State and local officials announced Monday that a Red Wing woman was arrested and charged in the death of her newborn who was abandoned in the Mississippi River nearly 20 years ago, and that she admitted to abandoning another newborn whose body was discovered in the river four years earlier in a criminal complaint.
To link the neonates to the lady, investigators used breakthroughs in DNA technology and genealogy research, and community donations helped pay for testing to solve the cold case.
Jennifer Matter, 50, of Red Wing, was charged with second-degree murder in the death of a newborn child in Frontenac, Minnesota, near Lake Pepin, where the Mississippi River expands. According to the lawsuit, the child’s umbilical chord was wrapped around his torso.
Matter told investigators she abandoned another infant in the river in 1999, according to court filings. In that case, which is still being investigated, no charges have been filed.
“The murders of these young infants have plagued our town and the numerous law enforcement personnel who have worked relentlessly on this case for over 20 years,” stated Goodhue County Sheriff Marty Kelly during a press conference.
According to the complaint, Matter told investigators on May 5 that she was living in Red Wing in 2003 and had gone to the beach to be alone because she was trying to hide from a pending arrest warrant.
Matter told detectives she didn’t recall if she covered the infant in a towel or blanket, but it was dark and chilly, and she remembered leaving the baby on the beach before driving away. According to the lawsuit, she stated that she hoped someone who lived nearby would discover him alive.
The baby girl was discovered dead in a marina along the Mississippi near Red Wing in 1999, and it was also proven through DNA that she was Matter’s kid, according to authorities.
“In 1999, when pressed to explain what was going on in her life, she stated that she was suffering from a mental illness. She said she was in and out of jail, drank too much, did a lot of dumb things, and had lived in a chaotic environment for a long time,” according to the complaint.
Steve O’Keefe, the Goodhue County Attorney, said he was still debating whether or not to prosecute her in the tragedy. The girl was not breathing when she was born, according to Matter.
According to Drew Evans, superintendent of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, genetic genealogy and quick DNA testing helped break the case and confirm the mother’s identity.
“They looked for prospective relatives of these youngsters using publicly available information,” Evans added.
According to him, investigators got a warrant to take a DNA sample from Matter, and BCA experts were able to confirm the match to both children.
Kelly stated that $10,000 in community donations generated in only a few days helped pay for the DNA testing.
A third infant was discovered dead in the Mississippi in March 2007 near the Treasure Island casino and resort in Welch. Officials claimed at the time that DNA tests revealed the baby girl was unrelated to the other two babies.
After a local couple, Don and Jeanne Madtson, donated the graves and a monument in their family plot, all three babies are buried together in Red Wing’s Oakwood Cemetery.
A mother or immediate family member of a newborn can transfer the uninjured infant into the hands of a medical professional on hospital grounds with total anonymity under Minnesota’s Safe Place for Newborns statute, which was established in 2000.