The deaths of three unidentified babies found in the Mississippi River backwaters southeast of the Twin Cities from 1999 to 2007 have prompted authorities to seek financial help from the public in the hope of identifying the infants and solving the mystery of how they died.
The Sheriff’s Office in Goodhue County, where the babies were found, wants to conduct DNA analyses on the remains as part of its investigation. However, the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement this week that the work “can be very complex and expensive,” with costs approaching $5,000 per case.
The Sheriff’s Office said it has the funding for the first case and is already working closely with Parabon NanoLabs, a company in suburban Washington, D.C., that turns to public genealogy databases for clues. Authorities are looking for donations to fund the work on the 2003 and 2007 cases. Anyone wishing to contribute can visit justicedrive.org.
Sheriff’s investigator Glen Barringer said more than $2,700 was collected in just the first couple of days.
Barringer said his office was forced to turn to private donations because “in this day and age funding is tight, and this is a chunk of money.”
The first newborn was found in November 1999 by a fisherman. The Caucasian girl was located near Red Wing wrapped in a towel. Authorities believe “Jamie” had been in the water near Bay Point Park a week or two after being born alive.
In December 2003, a Caucasian boy was found washed ashore on a Lake Pepin beach by four teenage girls. Investigators think “Cory” lived from one to five days.
Earlier DNA analysis determined that the two infants had the same mother, the Sheriff’s Office has said.
In March 2007, a newborn girl was found in a marina slip by two workers from Treasure Island Resort and Casino near Red Wing. The ethnicity of “Abby” was either American Indian or Hispanic. Authorities estimate she had been in the water for up to six months.
The infant is not related to the other two, “but the details are eerily the same,” the Sheriff’s Office statement from Monday noted.
Law enforcement has circulated computer-generated images of what the babies likely would have looked like in their early months had they survived.
Among the unanswered questions is whether the infants were victims of homicide or abandoned.
“There are a lot of variables that come into play” in trying to solve that part of these cases, Barringer said. “It’s very hard to say.”
Barringer has been investigating the deaths since the first one occurred. Time is running out for him. He’s retiring next year after 39 years with the Sheriff’s Office.
“I’m the last dog familiar with all these cases,” he said. “I’m invested. … We’ve all put a ton of work into this and have come up with nothing. I can’t tell you how many swabs we’ve taken from people’s mouths.”
Just last week, Parabon’s genealogy expertise helped police in Chisholm, Minn., and the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension arrest Michael Carbo Jr., who was charged in the 1986 sexual assault and strangulation of 38-year-old Nancy Daugherty.
Barringer said he’s expecting to hear “some solid information … in the next month or two” from Parabon on the 1999 case.
The discovery of the infant’s body in 1999 inspired, in part, legislation that made Minnesota among the first states to enact a “safe haven” law, which allows a mother to anonymously turn over an unwanted newborn to a hospital within three days of birth with no legal consequences.
The three infants received their names from Jeanne and Don Madtson, a couple in the area who made arrangements and had them buried in the same Red Wing cemetery where they laid to rest their stillborn daughter Ann Marie, more than 30 years ago.
Tips in any of the three deaths can be submitted to the Sheriff’s Office by calling 651-385-3155.