Nearly 40 years after an infant was found wrapped in a towel, inside a plastic bag and left to die on a cold December morning in a wooded area of Mendham Township, New Jersey, investigators say they have solved the case.
The baby girl’s body was discovered by two young boys who were fishing at Woodland Lake in the Dismal Harmony Natural Area on the morning of Christmas Eve in 1984.
She was baptized by Reverend Michael Drury of St Joseph Church, who gave her the name “Baby Mary.” But her identity remained a mystery until this year.
After a multiyear investigation and new DNA analysis, the baby’s mother was arrested in South Carolina and charged with manslaughter, Morris County Prosecutor Robert Carroll announced at a press conference on Thursday.
Prosecutors declined to share the mother’s name because she was a minor at the time of the alleged crime. The man who authorities identified as the baby’s father has since passed away. There is no evidence that he was aware of the pregnancy or the birth.
For nearly four decades, investigators have vigorously pursued every lead to identify Baby Mary and learn more about the circumstances leading to her discovery in the woods.
Then, nine years ago, former Chief Steven Crawford called for a re-examination of Baby Mary’s case for the 30th anniversary.
“Our officers, alongside our partners from the county and state, would pursue many leads and investigative avenues, eventually bringing justice for this infant who never had a chance to fight for herself,” Mendham Township Police Chief Ross Johnson said.
The baby was found around 10.35am on the morning of 24 December near Mt Pleasant Road in Mendham Township, New Jersey. Her umbilical cord was still attached.
The Medical Examiner determined the infant had been alive at the time of her birth. Her death was ruled a homicide.
“DNA of the baby was taken, obviously, at the time of the discovery,” Mr Carroll said at the press briefing. “DNA analysis led investigators to an identification of the father. Thereafter, literally running down hundreds, if not thousands, of leads led to identification of the mother. Both the father and the mother have been verified through DNA as being the proper mother and father.”
On April 24, 2023, a juvenile delinquency complaint was filed against Baby Mary’s mother. She was charged with one count of manslaughter, an offence which would be a second-degree crime if committed by an adult.
“This arrest is the culmination of decades of effort, across multiple generations of law enforcement,” Mr Carroll said. “It is a tribute to the tenacity and dedication of the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office, our Major Crimes Unit, the Morris County Sheriff’s Office, and the Mendham Township Police Department.
“The death and abandonment of this baby girl is a tragic loss and even after nearly 40 years, remains just as heartbreaking,” he continued. “Justice may not take the form the public has imagined all these years, but we believe with this juvenile delinquency complaint, justice is being served for Baby Mary.”
Every Christmas Eve for the past 35 years, members of the Mendham Township police department and community have left their own families at noon to remember Baby Mary with a service by her grave, to ensure she is never forgotten.
“Today, we are finally able to bring closure to this case and the community that has supported her,” Chief Johnson said.