could do to help. See, I knew Eric when he was about 12 or 13. I was an acquaintance. He lived down the street from me. One day when I was walking home from school he put his arm around me and grabbed my chest. I was 10. I yelled at him and nobody else was around. He tried to pull me back into an alley by grabbing me by my arms. I got away and ran home. There was always something off about him and my parents filed a report and did not press charges. It really scared me and I hate to think about what he would have done to me. I believe he should be locked up forever for doing this.


Thanks Mr. Rubin,

I just finished reading your article, and my question is what did CPS do to the mother in this case? Did they question whether she new about the bruising or what? Here you have a fatality and the mother goes on with her life, when many (thousands) of other mothers are harassed by CPS and threatened to have their rights taken from them! Some for minor to serious injuries, but not fatal! Bias, in all sense of the word! Arizona CPS needs to be investigated at how they mishandle the lives of children & families in Arizona! This is a good article Maybe next time you'll try going alongside a CPS investigator or caseworker! There's a lot there to be uncovered also!

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