MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Investigators say they have arrested a mother and are charging her in the death of baby, found in Lake Pepin almost 20 years ago, and the charging documents allege she was also mother to another baby found in the Mississippi River in 1999.
Jennifer Matter, 50, of Red Wing, was taken into custody Monday morning. She faces second-degree murder charges in the case of a baby boy discovered at the Methodist Campus Beach in Frontenac in December 2003.
Investigators say that another baby, a girl found in the Mississippi River’s Lower Boat Harbor near Red Wing back in 1999, is also Matter’s, as proven by genealogy work. The charges announced Monday do not involve that case, and further charges may follow.
Both cases went unsolved for decades.
“It has been 8,222 days since we discovered our first newborn wrapped in a towel and floating in the water near the city of Red Wing,” Goodhue County Sheriff Marty Kelly said. “Almost four years later another newborn baby was discovered on the shore of Lake Pepin in Frotenac.”
Last year, the Minnesota BCA Crime Lab was able to determine and identify the biological father of the infant found in 1999, and worked to establish that Matter was a person of interest. Investigators interviewed her in late April, and she denied knowing anything about either case. When they sampled her DNA sample on a search warrant last week, she again denied knowing about either baby.
On a third interview with investigators, Matter told them that back in 1999, she was “in and out of jail, drinking too much, doing a lot of stupid things,” and that she didn’t know she was pregnant until she started bleeding while on the way to drop off two other kids at school and daycare.
She said she then gave birth at home in her bathroom and “freaked out” when she saw the baby was born “blue, was not breathing, and was not crying.” She said she knew she should’ve sought help but that “her mind was not there.” She wrapped the baby and, possibly a day later, left the baby’s body at Bay Point Park in the middle of the night.
She told investigators she didn’t remember a second baby, but later said “it was in Frontenac,” and said she was “almost positive” she was at a public beach alone when she went into labor. She was “trying to lay low because she had an arrest warrant and believed cops were looking for her.” She said she didn’t remember if the baby was crying, but said it was breathing fine.
She said she left the baby on the beach before driving away, and said she did not have a plan about leaving the baby in a safe place, but “hoped that someone in the nearby houses would find the baby.”
She said during the 2003 pregnancy, she never intended to keep the baby and considered giving it up for adoption but otherwise had no plans, and did not receive neonatal care or tell anyone she was pregnant.
“I want to recognize the persistence, hard work, and dedication of our law enforcement professionals who have put so much of themselves into solving this case,” Goodhue County Attorney Stephen O’Keefe said.
Sheriff Kelly said that the case was helped by the entire community, who donated $10,000 to assist the department and help them conduct the DNA comparisons, and specifically thanked one by name.
“There is one person, however, who has lived this case with our law enforcement partners alongside of us for 22 years — Jeanne Madtson,” Kelly said. “She’s cared for these children, hed their funerals, paid for their burials, and most importantly, she never forgot.”
In 2011, Mattson and her husband Don donated their family plot in Red Wing’s Oakwood Cemetery to the babies involved in Matter’s case, along with two others that police don’t believe are connected.
David Vonce is one of many people who live in Red Wing haunted by the murder of the two infants.
“Those babies had their whole lives ahead of them. I don’t know what she was thinking; anybody would have adopted them,” Vonce said. “We as Red Wing-ites can’t believe this happened because we really cherish our children. They’re gifts from God.”
If convicted, Matter faces 40 years in prison.
“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,” Bureau of Criminal Apprehension 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.”