‘Baby Doe’ was found on the side of a Vermont road four decades ago. DNA testing has finally unlocked the mystery

Police share the gravestone of Matthew Isaac Doe, burried in 1982 after his infant body was found by a roadway  (Vermont State Police)
Police share the gravestone of Matthew Isaac Doe, burried in 1982 after his infant body was found by a roadway (Vermont State Police)

Vermont State Police say new DNA testing has finally solved the 40-year-old mystery of a baby who was found dead along the side of a road.

The case was closed this month without criminal charges, after authorities tracked down the child’s biological parents and determined that the baby died at birth and wasn’t murdered, the police announced in a press release on Wednesday that applauded authorities’ many “years of hard work and dedication.”

The saga began on April 1, 1982, when a group of children waiting for a school bus along a roadway in Northfield, Vermont, came upon the baby’s body, prompting a parent to call police.

As his identity was unknown, investigators initally dubbed the child “Baby Doe,” the police said. An autopsy determined he was a full-term infant who had signs of existing medical conditions. But the coronor was “unable to positively determine whether Baby Doe died before or after birth, and therefore the cause and manner of death each were classified as undetermined,” police said.

In late April, the reverend of St. Mary’s Church in Northfield held a funeral for the baby boy and gave him the name Matthew Isaac Doe. He was buried in Mount Hope Cemetary after the service.

Authorities attempted to identify the baby and his parents, but the case eventually went cold. It wasn’t until decades later, thanks to advancements in DNA technology, that Vermont State Police partnered with Parabon NanoLabs and got the breakthrough they’d been waiting for after performing genetic geneology analysis on “samples obtained from swabs of the infant and items he had been found bundled in.”

“In December 2021, Parabon provided a lead: the possible names of Matthew Isaac’s biological mother and father. These subjects were researched and found to have ties to the Northfield area in 1982,” authorities said.

After tracking down the mother and father, who agreed to speak to investigators, they discovered that the father had left Vermont in 1982 and was unaware of the pregnancy, police explained.

But the biological mother admitted that she was responsible “for unlawful disposal of the deceased infant,” the police wrote in their release.

The mother revealed to investigators that she also had no idea that she was pregnant until one day in 1982, when she experienced severe abdominal pain. At first she thought she was just ill, but she soon realised she was going into labor, and delivered the baby alone for several hours. In the process she lost consciousness, later waking to find that she had given birth to a baby boy.

But the baby didn’t survive, as his umbilical cord had gotten wrapped around his neck, she told police.

After the tragic ordeal, the mother claimed she started to walk to the woods to try and give her baby a proper burial, but on the way, she became startled when she thought she heard voices and slipped. The baby’s body allegedly fell from her arms, and the mother ran, never returning.

“There’s nothing that leads us to believe that she’s not being truthful; we’ve seen this in other mothers,” Captain Jeremy Hill told VTDigger.

After reviewing the facts and circumstances in the Vermont State Police’s investigation, Washington County State’s Attorney Michelle Donnelly determined that a charge of murder is not warranted in this case.

“The charge relating to the unauthorized disposal of a dead body has been determined to be beyond the statute of limitations, and therefore there are no applicable criminal charges to be filed with this death investigation,” police explained.

Donnely told VTDigger that the evidence did not point to any intentional act, so in this case, it would not be prosecuted as a murder.

“It’s certainly been an unsettling mystery that we hope brings closure to the community, and, most importantly, to this family,” Donnelly said.