What happened to Baby Doe?
When a person dies, it is likely that a funeral will be held shortly after. This was not the case for a cold case victim known as “Baby Doe,” a two-day-old infant who was found dead in the Shelby County Landfill in 1982.
Baby Doe’s memorial service took place in the pauper’s section of the Columbiana City Cemetery on the sunny morning on Wednesday, Nov. 15, close to the 35th anniversary of Baby Doe’s birth and death dates.
Shelby County Sheriff’s Office Cold Case Squad Investigator Jim Dormuth said the memorial service was held for three reasons: to honor the short life of Baby Doe, give her the marker that any deceased person deserves and to generate public interest in the case.
“We feel that there are probably people who have firsthand, secondhand and thirdhand knowledge of the circumstances surrounding this child. We felt that it was time to go public with the case,” Dormuth said.
“There are a lot of families whose members have been here for their entire existence,” SCSO Cold Case Squad Investigator Alton Sizemore added. “We’re hoping that one of the family members, even if they just suspect that it could have been a relative because of a pregnancy that didn’t come to fruition, might give us the opportunity to look into that and see if it has any relationship to this case.”
SCSO Chaplain Donny Acton likened the memorial marker donated by Shelby Granite of Calera to a lost-and-found area. While Baby Doe was lost on Earth shortly after she was born, Acton said he believes that Baby Doe was found by God and currently resides in Heaven.
“What was found in that lost and found is something treasured. I do believe that God is the God of all things lost,” Acton said. “This will stand as a marker that she was lost, but also that she was found.”
A CHILLING DISCOVERY
The lifeless body of Baby Doe, who was described as weighing 10 pounds and having blonde hair, on Friday, Nov. 12, 1982. According to a story in the Nov. 18, 1982 edition of the Shelby County Reporter, Baby Doe was found by bulldozer operator Johnie Givhan Lemley.
After she was first found in the ‘80s, Dormuth said the SCSO conducted an extensive investigation, following up on 40 to 50 leads as far as Sylacauga.
“It was a very exhaustive investigation, but they were not able to identify the parents, family members or any information about Baby Doe or how she came to be in the landfill,” Dormuth said.
At the time, Dormuth said advanced technology like DNA was not available. However, a routine autopsy was performed. Investigators determined that Baby Doe has been two days old and dead for four to six hours when she was found.
“There really wasn’t a lot they could do at that time, except the basic police work of trying to locate people, interview people, follow up on any leads that came in from the public, that type of thing,” Dormuth said.
Dormuth said Baby Doe was found among debris that came from Columbiana, leading investigators to believe that she had relatives in the area.
“Two trucks had come in right before she was found. One was from an area that dumped lumber and the other one was a Columbiana truck. Trucks from different places came in, but based upon what they had been moving and clearing and based upon where she was found, they determined that it was a Columbiana truck,” Dormuth said.
While investigators are unable to release Baby Doe’s official cause of death, Dormuth said her body had sustained a significant amount of damage while she was at the landfill and was missing a leg.
Dormuth said he and other investigators believe that someone other than just the mother played a part in Baby Doe’s abandonment.
“(Former Shelby County Sheriff Buddy Glasgow) believed, for whatever reason, that another relative probably was aware or helped. Even today, we believe that there are probably other people that have some information on the child.” Dormuth said. “Logically speaking, you wouldn’t think that the mother who had just delivered the baby would be capable, on her own, of doing that. Someone may have assisted her, and that’s why we’re appealing to the community.”
Leads began to stop coming in, and the Baby Doe case went cold within a few years after it started.
Baby Doe was buried in the Columbiana City Cemetery’s pauper’s section. She did not receive a funeral, and the site of her burial was unmarked and unrecorded.
STILL SEARCHING FOR ANSWERS
The case was reopened in 2013, after Cold Case Squad members found records as they were looking for information related to another case. Since it was reopened, Dormuth said investigators have not received any new leads. With no body, no DNA evidence and records from over three decades ago, Dormuth said he anticipates the Baby Doe case will take a while to resolve.
“Quite frankly, we don’t feel as if we’re that close. We do need some help from the community,” Dormuth said. “There are people out there who hold the key to resolving this issue.”
However, Dormuth and Sizemore are hopeful that one day the truth will be uncovered.
“If not us, someone else may,” Dormuth said. “It’s amazing how many times people who have something on their conscience will eventually disclose it because they don’t want to carry it anymore.”
Having spent four years on the case, Sizemore said Baby Doe’s story has had an emotional impact on themselves as well as other investigators.
“We’re human. We have kids and grandkids. A baby is a very precious thing,” Sizemore said.
Sizemore said, because of the similarities between infant abandonment cases throughout the United States, Sizemore said it is likely that Baby Doe’s mother was a young, unwed woman with a limited amount of options.
“With a young person at that time, pregnant and not knowing what to do, maybe in a desperate situation, we understand that those things can have an impact on their decision-making process,” Sizemore said.
“Percentage-wise, that may have very well been what happened here, but we don’t know,” Dormuth said.
One day, if investigators ever received information about the body’s whereabouts, Dormuth said the SCSO would be interested in exhuming Baby Doe and using today’s DNA testing to find more answers.
Dormuth said pressing criminal charges is not the Cold Case Squad’s primary goal. While the case was treated as a homicide investigation in the ‘80s, Dormuth and Sizemore stressed that he doesn’t want anyone to be afraid to come forward with new information and investigators are mainly focused on finding out the baby’s identification and the circumstances surrounding her death.
“Infants die for a lot of different reasons. What happened and why whoever was involved felt it necessary to place her in the landfill remains to be seen, but that’s what we’re trying to learn. It’s been 35 years and a criminal case is not at the top of our list,” Dormuth said.
“We’re not asking for someone who was actually there. We just want to talk to anybody that thinks they know something about it,” Sizemore said. “Just let us know and we’ll follow up on it.”
A NEW ORGANIZATION
According to Dormuth, all of the progress the Cold Case Squad has made is due to the work of its members, a group of retired law enforcement who felt the need to help. Generally, the members meet at the SCSO’s headquarters in Columbiana for one day of the week and will conduct interviews and investigations during the days in between.
“Basically, once you’ve spent many years doing this type of work and you still have the ability to offer some assistance, we’re able to take some of the load off of the full-time staff. With the older cases that take more time digging around, we can take some of the load off of them so they’re free to work all of the current cases that come in the door every day.”
Since it was first formed in 2009, the Baby Doe case is one of many that the Cold Case Squad has worked to resolve. The Cold Case Squad has closed less than a dozen cases over the past eight years
“In many cases, our witnesses have passed on. And when you get to the point that you feel that you have a viable suspect, in many cases they’re gone, too,” Sizemore said. “It’s resolved and we know who did it, we present it to the prosecution and they say, ‘we agree, this is probably what happened,’ and we close the case.”
“It brings closure to the family,” Dormuth said. “We will fill them in at the end of the road as to what we’ve come up with,”
The Cold Case Squad is currently working to resolve about 10 cold cases, including Baby Doe. The Cold Case Squad is also trying to find answers about the deaths of Willie Earl “Bo” Bedford, Hernan Rojas Torres and Herbert Spradley, all of which were ruled homicides.
They are also working to find the whereabouts of Guy Kirby, Marguerite Hoffman and Layla Blizzard, who have been missing from Shelby County for years.
Dormuth encouraged anyone with information on Baby Doe or any other local cold cases to contact the SCSO by calling its direct line at 669-4181 or the Secret Witness Line at 669-9116. Information can also be anonymously submitted at Shelbyso.com.