A maintenance man dug deep into a Baton Rouge apartment complex’s dumpster in July 1990, fishing for aluminum cans he could trade in for a little pocket money. Instead, he found a black garbage bag containing a tiny newborn baby, a girl with a full head of black hair. She was wrapped in a blue terry cloth robe, her umbilical cord still attached.
She was dead.
Twenty-four years later, cold case detectives are still looking for answers: Who is the mother of Baby Jane Doe, as she’s known to investigators? Who tossed her into the dumpster at the complex that is now One Lakeshore Place Apartments, 940 Stanford Ave.?
Did she die during childbirth or did someone kill her?
But in a difficult twist for homicide detectives, there exists one additional, perplexing mystery: No one seems to know what happened to Baby Jane’s remains.
“Basically we know nothing other than apparently a white female gave birth to a white female and the baby was discarded,” said John Dauthier, a Baton Rouge police cold case detective and lead investigator in the case.
Dauthier estimates the baby was born about two to four hours before the maintenance worker found her because the body had not begun to decompose.
When he reopened the case two years ago, Dauthier found that the placenta and umbilical cord had been kept and there was enough tissue to get a DNA sample. With that kind of evidence, Dauthier initially thought, the case would be quickly cracked.
But that turned out to be far from reality.
Over the years, much of the organic items gathered at the scene degraded, rendering them useless for testing, Dauthier said. It turned out the only evidence that could be submitted for testing was a blood stain found on the baby’s blue robe.
Technicians at the State Police Crime Lab were able to create a DNA profile from that blood stain, but without the victim’s remains, investigators have no way of knowing if the blood belonged to the mother or Baby Jane.
Lab technicians ran the profile through a national criminal DNA database known as CODIS, the Combined DNA Index System, but did not get a match. CODIS typically contains DNA profiles of people who have been arrested.
The sample continuously is compared to DNA analyses entered into the system. If the blood belonged to the baby, and a profile of a close relative is submitted, it would come up as a match, said Joanie Brocato, the state police’s head DNA analyst.
Complicating the case is the 1990 coroner’s report, which lists the cause of death as drowning, possibly on amniotic fluid, but does not say if the drowning was intentional or an accident. The coroner’s report should identify the manner of death, whether it was natural, accidental, homicide or unknown. In Baby Jane Doe’s case, the manner of death is not provided.
“While I do take into consideration this could have been a tragic accident by, perhaps, a young mother who didn’t know what else to do, I think this baby deserves an explanation,” Dauthier said. “But without someone coming forward to tell us that, I have to assume that I am looking for someone who murdered their newborn child.”
Cold case trail cools
When first assigned to cold cases in 2012, Dauthier pored over hundreds of files stuffed in filing cabinets, searching for cases in which there was evidence available for DNA testing. That kind of genetic testing was not reliable nor had it found much acceptance in the courtroom in 1990.
When Dauthier realized he didn’t have a good DNA sample for Baby Jane, he knew the case was going to be difficult.
The detectives who originally worked the case had identified two women as suspects. Dauthier brought both of them in for questioning and tested their DNA, but neither was a match. A chance phone call Dauthier received during the investigation yielded a third suspect, a woman from another state that Dauthier would not identify.
But, again, the woman’s DNA did not match.
“It was just a wild goose chase,” Dauthier said of his trip to interview the third suspect. “At this point, everyone has been eliminated.”
Dauthier confronted the same problem the original investigators faced: a lack of evidence.
The only clues detectives had in 1990 were two witness statements.
One witness said he saw a large woman toss an object in the dumpster about 8 a.m. on July 3, 1990, Dauthier said. The other witness told police he saw a large white woman with dark hair, wearing a dress, leaving the area in the back of a red hatchback car.
Detectives believed that woman may have been the baby’s mother because the robe the baby was wrapped in would have fit a large woman, Dauthier said. But because the witness did not write down a license plate, and traffic and security cameras police rely on today were not around 24 years ago, they were unable to find the woman.
Hospitals in Baton Rouge had no records of mothers giving birth in the four-hour time frame before the baby’s body was found.
Dauthier said he spent hours each day for about eight months running down every lead.
“I spent an enormous amount of time on this,” he said.
He stepped away from the case for about seven months before asking fellow homicide Detective Scott Hodgins to look over the files to see if he could find something that other detectives overlooked.
“I’m hoping there is some mom out there who just can’t hardly live with herself anymore, is dying to tell this story and sees that we see this may not be first-degree murder,” Dauthier said. “This may be a horrible accident.”
Where are the remains?
One of the snags holding up the investigation is that authorities have no idea where the baby’s body is buried — or even if it was buried versus cremated. The coroner’s files on the case have been lost and there were no redundancies in place to guard against permanently losing the information.
Hypolite Landry, the East Baton Rouge Parish coroner in 1990, said recently that he did not remember anything about the case.
State Archaeologist Chip McGimsey, whose department oversees protecting and preserving abandoned cemeteries, said there is no list that contains all burials in Louisiana, and each cemetery is responsible for its own record keeping.
Dauthier said investigators are checking with the cemeteries that take in unclaimed remains to see if one of them may have taken Baby Jane.
“We don’t have a ‘go-to’ place because we don’t have these types of cases often,” he said.
So far, they have checked with Greenoaks Memorial Park and come up empty, Dauthier said. Officials with Greenoaks told Hodgins that it is possible the baby is buried there, but their records do not indicate it.
Dauthier said police have had luck finding children buried at Greenoaks in the past, alluding to the case of Christine Noel Love, a baby whose body was found in the back of a dump truck in 2002 and later buried by a nonprofit group.
Love’s mother, JoAnn King, 30, was sentenced to 12 years in prison in March after admitting to throwing the infant into a trash can.
Dauthier said he next intended to speak to officials with the Historic Magnolia Cemetery.
Larry Gates, who has been with that cemetery officially and unofficially for more than 30 years, said it is possible that the baby is buried there because Magnolia is a public cemetery. But Gates said he knows of only two or three children buried at Magnolia and those are identified.
Gates said that in the past 10 years, cemetery officials began cremating some paupers, but before that, they were buried along the rear fence of the cemetery, next to Main Street. Sometimes they would bury the bodies on top of each other when they ran out of room, Gates said.
“Unfortunately, that long ago, I doubt … even if (the Coroner’s Office) has a record available, it wouldn’t say anything other than Magnolia Cemetery,” said Chip Landry, chairman of the cemetery’s board of trustees. “There’s no complete record of who’s buried there.”
This type of problem, in which remains are lost, would not happen today with all the record keeping safeguards in place, parish Coroner Beau Clark said.
For unclaimed but identified remains, Clark said he will wait for 60 days — 30 days longer than state law requires — and only after gathering all the forensic evidence needed for their files, cremate the bodies.
The ashes are spread over a solitary slice of land in the Magnolia Cemetery designated solely for paupers, he said.
But for unidentified remains, the Coroner’s Office buries the bodies in case they need to exhume the remains at a later date.
Shane Evans, the coroner’s chief investigator, said doctors will take a DNA sample and create a genetic profile to keep in the file.
Evans also said that when the coroner buries a body, he records the address of the cemetery and the exact GPS location of the grave.
“If we had done this years ago on this baby, the detectives would have what they need,” Evans said.