After two days of searching, the 33-year-old woman finally spotted Maritza Ramirez-Cruz, who was just a week from her due date. Morales-Rodriguez lured the young Puerto Rican immigrant into her home, according to court documents, and beat her with a baseball bat before cutting her full-term fetus from her womb with an X-Acto knife, killing both the mother and the baby.
Morales-Rodriguez now faces charges of first-degree intentional homicide while armed and first-degree intentional homicide of an unborn child while armed. She faces mandatory life in prison if convicted.
She told investigators she had grown increasingly desperate as her own supposed due date approached. She said she planned for two weeks to find a pregnant woman, according to the criminal complaint filed Monday.
Her search started last Wednesday, court documents say. On Thursday, she drove around a nonprofit organization that provides Hispanics with health care and found 23-year-old Ramirez-Cruz, who was pregnant with her fourth child and had gone to her doctor's office to drop off some paperwork.
Morales-Rodriguez told investigators she offered Ramirez-Cruz a ride, and the younger woman accepted, the criminal complaint said.
Telling Ramirez-Cruz she needed to change her shoes, she drove them to her weathered two-story house on Milwaukee's south side. Ramirez-Cruz went inside to use the bathroom. When she emerged, Morales-Rodriguez bludgeoned the pregnant woman with a baseball bat, the complaint said.
As Ramirez-Cruz lay on the floor, Morales-Rodriguez straddled her, choked her until she passed out, duct-taped her hands, feet, mouth and nose and put a plastic bag over head, according to the complaint. Then she sliced into Ramirez-Cruz's stomach with an X-Acto knife and pulled out the baby, the complaint said.
She told detectives she was trying to imitate a procedure she had seen on the Discovery Channel, the complaint said. When she pulled the fetus out, the baby wasn't breathing, Morales-Rodriguez said. She then dragged Ramirez-Cruz's body into the basement and hid it, according to the complaint.
She smeared some of Ramirez-Cruz's blood on her thighs to make people think she, Morales-Rodriguez, was bleeding from giving birth. She called 911 and said she'd given birth to a stillborn. She was taken to a hospital, but left before she was fully examined, the complaint said.
An autopsy the next day revealed the baby wasn't the product of a natural birth. Police returned to Morales-Rodriguez's house and took her back to the hospital, where an examination verified she hadn't given birth, according to the complaint.
Police later found Ramirez-Cruz's body in Moralez-Rodriguez's basement, the complaint said.
During a brief court appearance Monday afternoon, Morales-Rodriguez stood mute as her bail was set at $1 million. Online court records didn't list an attorney for her.
Maria Garcia, 44, who lives next to Morales-Rodriguez and described her as her best friend, said she believed Morales-Rodriguez was pregnant. She even felt her belly, she said. Other neighbors said they saw her toting baby toys into the house.
"I don't know what she had in her mind when she did that," Garcia said, tears filling her eyes. "I'm sorry for what she did to this girl. Nobody had to take a life."
The last time Garcia saw her, on Oct. 3, Morales-Rodriguez told her she was going to have a cesarean section in two weeks, Garcia said. But she also seemed depressed, refusing to come out of her house to even join Garcia for a walk.
"She just wanted to be in the house," Garcia said, tears filling her eyes. "I'm so confused, I don't know what to do."
Carlos Mercado, 59, is the grandfather of the other three children his son, Christian, had with Ramirez-Cruz. He said the couple were childhood sweethearts in Puerto Rico.
"My heart, oh my God, it's hurting me. I can't sleep," Mercado said.
His son, who declined to speak with reporters who visited his home Monday, doesn't have any money and now he must raise the couple's other children alone. The oldest is only six.
"He'll have to be the mother and father. I don't know how he's going to make it. He's got to grow them up, take them to school, get them in the shower," Mercado said. "He's real sad. He's real hurt."
So-called "fetal abduction" cases are extremely rare, police say, but far from unheard of. Cases of women taking an unborn child from a mother's womb were reported in Massachusetts and Oregon in 2009, in Pennsylvania in 2007, in Illinois in 2006 and Missouri in 2004.
Morales-Rodriguez is due back in court on Oct. 19 for a preliminary hearing.