Dad Shares Moment He Learned Pregnant Girlfriend Was Murdered -- and Baby Taken From Her Womb Survived
"How can you have a baby but no Savanna?" Ashton Matheny remembers saying
Savanna had gone to a neighbor’s apartment to model a dress the neighbor said she was sewing, and she hadn’t been seen since. But five days after Savanna — who was eight months pregnant — disappeared, police found a days-old baby, in apparent good health, in the neighbors’ apartment.
“I just broke down,” the 22-year-old North Dakota native tells PEOPLE in an exclusive interview. “I was asking the same question everyone else was: ‘Where’s Savanna? How can you have a baby and no Savanna?'”
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On Aug. 24, Fargo police arrested the neighbor Brooke Lynn Crews, 38, and her live-in boyfriend, William Henry Hoehn, 32, and charged them with conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to commit kidnapping, and giving false information to the police.
Three days later, Savanna’s body was found in the nearby Red River, wrapped in plastic and duct tape. While autopsy results revealed that Savanna died of “homicidal violence,” authorities have not yet specified how or where she died or how the baby was born.
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Crews pleaded guilty to the charges against her on Dec. 11 and will be sentenced on Jan. 16. Hoehn pleaded not guilty in September and is awaiting a March trial. They each face life in prison without parole.
While Hoehn’s attorney did not return calls for comment, Crews’s attorney says he hopes his client’s guilty pleas will help her get a lighter sentence.
Recalling the shock of the day authorities found his newborn, Ashton says he was at his friend’s house, resting after hours of searching for Savanna, when her father called and said authorities were raiding Savanna’s apartment building.
When Ashton got to the building, detectives told him and Savanna’s family that they had found a newborn in the apartment.
Ashton says, “A neighbor saw everything and said, ‘It’s a baby. A little baby with lots of black hair. It kind of looked like you.'”
Since Ashton isn’t sure when the baby was born, he said he has declared her birthday Aug. 21.
Before Savanna disappeared, Ashton and Savanna picked out the baby’s name: Haisley Jo.
“She’s such a happy, calm baby,” he says. “She smiles in her sleep. I touch her cheek and kiss her cheek while she’s sleeping and she smiles.”
Thrust so suddenly into single fatherhood, Ashton says there was a lot he had to learn in the beginning, and he admits he’s still learning about new things like Mary Jane shoes and tights. “Are they like Spandex almost?” he says with a shy smile. “I’m not really familiar with girl clothes so I don’t really know.”
What he does know is how much he loves spending time with his baby girl, who is always by his side. When she naps in her bassinet, he rests on the couch, right next to her. “She likes watching TV with me,” he says. “She watches whatever I watch, like That ‘70s Show.”
He talks and sings to her a lot. “I’m not good at singing but I try,” he says. “She must like it because she smiles.”
Those smiles remind Ashton of Savanna, he says. He was drawn to Savanna, he says, not only because they were both Native Americans and from the Spirit Lake tribe, but because she was so sweet. “She was just so caring,” he says. “She cared about everyone and put everyone before herself. She was such a good person.”
He adds, “I always thought she was really pretty.”
Savanna loved spending time with her niece and nephew, Ashton says. “She loved kids. She would have made the best mom.”
A GoFundMe account has been set up to help Haisley Jo and Ashton with expenses.