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Woman Charged With Murder After DNA Allegedly Connects Her To 'Babies In The River' Case

Jennifer Matter was charged after officials found she birthed two out of three newborns found dead in the Mississippi River between 1999 and 2007. 

By Jax Miller
A police hand out of Jennifer Matter

Authorities have announced the arrest of a woman charged in connection with several infants found in Minnesota. 

Jennifer Lynn Matter, 50, was booked into the Goodhue County Adult Detention Center on Monday after DNA connected her to two of the three unidentified babies found dead in the Mississippi River between 1999 and 2007, the Goodhue County Sheriff’s Office said in a press conference. Sheriff Marty Kelly announced Matter was the mother of an infant girl found in 1999 and an infant male four years later. 

The identity of a third newborn girl found in 2007 has not been accounted for, but  authorities feel “fairly certain” that her case is unrelated.

Goodhue County Attorney Stephen O’Keefe stated Matter was charged one count of second-degree murder with intent and one count of second-degree murder without intent (citing child endangerment) related to the boy’s death. 

“Although we know that Matter is the mother of the 1999 child, no charges have been filed in relation to that incident at this time,” stated O’Keefe, who said additional charges may be added at a later date. 

Prior DNA testing led authorities to believe that the 1999 Baby Jane Doe and the 2003 Baby John Doe shared the same mother, as previously reported

Infants Found River Pd

Until more advanced genetic genealogy analysis tied Matter to the dead children, she had not been on investigators’ radar in the past, according to the sheriff. 

On the afternoon of Nov. 4, 1999, authorities responded to reports of an infant wrapped in a towel floating near boathouses on the Mississippi River, according to the criminal complaint obtained by Oxygen.com. A boater, who hadn’t realized what was in the towel, said the baby girl fell out when he plucked the bundle from the water. 

The child still had its umbilical cord attached and didn’t appear to have sustained obvious injury, according to a later postmortem examination. A coroner was unable to establish a cause of death but did rule that the manner of death was a homicide. 

Four years later, on Dec. 7, 2003, officers were called out to the shoreline of Methodist Beach in Florence, Minnesota – about 20 miles away from where Baby Jane Doe was found in the water. Four teenagers came across Baby John Doe at the river’s edge, its umbilical cord also still attached. 

A postmortem exam revealed the boy was a full-term newborn who “was probably born alive,” according to the criminal complaint. The coroner noted “multiple small areas” of hemorrhaging in the child’s head, including subgaleal hemorrhage, sometimes seen after strenuous vaginal births.

A cause of death was not determined, but the manner of death was also ruled as a homicide. 

Investigators tried for years to bring closure to the case that became known as the "Babies in the Water" case, including an appeal for financial donations in 2020, which helped them utilize the scientific testing used to allegedly connect the two children with Jennifer Matter. 

Investigators questioned Matter on April 25, where she initially denied ever being pregnant in 1999 and 2003, according to the criminal complaint. When she refused to volunteer her DNA, authorities issued a warrant for a sample on May 1. 

On Thursday, they returned to her residence and asked about her life back in 1999 when Matter claimed she was in “a bad mental state.” 

“She stated that she was in and out of jail, drinking too much, doing a lot of stupid things, and had experienced chaotic life circumstances for a long time,” according to the complaint. “She stated he was not aware that she was pregnant and that when she was on her way to drop off her kids (ages 2 and 5) at school and daycare, that she started bleeding.”

Authorities say she later gave birth in her bathroom but that the “baby was born blue, was not breathing, and was not crying, so she freaked out.” Due to Matter’s alcoholism, she couldn’t remember if one day had passed before she left in the middle of the night to put the girl in the water before walking away, authorities allege. 

Matter initially couldn’t recall the 2003 birth of her son but then “spontaneously stated” the location where the baby was found, authorities said. She explained she was “almost positive” that she began going into labor on a public beach.

“Matter stated that it was dark outside, it was cold, that she did not look to see the gender of the child, and that she remembered leaving the baby on the beach before driving away,” according to the complaint. “Matter later told [investigator] the baby was breathing fine, and it may have been crying, but she didn’t remember it.”

Matter is expected to appear for her first court appearance Tuesday, according to O’Keefe.

“The tenacity of several investigators in our office to obtain justice for these babies and the perseverance by our community who assisted us in finding answers have led us here today,” Kelly said in a press release. “We pray today’s arrest and charges provide some closure to all of those effected [sic].”

Investigators hope to solve the case of the 2007 Baby Jane Doe, whose body was discovered by Treasure Island Resort and Casino employees on March 26, 2007. It remains unclear whether the child – who is either Indigenous American or Hispanic – was dead when she entered the water.

Anyone with information is encouraged to contact the Goodhue County Sheriff’s Office at 1-651-385-3155 or 1-651-228-5461.