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

Butler asks everyone to leave what has become a crime scene. He leads Pat Lahnan to a vacant apartment that the complex manager has opened for authorities. The Lahnans' residence will remain locked until police get a search warrant from a judge, which will take a few hours.

Deanna Lahnan gets home and is led to the empty apartment, where she learns of her baby's death. Pat is there with her. Police officers and neighbors try to calm the couple, an impossible task.

Phoenix homicide detective Alex Femenia reports to the scene about 12:30 p.m. He arrives as three local television crews are pulling into the parking lot.

Abby Lahnan pulled the electrical cord into her crib from behind the comforter on the wall.
courtesy of Phoenix Police Department
Abby Lahnan pulled the electrical cord into her crib from behind the comforter on the wall.
A close-up of the electrical cord turned noose that cost Abby Lahnan her life.
courtesy of Phoenix Police Department
A close-up of the electrical cord turned noose that cost Abby Lahnan her life.

"We looking murder or what?" a breathless reporter asks the veteran detective, who shrugs and keeps moving.

Femenia's homicide sergeant, Pat Kotecki, tells him no one's sure yet if a crime has been committed.

At 1 p.m., the detectives gather around an officer under a shade tree for their briefing.

"The father is being very uncooperative with police right now," the officer tells them.

"The lack of cooperation might be because he's distraught," offers Sergeant Kotecki, always a cool head.

"So right now we're just assuming that a cord was wrapped around the baby's neck?" Femenia asks.

"Yeah," the officer says.

"Okay," Femenia says afterward, unhappy with how little solid information he's gotten. "I want to talk to the father downtown. Let's just consider this a homicide until we sort things out one way or the other."

"What else do we need?" Kotecki asks Femenia.

"Someone to calm Mom down, to schmooze her, get her on our side. She may have some info on hubby's past, if it goes that way."

Femenia tells the cop who will be driving Pat Lahnan to the police station to "low-key it. No cuffs, no judgments, just friendly and helpful."

The detective walks over to the blue blanket. He puts on surgical gloves and pulls back the blue blanket.

The baby is wearing a red pajama top, white socks and a diaper.

She's tiny.

Deep ligature marks are visible around her neck.

"Poor little thing," Femenia says.

The detective thinks aloud as he drives downtown for his interview with Pat Lahnan.

"I'm not sure where this is going," he says. "We don't have a story yet, no real description of the room, no nothing. But we'll figure it out. We have to."


Eric Natzel tells a 911 operator that his daughter Abbey isn't breathing. He seems to be crying.

"Abbey, can you hear me?" Eric asks her, as the operator calmly instructs him in CPR, telling him how to give her two mouthfuls of air.

Phoenix fire paramedics arrive and take over, but the little girl is dead, two months shy of her third birthday.

Eric tells a Phoenix officer at the apartment that he'd sent Abbey into her room for a nap about an hour before he called 911. He says he'd found her inside a closed toy box in a closet.

The paramedics transport Abbey's body to John C. Lincoln-Deer Valley Hospital.

Detective Michael Coddington gets to the hospital around 7 p.m.

He is directed to the emergency room, where Abbey's body has been taken. Coddington sees an abrasion on the child's forehead and small bruises above both eyes.

A doctor informs Coddington that he's also observed several fresh bruises on Abbey's back. The doctor says he questioned Eric Natzel about the injuries, and was told they'd resulted from "normal" falls.

Coddington introduces himself to Eric and Amy, and informs them that other detectives will want to speak with them. What he doesn't tell them is that those detectives work for the homicide unit.

Detective Jack Ballentine is assigned to head the investigation.

His longtime partner, Alex Femenia, also shows up at the hospital at 9 p.m. to assist.

Ballentine wants to interview Abbey's parents separately at the hospital, because it's a less-threatening environment than a police station. Afterward, he'll take a look at the Natzels' apartment.

First, the detective goes to examine Abbey's body. Besides the obvious bruising and abrasions all over her body, he sees that the back of her head is badly swollen.

Just before Eric is interviewed by Ballentine, he speaks briefly with a state Child Protective Services official there to offer assistance.

"Can you help me with my rent?" he asks the woman, who doesn't reply.

Now it's Ballentine's turn.


Alex Femenia apologizes to Pat Lahnan for having had to temporarily separate him from Deanna. You're not under arrest, he reminds Abby's father, and you can leave any time you want.

"Who do you live with?" the detective then asks Pat.

"My wife and daughter."

Pat describes how he'd found Abby entangled in the cord.

"She was hanging there," he says. "I don't know how it could have happened."

"I don't understand how . . . ," Femenia starts.

"I grabbed her," Pat interrupts. "I just freaked out. I picked her up to get her out of that noose. I didn't call 911. I was screaming. A lady did CPR on her. I don't know!"

"I want to get this straight," the detective says, his tone edgier now. "I'm having a hard time understanding how this cord got wrapped around your baby's neck."

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1 comments
Ladyfree
Ladyfree

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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