RED WING, Minn. (TCD) -- A 50-year-old woman was taken into custody on suspicion of abandoning a newborn baby who was later found dead and doing the same thing four years later.
On Monday, May 9, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and Goodhue County Sheriff’s Office announced in a joint statement an arrest in a nearly 20-year-old cold case. Jennifer Lynn Matter was arrested on charges of second-degree murder — with intent — not premeditated and second-degree murder — without intent.
According to the probable cause statement, on Nov. 4, 1999, at 1:13 p.m., deputies from the Goodhue County Sheriff’s Office and Red Wing Police Department were dispatched to a boat harbor on the Mississippi River in Red Wing. A witness reportedly saw an object floating in the water and noticed it was a towel as he got closer. He said he thought it might be from his boat, so he "reached out, picked it up, and an infant child fell out of it." The witness put the towel back in the water then "directed the infant’s body towards the shore before calling 911."
The statement says the child "appeared to be a newborn with the umbilical cord still attached."
An autopsy determined the child was a "well-developed term female with no congenital abnormalities or obvious injuries." The coroner determined the manner of death was homicide. Her cause of death was undetermined, according to the statement.
Four years later, on Dec. 7, 2003, Goodhue County deputies were called out to Methodist Beach on the Mississippi River because they received a call about a "deceased, unclothed, infant male found on the beach." A group of teenage girls reportedly discovered the boy on the edge of the water. His umbilical cord was still attached and wrapped around his body.
The probable cause statement says the newborn boy was full-term and most likely born alive. He suffered blunt force head injuries, including several hemorrhages, but there were no congenital anomalies. Once again, the coroner determined his manner of death was homicide and his matter of death was unknown.
Jennifer Matter was identified by DNA as the baby’s mother after genetic genealogy provided an important clue the ultimately led to her. A baby girl found deceased in 1999 in the river near Red Wing was also determined through DNA to be Matter's. More: https://t.co/xOMoTt2hsxpic.twitter.com/ybtjLRrFL5
Over the years, investigators continued to look into the case. In 2021, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s crime lab used DNA technology to identify the female’s father. Matter then became a person of interest. She reportedly refused to submit DNA evidence and told investigators she was not the girl’s mother and denied being pregnant at that time.
Investigators eventually obtained a warrant for a DNA sample and the results reportedly said, "Based upon the above results, the most conservative estimates indicate that the genetic results obtained from the unidentified female infant are 600 million times more likely to occur in a biological mother of the infant than in someone unrelated to the infant."
According to the probable cause affidavit, Matter told officers she was "in a bad mental state" in 1999 because she was "in and out of jail, drinking too much, doing stupid things, and had experience chaotic life circumstances for a long time."
She reportedly did not know she was pregnant until she started bleeding while taking her kids to school. Matter said she gave birth in her bathroom and the girl "was born blue" and not breathing. She wrapped the child in a towel and took her to a boathouse the next day.
As for the 2003 child, Matter went to the beach "to be alone because she was trying to lay low because she had an arrest warrant." She gave birth and "remembered leaving the baby on the beach before driving away."
Matter said she didn’t call police because she "hoped that someone in the nearby houses would find the baby."
In a press conference Monday, Donahue County District Attorney Stephen O’Keefe said Matter is only facing charges right now for the death of the child born in 2003. O’Keefe said that officials know Matter is the mother of the child born in 1999, but no charges have been filed yet in that case. He said charges may be added or changed "as more information comes to light."