Valley News – The investigation into the death of ‘Baby Doe’ in Vermont closes after 40 years without criminal charges

No criminal charges will be filed in the 1982 death of “Baby Doe,” Vermont State Police announced this week, ending the long-standing investigation.

More than forty years after a group of schoolchildren found a deceased baby on the side of a road in Northfield, the techniques of genetic genealogy helped identify the baby’s biological parents. It’s one of the first times DNA has revived a cold case like this in Vermont, said Capt. Jeremy Hill, who outlined the case to reporters during an afternoon videoconference.

“The technology has advanced to the point where we can do this now,” said Hill, chief of the state police major crimes division.

After reviewing the evidence, including statements from both the mother and father, Washington State Attorney Michelle Donnelly said she decided not to charge the couple with murder.

“The evidence developed in the case did not indicate any intentional act that would indicate a homicide,” Donnelly said in an interview.

The baby’s discovery in April 1982 shocked the Northfield community. While waiting for the school bus on Gillespie Road, the children saw a dog dragging a sealed plastic garbage bag. When they went to investigate, they found a dead boy wrapped in a brown bath towel, according to police.

An autopsy performed by then-Vermont Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Paul Morrow identified Baby Doe as a full-term baby. Morrow could not say whether the baby had been born alive, nor could he determine how it had died.

A few weeks later, the Rev. Frank Wisner III held a funeral service for the child at St. Mary’s Church in Northfield and baptized him Matthew Isaac Doe. As is the case with all suspicious unsolved deaths, investigators kept blood and tissue samples.

Although the manner of the child’s death remained undetermined, investigators treated it as a homicide. They collected evidence, searched the area and conducted interviews, but their attempts to identify the baby or locate the parents were fruitless.

The case remained cold for decades. However, in 2020, state police partnered with Parabon NanoLabs, a Virginia-based DNA technology company. The lab’s work was made possible by donations from nonprofit organizations that offer grants to help solve potential violent crimes.

“This is a big step. We couldn’t have done it on our own… without the nonprofits raising money,” Hill said.

In December 2021, Parabon identified the baby’s possible biological parents using cotton swabs from the child and the towel in which he was found. The couple lived in Maine, but had connections to Northfield in 1982.

Detectives, along with Maine State Police, went to the couple’s home and obtained DNA swabs. The results confirmed that they were the child’s biological parents, according to Hill.

Detectives spoke with both parents for an extended period of time, Hill said. The father said he left Vermont in 1982 and had no knowledge of the pregnancy or the deceased child.

According to state police, the mother admitted to unlawfully disposing of the child. The mother told investigators that she did not know she was pregnant and that she gave birth by surprise when she was alone. During her labor, the mother said she lost consciousness and woke up to discover she had given birth to a baby boy with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck.

When the baby died, the mother said she wanted to give him a proper burial in the forest. While in the woods, she became afraid and said she thought she had heard voices. She told investigators she slipped, dropped the baby and ran away from the area.

“There is nothing to lead us to believe that she is not being honest, we have seen this with other mothers,” Hill said.

In 2022, a second autopsy conducted by current chief medical examiner Dr. Elizabeth Bundock, Murrow’s original 1982 results: Cause and manner of death could not be determined.

According to Donnelly, the Washington County State’s Attorney’s Office began cooperating with law enforcement agencies on the case in February 2023.

She determined that the mother’s unauthorized disposal of the dead body fell outside the statute of limitations. Donnelly also concluded that the evidence did not warrant a murder charge.

“The medical examiner’s reports and the mother’s story told the most complete story of what happened,” Donnelly said.

She said she hopes the long-awaited resolution of Baby Doe’s death will bring comfort to everyone involved.

“It has certainly been a disturbing mystery that we hope will bring closure to the community, and especially this family,” Donnelly said.

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