It’s been a quarter century since a newborn baby girl was left to die in a trash can, a case that turned cold for decades, but now investigators say the baby’s mother is finally in custody.
For years, the six-pound infant found in late January 1994 inside a 55-gallon garbage can behind a Bob’s Car Wash in Jeanerette, Louisiana was known only as Jane Doe, the Acadiana Advocate in Lafayette, Louisiana reports. She died of hypothermia with her thumb in her mouth, her umbilical cord still attached.
The car wash’s owner made the gruesome discovery when he was taking out the trash, a tragedy which appeared to shake Jeanerette, a small city with a current population of a little more than 5,000. An archived Daily Advertiser newspaper article from 1994, which reported on the newborn’s funeral, states that the “town turns out for 'baby Jane Doe.'”
The local coroner, Dr. James Falterman, delivered the eulogy at the unnamed girl’s funeral and he addressed the 200-plus mourners by stating that when he saw the infant with her thumb in her mouth he “'began to have cold thoughts of anger, of depression and sadness." He noted that the girl was alive when she was thrown away, and that she probably lived just a few hours before succumbing to the cold.
The acting police chief at the time, Kerry Davis, vowed to find the child's mother. It may not have happened on his watch, and it may have taken 25 years, but authorities say that finally happened.
The child’s alleged mother, 50-year-old Sonia Charles of New Iberia, was arrested on Wednesday on a murder charge, the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office announced on Facebook. Their cold case unit recently reopened the case “after new leads were developed,” according to their press release.
The department’s spokesperson, Maj. Wendell Raborn, explained to the Acadiana Advocate that a local cold case group helped bring renewed attention to the case and that new leads were brought to investigators’ attention.
DNA evidence collected from both baby Jane Doe and the crime scene was recently re-examined by a local laboratory which in turn developed a DNA profile. That DNA profile, according to the sheriff’s department, matched a sample obtained from Charles.
Charles now faces a first-degree murder charge for the death of the newborn. No bond has yet been set. It’s not clear if she has an attorney who can speak on her behalf at this time.
Private investigator Stephen Menard started the cold case advocacy group, which shone a new spotlight on this case, back in the spring.
“It’s going to take a long time to heal. For 25 years the baby has been lost and now she’s been found by family members. Family members know who she is now,” he told the Advocate. “Maybe the baby can finally get a name.”
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