A woman has been arrested in connection to one of the three cold case deaths of babies found in Mississippi River waters in Minnesota about two decades ago.
Goodhue County Sheriff Marty Kelly announced Monday Jennifer Lynn Matter, 50, has been charged with two counts of second-degree murder – with and without intent. The arrest was made in relation to the discovery of a newborn baby boy found dead in Lake Pepin in 2003, with a DNA match confirming Matter is the mother.
If convicted, Matter faces a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison. She was taken into custody Monday morning at her Belvidere Township home.
Police have confirmed that Matter is also the mother of a second child, a newborn baby girl, was found dead in November 1999 in the Lower Boat Harbor of the Mississippi River near Red Wing.
No official charges have been filed in this case, however, the sheriff's office "strongly" believes this is related to the 2003 incident.
A third baby, found in the marina at Treasure Island Resort & Casino in 2007, is still under investigation as well. The third baby isn't related to the other two but the sheriff's office stated the case details are "eerily the same."
Details from criminal complaints
According to a criminal complaint, the newborn girl was discovered in 1999 by a fisherman near Red Wing while he was on the river. The girl is believed to have been in the water for up to two weeks prior to her discovery. Police note that the umbilical cord was still attached to the baby.
Then, in 2003, four teenage girls found the newborn baby boy washed ashore on Lake Pepin, near Frontenac, Minnesota. Investigators believe the boy had been in the water between one to five days. The umbilical cord was also attached and wrapped around the baby's body, the complaint states.
Authorities didn't have any evidence leading to an arrest for over two decades, but determined that both the 1999 and 2003 babies were related. Investigative leads related to genetic genealogy directed police to two people who could possibly be related to the 1999 baby. The father and mother were identified, with the mother being Matter. The father is not identified publicly in the complaint.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension conducted an interview with Matter last month. She denied being the mother of the baby found in 1999, and further denied being pregnant in that time frame. The court documents go on to say she also declined to give a voluntary DNA sample. About a week later, a search warrant was granted to obtain a sample from Matter.
DNA samples determined that both babies were related to Matter. She eventually confessed to having the 1999 baby in her bathroom of her home, and said she hadn't been expecting at the time. She added that her mental state was "in a bad spot" back then, noting how she was drinking heavily, in and out of jail, and "doing a lot of stupid things."
Once she had the 1999 baby, she told investigators she didn't know what to do, and didn't think of putting the baby in a safe space. Matter said a day had passed after the baby was born, but wasn't sure because she was "drinking heavily." She then admitted to bringing the baby, wrapped in a towel, to Bay Point Park in the middle of the night and leaving it in the water.
After initially telling investigators she wasn't aware of a second baby, Matter later confessed to having the baby at a public beach near Frontenac, Minnesota, and leaving it there.
“Genetic genealogy and Rapid DNA testing were both employed to develop a break in the case and then quickly confirm the identity of the babies’ mother,” BCA Superintendent Drew Evans said. “These kinds of scientific advances that can aid investigations are happening all the time. That is why it is so important to never give up on any unsolved case.”
According to a release, the genetic genealogy work was completed by Parabon Nanolabs, and testing was funded by donations from the people of Goodhue County.