A Louisiana woman has been charged with the cold case murder of a newborn girl allegedly left to freeze to death more than two decades ago, police said.
The body of Baby Jane Doe was found in a 55-gallon drum behind Bob’s Car Wash in Jeanerette on Jan. 24, 1994. The infant lived for several hours, but temperatures in the area dipped into the 40s the night she was left outside.
She died of hypothermia with her thumb in her mouth and her umbilical cord and placenta still attached, authorities said.
“This infant was laying in a metal trash can and (conditions) just literally sucked the life right out of her,” Maj. Wendell Raborn, a spokesman for the Parish Sheriff’s Office, said during an appearance on Nancy Grace’s podcast earlier this month.
The car wash’s owner, Jeanerette Alderman Bob Fontenot, reportedly discovered the baby when he went to empty the trash.
Her story was covered extensively and when no one came forward to claim the child as their own, the community set out to honor her short life.
“Everyone took it kind of personally,” Raborn told the Advocate.
More than 200 Iberia Parish locals gathered to lay her to rest and residents donated a christening gown and bonnet for the newborn to be buried in.
“This baby was born into this world unwanted, but today she has a family,” an unnamed resident told The Daily Advertiser in 1994.
Police especially seemed to take the case personally.
More than 23 law enforcement agencies became involved in finding the person responsible for the baby’s killing. Officers with the Jeanerette Police Department served as pallbearers to escort the baby’s 3-foot casket to its final resting place. Inside, a Raggedy Ann doll was laid beside the baby, as acting Jeanerette Police Chief Kerry Davis didn’t want her to be buried alone.
“This baby, to the police, represents all the infants that were abused or abandoned,” he told The Advertiser at the time. “… This was an act done by someone who wasn’t thinking clearly … But whoever it was, we’ll find her.”
And 25 years later, police on Wednesday announced they had done just that with the arrest of 50-year-old Sonia Charles.
Charles’ arrest came after the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office Cold Case Unit reopened Baby Jane Doe’s case and the Acadiana Criminalistics Laboratory (ACL) developed a DNA profile from previously collected evidence, officials said.
That profile allegedly matched a family relation in the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, a national database created and maintained by the FBI. That hit led investigators to Charles, from whom they obtained a DNA sample that they said confirmed she was the baby’s biological mother.
“It hit hard in a small community,” Raborn told the Advocate. “Every homicide, every death somehow needs to be accounted for. We do our best on these old cases and if we can solve one, it’s a plus for the community.”
Charles was booked into the Iberia Parish Jail on a first-degree murder charge. No bond has been set.
“It’s going to take a long time to heal,” Private investigator Stephen Menard, who started a cold case advocacy group that spotlighted Baby Jane Doe’s case, told the Advocate. “For 25 years the baby has been lost and now she’s been found by family members. Family members know who she is now. Maybe the baby can finally get a name.”