After allegedly abandoning her infant children in 1999 and 2003, a Minnesota woman is now facing a murder charge decades later.
Nearly 20 years ago, the son of Jennifer Matter, 50, was found abandoned in a lake. In a criminal complaint, she acknowledged also abandoning another newborn child that was found in the Mississippi River some years before, according to state and local authorities.
DNA technology and genealogical research connected the infants to Ms Matter, and donations from the community helped to solve the cold case.
Ms Matter, from Red Wing, southeast of Minneapolis on the border with Wisconsin, has been charged with second-degree murder in the 2003 death of the boy found in Frontenac on the shore of Lake Pepin, which is part of the Mississippi River.
The complaint said the child’s umbilical cord was wrapped about his body.
“This is a case that law enforcement had been working for decades without success until genetic genealogy provided an important lead that ultimately led to today’s arrest,” state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension spokeswoman Jill Oliveira said.
Court documents show that Ms Matter told investigators that she abandoned another newborn in 1999, also in the Mississippi River. Charges have not been filed in that case, which is still being reviewed.
“For over 20 years, the deaths of these innocent babies have haunted our community and the countless law enforcement officers who have worked tirelessly on this case,” Goodhue County Sheriff Marty Kelly said at a press conference.
On 5 May, authorities spoke to Ms Matter, who said that she was living in Red Wing back in 2003, adding that she had gone to the beach by herself because she was trying to lay low because of a pending arrest warrant, the complaint states.
She said she didn’t remember if she covered the child in a towel or a blanket, adding that it was dark and cold. Ms Matter said she remembered leaving the newborn on the beach before driving away, hoping that someone who lived nearby would find him alive, the complaint says.
In 1999, a newborn girl was discovered at a marina along the Mississippi River close to Red Wing. DNA testing showed that it was Ms Matter’s child.
“When asked to explain what was going on in her life in 1999, she said that 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,” the complaint said.
Goodhue County Attorney Steve O’Keefe said that he was still thinking about whether he was going to charge her in connection with that death. Ms Matter said that the girl was not breathing when she was born.
Genetic genealogy and DNA testing helped solve the case and confirm the identity of the mother, the superintendent of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Drew Evans, said.
“They used publicly available records to look for possible relatives of these children,” he added.
Investigators got a warrant to get a DNA sample from Ms Matter and scientists with the BCA were able to confirm the match to both children, Mr Evans said.
Mr Kelly said that $10,000 in donations from the community, which was raised in a matter of days, helped pay for the DNA testing.
In March 2007, a third infant was found dead in the Mississippi River near the Treasure Island casino and resort. DNA testing at the time indicated that the newborn girl was not related to the other two babies, officials said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report