Results are due soon from a DNA lab testing tissue samples from Baby Mary, a newborn whose body was found in trash bags in a drainage ditch off Mount Pleasant Road on Christmas Eve 1984.
Whoever left her there was never found. But earlier this year, Chief Steven Crawford reopened the case, launching the most focused and strenuous effort to solve the case of Baby Mary's death in more than a decade.
According to Lt. Ross Johnson, township police, including retired detectives who investigated in decades gone by, are working with cold-case units from the Morris County Prosecutor's Office and the New Jersey State Police.
In the meantime, the Rev. Mike Drury, pastor of St. Luke's Parish in Long Valley and police, fire and EMS chaplain for Mendham Township, once again will lead the annual memorial ceremony for the baby girl at St. Joseph's Catholic Church Cemetery in Mendham, where she is buried. This year's 30th anniversary ceremony is scheduled for 11 a.m. Dec. 20.
Police consulted Drury, who named the baby after Mary, the Blessed Mother of Jesus, before deciding whether to reopen the case.
"I told them I certainly believe Baby Mary deserves to have some closure," he told the Daily Record of Parsippany.
Preliminary work on tissue samples from the infant's body showed they were definitely worth sending to the lab, Johnson said.
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DNA testing began in 1985, according to media reports. Two years later, Florida rapist Tommie Lee Andrews became the first person in the United States to be convicted based on DNA evidence.
"It was a different time back then," Johnson said. "Today, we have so many tools. Now it's a matter of establishing the tissues are viable and if they can get a DNA read out of them. We'll know in a month or two. We're really hoping to hear sometime before Christmas."
In recent years, scholarly papers have been published on how to test old remains that no longer contain nucleated cells. These include mitochondrial DNA and SNP analyses, which examine mitochondria and nucleotides, respectively.
If the samples from Baby Mary are found not to be viable, all three law enforcement agencies will reassess their options, according to Johnson.
"If we have to exhume the body, and they believe it would be worth it," he said, "we'd definitely consider that."
Additionally, the agencies, which Johnson called "a great alliance," have identified some individuals with whom they want to speak and invite leads from the public.
Drury officiated Baby Mary's funeral five years after she was born, when the case was closed the first time and the medical examiner released her body. The Mendham Township Police Department decided to hold a funeral for her, he said.
"The headstone has a police badge from Mendham Township on it," Drury said. "So Baby Mary kind of belongs to the Mendham Township Police Department."
Every December since then, the priest has led a memorial service.
"The number of people who attend varies year to year, depending on the weather," Drury said. "There are some faithful ones who come all the time. This year, we're hoping, for the 30th anniversary, that we can get a much larger crowd, especially now that they've reopened the case."
Found by two boys
According to Daily Record accounts from Dec. 27 and 28, 1984, two boys, ages 11 and 12, who were fishing on Christmas Eve in an area off Mount Pleasant Road called Dismal Harmony Park Woodland Lake, came upon the trash bags. Curious, they opened them. Inside they found a Caucasian infant girl who had died of exposure and hypothermia.
At the time, Charles Coe, then chief of investigations for the Morris County Prosecutor's Office, said there was no indication the child was born near the drainage ditch. It appeared she'd been left there, healthy and alive, shortly after her birth.
Also at the time, in an effort to locate the mother, pediatricians in the area were contacted and local hospitals were alerted to be aware of any woman seeking medical attention related to a birth.
"Things have not changed much in 30 years, but we thought, and still think, that the mom had to be a scared teenager who lived in the area," Drury said. "The baby was placed in an isolated area and you had to know exactly where to lay her. She was not in the water. She was laid perfectly on a rock coming out of the water."
To this day, Drury said, the incident amazes him.
"All they had to do was drop the baby off anywhere — a church, a police station, anywhere — rather than doing what they did," he said. "It always seems to me if a young person is that scared to death, maybe the family didn't even know."
Baby Hope, too
Laid to rest next to Baby Mary is another infant, Baby Hope, also named by Drury. After Baby Mary's funeral, the priest recalled, a state trooper found the body of another infant girl who'd been thrown out of a car along Route 78. Remembering the story of Baby Mary, well publicized at the time, the trooper called Drury.
After police closed the case of Baby Hope, which also went unsolved, Drury led a funeral for the second girl.
A small group of local people have never stopped honoring Baby Mary's brief life, including Terry Tully of Mendham Township, who was photographed at the funeral placing a flower on the infant's grave with one hand while holding her own seventh child in the other.
Since then, Tully has attended every service for Baby Mary.
"Children are a gift, no matter where we are, no matter what our circumstances are," said Tully, now a 61-year-old hospice nurse. "Life is always a gift. I want to remember that. We live in such a 'me first' society.
We should worry about each other. Somebody should have been worried about that poor mother and she should not have felt so scared."
Working on the reopened case of Baby Mary in Mendham Township are Detectives James Arnesen and Jason Morrison, Sgts. Steven Bittman and Sgt. Daniel Taquinto, and Johnson. Among the former detectives helping with the case are retired Police Chief Thomas Costanza.