Nine months pregnant with her second child, Marlen Ochoa-Lopez went to Clarisa Figueroa’s home last month to buy baby clothes, just as she had done at least once before, authorities said.
But four hours later, Figueroa stood on a sidewalk and called 911, claiming she had given birth to a baby who was brain dead.
In that short time, 19-year-old Ochoa-Lopez had been strangled and her baby had been cut out of her womb in a grisly crime that took authorities three more weeks to uncover, Chicago police said.
Police announced murder charges against Figueroa, 46, and her 24-year-old daughter, Desiree Figueroa, at a news conference Thursday afternoon that marked the culmination of weeks of agony for Ochoa-Lopez’s family.
Clarisa Figueroa’s boyfriend, 40-year-old Piotr Bobak, was also charged with concealing a homicidal death, police said. The three were expected to appear in criminal court Friday.
“Words really cannot express how disgusting and thoroughly disturbing these allegations are,” CPD Supt. Eddie Johnson said at the news conference. “And I’d like to offer my sincere condolences and prayers to Marlen’s family, who instead of celebrating the arrival of a new life into their family are now mourning Marlen’s loss.”
Investigation ‘took a turn’
Though three weeks passed between Ochoa-Lopez’s disappearance and the filing of murder charges, the 19-year-old’s stop at Clarisa Figueroa’s home in the 4100 block of West 77th Place was brief before it became deadly, Deputy Chief of Detectives Brendan Deenihan said Thursday.
Ochoa-Lopez had previously bought baby items from Clarisa Figueroa and arranged for another meet-up in the afternoon of April 23 through a Facebook group geared toward young mothers, Deenihan said. By 6 p.m. that evening, Clarisa Figueroa was on the phone with 911 after she and her daughter had allegedly killed the expectant mother. The older Figueroa told emergency workers she was suffering from “post-delivery issues,” a police source told the Chicago Sun-Times.
Detectives started working the case two days after Ochoa-Lopez disappeared, and the day after her husband, 20-year-old Yiovanni Lopez, reported his wife missing. She had last been seen about 3 p.m. the day of her disappearance, leaving her high school — Latino Youth High School near Cullerton and California — about 8 miles from the home on 77th Place.
Little progress was made in the investigation over the next two weeks. Despite Ochoa-Lopez’s car later being found near Clarisa Figueroa’s home with several parking tickets, Deenihan said detectives didn’t quickly find the car because it was nowhere near Ochoa-Lopez’s home or school.
”From the 25th of April to the 7th of May, detectives are basically working with the family and friends trying to locate Marlen and her car,” Deenihan said. “It’s during this time frame we don’t have any reason to believe that she’s in the area of 77th and Pulaski.”
The investigation “took a turn” on May 7 when one of Ochoa-Lopez’s friends told detectives about the Facebook group the missing woman was a member of, Deenihan said. Detectives checked Ochoa-Lopez’s social media account and learned that Ochoa-Lopez had arranged to pick up second-hand baby clothes from Clarisa Figueroa on the day she went missing.
Investigators went to Figueroa’s house and spoke with Desiree Figueroa, who initially only told them her mother was at the hospital with leg pains before “giving an extremely odd story” that her mom had just given birth, according to Deenihan. Police also found Ochoa-Lopez’s car in the area.
That same day, detectives went to the hospital and interviewed Clarisa Figueroa, who denied Ochoa-Lopez was at her home the day she went missing, but acknowledged the two had met before, Deenihan said.
After those two interviews, police were “fully aware of the direction this was going” and performed DNA testing to find out the true parentage of the baby. Those results showed Lopez was the real father.
On Tuesday, police executed a search warrant at Clarisa Figueroa’s house and found Ochoa-Lopez’s body in a garbage can in the backyard, Deenihan said. Also in the trash can were bleach, cleaning solution and the coaxial cable police said was used to strangle Ochoa-Lopez. Detectives found blood throughout the house and remnants of the expectant mother’s clothes.
Both Figueroa women and the older woman’s boyfriend were arrested at the home late Tuesday, police said. After more than 24 hours of interrogations, Desiree Figueroa confessed early Thursday that she helped her mother strangle Ochoa-Lopez, Deenihan said.
Police did not give a clear motive for the plot, but CPD Sgt. Michael Malinowski said Clarisa Figueroa’s 27-year-old son passed away two years ago, and the family may have “wanted to fill that void.” Johnson said detectives suspected the women planned to “raise the child as their own.”
‘Plenty of clues’
Arnulfo Ochoa, Ochoa-Lopez’s father, said Thursday that he grew frustrated and lost confidence with the Chicago police detectives who were on the case of his missing daughter.
“There were plenty of clues, and in my view this all took way too long. They kept saying how a judge had to OK every request — to check her phone, to check Facebook,” he said.
“I hired a private investigator and he found all of that information, where my daughter was murdered, and he shared that information with police,” he said.
Also frustrating, Ochoa-Lopez’s father said, was learning that his daughter’s car was parked just a block from where her body was found and had multiple parking tickets on it, yet city employees did not realize they were putting citations on the car of a missing woman.
Johnson said Thursday that the detectives did their best to quickly resolve the case but that anger from the grieving family was understood.
“I can’t even pretend to imagine what that family is going through right now,” Johnson said. “I know our detectives do the best they can, and oftentimes in very trying situations. It’s not always the way people want it to be done, that’s just the reality of the world we live in.
“There’s a lot of evidence to pore over,” Johnson said. “Once we got that information — this is not TV, this is real life — you still have to gather the evidence to properly charge the individuals responsible.”
Johnson also said detectives had no way of immediately connecting Clarisa Figueroa and the baby she brought to the hospital to Ochoa-Lopez’s disappearance.
“I won’t comment on the hospital; you have to ask them their protocols and procedures,” Johnson said. “What I can tell you is this: On that particular day, there was nothing to tip us off that those two things were related.”
In a statement, officials at Christ Medical Center said their “top priority is to provide the safest and highest quality care for the patients and communities we serve.” Officials declined to comment on the specifics of the case or the protocol followed, citing privacy and other regulations.
The state’s Department of Children and Family Services received a tip about allegations of abuse or neglect against Yadiel Yiovanni Lopez on May 9, and Clarisa Figueroa was identified as the “alleged perpetrator,” agency spokesman Jassen Strokosch said late Thursday. The child welfare agency took temporary custody of the boy and began working with police at that time, Strokosch said. The agency plans to release a more detailed timeline of its involvement in the near future.
Strokosch said the agency has not had previous contact with Clarisa Figueroa.
Family prays for a miracle
Now that their worst fears had proven true about the pregnant mother, Ochoa-Lopez’s family said they were focused on praying for a miracle so that her infant son — who survived, but is brain-dead and on life support — can recover.
“I have a lot of faith that the baby’s going to live. God is going to give me that miracle. We’re anxiously waiting to have him, to love him,” Yiovanni Lopez, 20, said outside the Cook County medical examiner’s office Thursday morning, where he’d just identified the body of his wife.
Lopez said the couple’s other son, 3-year-old Joshua “feels sad” and keeps asking where his mom is.
Ochoa-Lopez’s father said his daughter loved to laugh and help others.
“She was a girl with big dreams, with a bright future ahead of her,” Ochoa recalled. “ ... She was a very good mom — the best, because I saw how she treated her kids.”
Ochoa-Lopez was a regular at church and took her son to Bible study, family said. Her mother, Raquel Uriostegui, said she was glad her daughter was no longer suffering.
“She was an angel ... and now she’s in heaven,” she said.
Asked what her last message would be to her daughter, Uriostegui said: “I didn’t expect that you would leave so early. You will always be in my heart.
Contributing: Matthew Hendrickson