Woman Is Charged in Death of Newborn Abandoned in 1985 – The New York Times

General

The cold case, from Maine, was among the latest to be closed using genetic genealogy. As a tool for identifying the remains of infants, and determining who their mothers are, the method is not without controversy.

Lee Ann Daigle, 58, was charged with the murder of her newborn baby, after 36 years. Daigle is being held at the Aroostook County Jail in Houlton, Maine.Credit…Google Maps

At first glance, she looked like a rag doll.

The body of a newborn girl appeared outside a couple’s home in Frenchville, in northern Maine, on a cold morning in December 1985. Their dog, a 10-year-old Siberian husky named Paca, had carried the infant to their door.

Investigators traced the dog’s footsteps about 700 feet to a gravel pit, where according to news reports from the time, they found signs — including a placenta and a considerable amount of blood — that someone had given birth to the infant there sometime overnight or early that morning before leaving in a car. The newborn was found to have died of exposure, the authorities said.

This month, the girl’s mother, Lee Ann Daigle, 58, was arrested outside her home in Lowell, Mass., the Maine State Police said. She has been charged with murder.

The case was among the latest to be closed through advances in genetic genealogy, a process investigators have used in recent years to solve decades-old crimes by crosschecking DNA evidence with ancestry records. While Ms. Daigle’s arrest appeared to answer some questions about the death of the infant, known only as Baby Jane Doe, others lingered, including what would drive a young woman to give birth outdoors, alone, on a freezing night and then leave the infant behind.

Charles Love, a former Maine State Police major who led the department’s detective unit at the time of the Baby Jane Doe investigation, recalls worrying about the mother’s condition when he saw the blood in the gravel pit. In an interview, he said investigators checked hospitals, high schools and colleges within a 50-mile radius of Frenchville, on Maine’s border with New Brunswick, Canada, but nothing turned up.

Ms. Daigle’s daughter Kristyn Daigle, 30, said in a brief interview that her mother did not realize she was pregnant in December 1985. Lee Ann Guerette, as she was known at the time, was only 21. She went on to marry and have two daughters, and she is now a grandmother, her daughter said.

Kristyn Daigle said that she lived mostly with her mother after her parents divorced in 1999, and that the two continue to live near each other.

“My mom has always been a loving and selfless mother,” she said.

Lee Ann Daigle, who was arrested on June 13, has pleaded not guilty and was being held without bail, said Danna Hayes, a spokeswoman for the Maine attorney general’s office. Ms. Daigle’s lawyers, Adam Swanson and Hunter Tzovarras, declined to comment, saying that they were still gathering information about the case.

In the years since genetic genealogy was used to identify Joseph James DeAngelo as the so-called Golden State Killer, who terrorized victims across California in the 1970s and ’80s, investigators across the country have turned to the method to solve dozens of violent crimes that had languished without resolution for decades.

But as the practice has become a more common law enforcement tool, genealogical techniques have also been used in some cases to identify the remains of abandoned babies and ascertain the identity of their mothers, some of whom suddenly find themselves facing murder charges decades later. (Experts said they were not aware of any such case in which a father had been charged.)

“If we find someone murdered, there’s a perpetrator out there and we bring closure to a family,” said Colleen Fitzpatrick, the founder of Identifinders International, a company that uses genetic genealogy to help solve cold cases and which had been working on the Baby Jane Doe investigation with law enforcement officials in Maine since 2019. “But with a baby case, it’s different,” she said, “because you’re not bringing closure. It’s a different kind of case, but we allow the agencies to take care of that.”

Neil S. Kaye, a forensic psychologist who specializes in infanticide and neonaticide cases, said a majority of situations like the Baby Jane Doe case arise because the child was unplanned or unwanted, or because the pregnancy was discovered too late for another course of action.

“In a psychodynamic way,” he said, the mother “believes that if the pregnancy were known, she would be thrown out, abandoned by family. So what she does to the baby is what she believes her family and support system would do to her.”

Some women who become pregnant unwillingly or who worry that they will not be able to take care of a baby develop a condition called pregnancy denial, said CeCe Moore, the chief genetic genealogist for Parabon NanoLabs, a Virginia company whose services include DNA-based forensics. A woman who is experiencing pregnancy denial may be intellectually aware of her predicament but makes little effort to emotionally or physically prepare to give birth.

Ms. Moore, Mr. Kaye and other experts said they worried that the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, eliminating the constitutional right to abortion, would leave young women across much of the country with fewer options for dealing with an unplanned pregnancy.

One thing that has changed since the morning Baby Jane Doe was found is that all 50 states now allow parents to anonymously leave unwanted infants at hospitals, police stations, firehouses or similar locations without fear of prosecution under so-called safe-haven laws. Since the first safe-haven law was adopted in Texas in 1999, more than 4,500 infants have been surrendered, according to the National Safe Haven Alliance. However, another 1,600 infants were illegally abandoned between 1999 and 2021, the alliance said.

Investigations involving unidentified mothers who are charged in the deaths of their infants are among the most sensitive — and controversial — types of cold cases that are solved with genetic genealogy, Ms. Moore said.

Investigators who use genetic genealogy to solve cold cases may work only with those genealogy companies that have explicitly informed customers that law enforcement agencies use their databases, and that have received their customers’ consent to participate. But customers who agree to let their data be used in this way can’t pick and choose what types of cases their DNA may help solve. In some cases, Ms. Moore said, people who may be happy enough to help track down rapists or murderers instead opt out, wary of, among other things, exposing mothers in cases involving the unidentified remains of abandoned infants.

Last year, however, a widely used DNA database called GEDmatch changed its policies to specify that law enforcement agencies may use a customer’s genetic profile to identify human remains even if that customer opts out of allowing the genetic profile to be used to solve violent crimes.

Now 76, Mr. Love, the former Maine State Police investigator, said that the Baby Jane Doe investigation had stuck with him for decades — long after that cold morning in Frenchville, which he described as a close-knit Franco-American community with a strong Catholic influence.

In the end, the Baby Jane Doe investigation stayed in the family. Mr. Love’s son Jeffrey, a lieutenant with the Maine State Police, oversees the department’s Major Crimes Unit, which investigates unsolved homicides.

“For me, it was just one of those cases that when you retire, you kind of keep in your memory,” Mr. Love said. “I always hoped and felt that somehow we would learn the identity of the mother.”

Kirsten Noyes contributed research.