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DNA tests could ID infant

Courtney Astolfi • Sep 26, 2013 at 11:23 PM

Dormant for more than 30 years, a Milan Township homicide case may soon see new developments.

Wednesday afternoon, Erie County officials exhumed the body of an infant who was originally found dead in the summer of 1982 at Huron River Valley Campground.

At the time, Erie County deputies exhausted their leads and ultimately came up empty-handed. When the department recently began digitizing old files, however, the case stood out as worthy of a second look. Today’s DNA technology could give deputies new information that simply wasn’t available 30 years ago.

On June 2, 1982, a sanitation worker was pumping out the tank of a portable toilet, following a hectic Memorial Day weekend. When his hose became clogged, he made a horrific discovery: the body of a newborn baby girl, with a torn umbilical cord, floating in the waste.    An autopsy determined the child was born alive, then subsequently drowned in the tank. Deputies pored over the campsite’s visitors log, and they even learned a “very pregnant” woman or girl was seen wandering the grounds that weekend. Deputies were never able to identify the child’s parents, let alone arrest a suspect.

Because identifying the child’s mother is a key component to this homicide investigation, investigators decided it’s a prime candidate for DNA analysis.

Erie County Sheriff Paul Sigsworth conferred with prosecutor Kevin Baxter and coroner Brian Baxter regarding the case’s particulars. The coroner ordered an exhumation of “Baby Jane Doe” from Scott Union Cemetery and sent the remains to the Lucas County coroner’s office Wednesday for further examination.

A tissue sample will be forwarded to a Texas lab equipped to handle extensive DNA testing, Brian Baxter said.

Once the child’s DNA profile is entered into a database, investigators may be able to cross-reference it with the profiles of countless people throughout the country.

“The purpose isn’t always to charge someone,” Sigsworth said. “It’s to find out what happened and also to identify the victim in this case.”

“There are a whole range of circumstances we don’t know,” Kevin Baxter said. If the DNA testing yields a match, detectives still must conduct a complete investigation.

“We don’t want to jump to conclusions before we know who or why someone did this,” Kevin Baxter said. “Maybe there’s someone out there after all these years that may know something about this.”

Sigsworth is urging anyone with any details on the case to contact his office at 419-627-7553, or emailpdefazio@eriecounty.oh.gov.

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