Pregnant woman lured to death by boyfriend after he promised ‘special gift’

Petite Kelsie Schelling may have stood at just 5ft 4in but she made a big impact on everyone she met.

The 21-year-old was full of life and had a heart as huge as her smile. Mum Laura Saxton loved how bubbly and silly she could be.

Kelsie had been dating Donthe Lucas since they met at college, where he was a basketball player. By February 2013 they were living two hours away from each other in the US state of Colorado – Kelsie in Denver and Lucas in the city of Pueblo – but they still saw each other regularly.

One day, Kelsie had life-changing news for Lucas. She had discovered she was eight weeks pregnant and, although it wasn’t planned, she told her mum she was excited.

She wasn’t sure how Lucas was going to react to the prospect of becoming a dad. They had fought regularly throughout their relationship, breaking up and making up again, but Kelsie and her mum remained hopeful that they could make things work for the sake of the baby.

Laura told Kelsie that she would support her, whether Lucas was in the picture or not.

On 4 February, Kelsie got confirmation of her pregnancy from her doctor and sent the scan pictures to Lucas. She drove to Pueblo that night to meet him, explaining that he had told her to come after work because he had a surprise gift for her.

The next day, Kelsie didn’t turn up for work. A colleague got a text to say she wasn’t having the baby any more and that it had been “growing in the wrong place”, which suggested she’d had a miscarriage.

But concerns grew when calls to her phone went straight to voicemail and the texts people received from her seemed odd – the language and punctuation in the messages was out of character with the way Kelsie usually wrote.

She was reported missing and a major search began. Lucas told officers that the morning after Kelsie arrived, he’d taken her to the Parkview Medical Center because she was losing the baby. But there was no record of a visit.

Lucas said they had then gone to Walmart to get snacks before Kelsie drove back to Denver. This made the police wonder if she’d had an accident on the way home or had been so upset about losing the baby that she’d gone away.

But CCTV footage showed only one person getting out of Kelsie’s car – a male. Eighteen hours later, a man got in it and drove it away. Some observers said the man looked like Lucas but they couldn’t be certain. Fears for her safety grew.

Ten days later, Kelsie’s Chevrolet Cruze was found in a hospital car park in Pueblo. Officers used search dogs to try to find Kelsie and her mum organised community-led searches. In desperate pleas to the public, Laura explained that her daughter was eight weeks pregnant and begged for her safe return.

Laura knew Kelsie wouldn’t just disappear and not get in touch. She was convinced something bad had happened to her – and that the person responsible was Lucas. Laura suspected that he hadn’t been pleased to find out Kelsie was pregnant and had done something terrible to her.

Investigators found more footage showing Lucas driving Kelsie’s car to a cash machine 12 hours after she arrived in Pueblo. He had withdrawn $400 from her account.

Lucas was arrested on 15 February for felony identity theft for using Kelsie’s debit card. But because she would sometimes give him the card to get money out for her, charges had to be dropped.

Mobile phone records showed Kelsie had sent picture messages of her ultrasound to Lucas and he’d told her to come to Pueblo that night to speak in person and get a gift.

“I don’t want to fight at all,” he wrote. “I want to give you this. Just wait and see for yourself, you probably wouldn’t believe me if I told you anyway, so you can see for yourself.”

Kelsie did make it to Pueblo but she was never seen again – and Lucas was the prime suspect. It was clear during questioning that his story had many inconsistencies but he insisted that was because he was drinking and taking drugs the night Kelsie disappeared.

Over the next few months, Laura searched tirelessly for her daughter and kept the investigation going. She continued to organise community searches and started a Help Find Kelsie social media campaign.

There was a $50,000 reward and the heartbreaking message, “Please help bring our girl home.” Laura followed up every tip-off – including one suggesting Kelsie was still alive that ended up being a cruel hoax – but none led to her daughter.

Months turned into years and Kelsie was eventually presumed dead. Lucas remained the focus of the investigation but there was simply no evidence. Then, after changes were made in the investigation team, there was renewed activity on the case.

In April 2017, investigators dug up the back yard of the property where Lucas used to live. A month later, they also searched a field near the house. In November, when Lucas was held in connection with an armed robbery, he was finally charged with murdering Kelsie. It was a shock move when a body had yet to be found.

Officers had spent four long years searching for Kelsie and her family hoped that in return for a plea deal, Lucas might reveal where she was. They were desperate to bring her home and give her a proper burial.

But Lucas pleaded not guilty and with no body, or new evidence, there were huge concerns that a conviction would not be possible.

After many delays, the trial finally started in February this year. The prosecution argued that the surveillance footage and mobile phone records all suggested Lucas was the last person to be with Kelsie before she vanished.

They argued that he had lured her to Pueblo to kill her because he was unhappy about the pregnancy. And they claimed that the man pictured in the CCTV footage, moving Kelsie’s car, was Lucas.

The court heard that the couple’s relationship had a history of domestic violence. Kelsie’s friends testified that Lucas had used her for money, her car and her apartment in Denver – and that starting a family wasn’t what he would have wanted. But the defence said there wasn’t enough evidence to find Lucas guilty. With no DNA and no body it was, in their eyes, a missing persons case. They branded the case the “biggest stretch in Colorado history”.

And yet they surprised everyone when they called no witnesses for the defence.

Following an 18-day trial, the jury took just three hours to find Lucas, 28, guilty of first-degree murder. He was immediately sentenced to the mandatory term of life in prison without the chance of parole.

Eight years after her daughter’s disappearance, Laura told the press that she could finally breathe for the first time.

“But in the end, I didn’t get Kelsie back and that’s what I wanted more than anything,” she added, through tears, as she begged the public to keep searching.

Investigators discovered that Kelsie’s car was seen near a landfill but sadly, after so many years, it would be difficult to search for remains there. However, Laura refuses to rest until her daughter is found.

Kelsie would have turned 30 this year – and likely been a mum to an eight-year-old.

But while she’d been excited about the prospect of bringing new life into the world, it seems her warped partner ended hers and that of her unborn child.

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