Pregnancy lie drew suspect, slain mom's fates together

Published: Monday, July 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, July 1, 2002 at 12:00 a.m.
MIAMI - The woman with the umbrella who approached Myrtho Jean-Louis' car surprised him with her kindness as she helped his fiancee and 6-month-old son into the hospital clinic for the child's routine checkup.
Several hours later, he saw the same woman on television. Jennifer Irene Graves, looking disheveled and grim, stood before a Lee County judge, accused of fatally shooting Jean-Louis' fiancee, Ronnie Holton, and stealing their son.
"She came out of nowhere," Jean-Louis said. "After I left Ronnie at the hospital, she must have followed her and gotten buddy-buddy with her."
Police said Graves befriended Holton at the hospital and ultimately killed her because she wanted a child of her own.
"We're totally devastated by this," Graves' adoptive father, William Graves, said Saturday. "I just have no idea why she would get herself into this."
Accounts of Graves' behavior by her stepfather suggest that in the months leading to her arrest she went to extremes to lie to those close to her, including her boyfriend of five years, about being pregnant.
William Graves said he adopted Jennifer shortly after marrying her mother, Greta, and settling into an apartment in New York's East Village neighborhood in Manhattan. Jennifer's biological father was never in the picture, he said.
Jennifer Graves moved to Fort Myers about four years ago with Eli Williams, whom she met while taking classes at a community college in Manhattan.
The couple's relationship was "stormy, to say the least," William Graves said, but the couple had been talking about having kids.
In September, Jennifer Graves called her parents' home in New York City to say she was three months pregnant. William Graves said he felt the pregnancy was a sign that their daughter was settling down, getting her life together.
In January, about the time when Holton gave birth to her son, Jeremiah, Graves sent her mother and stepfather a handmade card with a sonogram image of her baby.
Weeks later, she called to say she had given birth to a baby boy. Her parents immediately asked for pictures of the baby. Graves said she would send some photos of the child, but never did.
In time, William Graves and his wife began to believe the baby didn't exist. And they started to question whether their daughter had miscarried twins two years earlier.
The lies began to unravel last week, when Williams called Graves' parents and said their daughter had told him his baby boy was staying with them in New York, William Graves said.
Williams told them he had never seen the child either, Graves' stepfather said.
Graves' parents went back to the sonogram picture, took it out of its handmade frame and noticed the date on the bottom: 1980. "I don't know what the proper psychological term is, but she concocted this whole phantom baby thing," William Graves said.
Williams did not return repeated phone calls for comment. William Graves said he did not know if the couple were living together. He added that he hasn't seen his stepdaughter in more than a year.
"She really snapped over all this and created this whole fantasy," he said. "She just got something in her mind that she wanted a baby."
Police say Graves' apparent desperate longing for a baby culminated violently Wednesday.
Authorities say Graves shot Holton in the head, then dumped the 21-year-old on the side of the road. Holton hung on for three days, but died early Saturday at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.
Graves returned Wednesday to her Fort Myers apartment, about 120 miles northwest of Miami, carrying Holton and Jean-Louis' son.
She told neighbors she had given birth to the boy two months ago, police said.
This lie didn't hold together for long. Williams became suspicious. Graves confessed to him that she had murdered Holton. Williams called the Lee County police. Among other charges, Graves now faces a first-degree murder charge, which carries a possible death sentence.
Jeremiah returned to his father's arms Saturday after spending three nights under the care of the Department of Children & Families. The child will remain in his maternal grandmother's care until Jean-Louis can establish legal custody of the him. The boy's birth documents mistakenly list Jean-Louis as the boy's uncle, not his father and legal guardian, Jean-Louis said.
The boy's father lamented his son will not grow up with the love of his mother, who he described as a kind, caring woman with whom he fell in love five years ago.
Jean-Louis and Holton planned on raising a big family, at least three or four kids.
He said Holton, who grew up in Miami and was raised by her grandmother and aunt, spent all of her money on baby toys and clothes for her son. She also loved spending time with her family on fishing trips, Jean-Louis said.
"Ronnie was the type of person that when you met her, you can't forget because she gave her all and held nothing back," Jean-Louis said Saturday.
Jean-Louis said Holton was not outgoing nor the type to talk to strangers, like Graves.
"I'm thinking Ronnie thought that was a very nice thing to do," he said, referring to Graves using her umbrella to help Holton stay dry as she walked into the hospital. "She was everything to me."

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