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

Pat tries to explain how the cord had been behind a quilt tacked to the wall, and he just doesn't know how Abby had been able to get to it. But his thoughts and words are ever more disjointed.

"Did you get angry with Abby after your wife went to work?" the detective asks.

"No."

Eric Natzel is suspected of criminal wrongdoing in the death of his daughter.
Eric Natzel is suspected of criminal wrongdoing in the death of his daughter.
Abbey Minor's bedroom, shortly after her death last August.
courtesy of Phoenix Police Department
Abbey Minor's bedroom, shortly after her death last August.

Femenia says, "I'm trying to picture what you're telling me, and I'm having a hard time understanding what you're saying, and I want you to think about it."

"I did not do this!" Pat blurts.

"Do what?" Femenia shoots back.

"Kill my daughter!"

Those words hang heavy in the cramped interrogation room.

The interview, however, elicits no admissions or revelations.

At 2:40 p.m., Femenia tells Pat that he's free to return to the apartment complex.

"I know this is the worst day of your life," the detective says, "but there will be people who will be there to support you. If you want to talk with me about anything that may have slipped your mind, you call, okay?"

Pat Lahnan nods.

Femenia returns to East Taylor Street, and immediately heads to the borrowed apartment. He asks Deanna Lahnan, who's sitting there with neighbors and friends, to join him in another room. The detective carries in chairs so they'll have somewhere to sit.

"He loved her," Deanna says of her husband's relationship with their daughter. "She's sort of been our world."

"Any way you figure this could have happened?" Femenia asks her.

"I keep thinking about this -- I don't know."

"Like you, we just want to know what happened," Femenia says, leaning forward. "I'm doing this for Abby. I'm not saying anybody did anything wrong, and I don't want to seem like I'm probing, but I am. It's my job."

Then, he adds: "If anybody tells you anything to shed light on this, call me, okay?"

That's one way of asking Deanna to snitch on Pat if the time comes.

Femenia steps outside, lights a Marlboro, and takes a deep drag.

"I got to see that crime scene," he says, for the umpteenth time.


Jack Ballentine reads Eric Natzel his Miranda warnings against self-incrimination at 10:38 p.m.

They are in a room at the Deer Valley hospital.

The dance about to begin is especially delicate. Ballentine is going to be sympathetic at first to Eric, who's just lost his child. But he wants to lock Eric into a story before he becomes confrontational (if it goes that way).

After the preliminaries, he asks Eric if he's had any run-ins with the law.

"When I was a minor, I had some anger issues," says Eric, a solidly built young man with dark, flashing eyes. "I've worked those out. I had some mishaps with marijuana."

Ballentine isn't aware yet of Eric's legal problems over the previous decade, including accusations of criminal damage, assault, and, in 2001, of threatening to kill his parents.

"Did Abbey have anger problems, like you?" Ballentine asks Eric about 15 minutes into the interview.

"When she fell, she'd scream and cry," Eric replies.

He says his daughter had come out of her bedroom about 4:30 p.m. and jumped on his chest while he was playing Metroids, demanding his attention.

Eric tells Ballentine that he'd ordered Abbey back to her room after she'd interrupted his video-game reverie.

"She was supposed to be taking a nap," he explains.

The next time he saw Abbey, Eric says, she was face-down in the toy box.

The detective pushes Eric to specify what time he last saw or heard Abbey.

"I don't know," Eric says. "I was enthralled in the video game I was playing."

He does recall that Amy had phoned him about 5 p.m., and asked "if the kid was still up, because she wanted to talk to her."

Eric says he looked inside the toy box at Amy's suggestion.

"When I found the kid, I told my wife on the phone, 'Hey, you need to come home. I found her in there,'" he says. "My wife thought I was joking because she knows I B.S. a lot . . . I don't think she thought it was as serious as it ends up being."

Eric's seemingly cavalier attitude is gnawing at Ballentine, though the detective continues to be courteous and impassive.

Eric insists that he never abused his daughter -- ever.

"My dad used to beat me up, so I don't [hit her]," he says. "I don't want to screw my kids up."

Eric suggests that Abbey was a "clumsy" baby, which might account for any bruises on her body.

"But other than that, there'd be no injuries on her," he volunteers.

Almost casually, Ballentine now mentions the injuries he'd seen on Abbey's body.

"Yeah, I noticed them, too," Eric says. "They weren't there this morning. I don't even remember seeing them when I picked her up [out of the toy box]."

Ballentine asks Eric to describe the box.

"In all honesty, I think she could have broke her way out of it," Eric says.

The detective notes the nasty cluster of bruises on Abbey's back.

"Black and blue ones?" Eric asks.

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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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