SC mother gets suspended 10-year sentence in death of baby found in vacuum cleaner box 33 years ago

Thirty-three years ago, a newborn baby girl was found dead inside a Sears vacuum cleaner box in an area outside Greenville that had long been used to dump worn-out furniture and appliances.

On Thursday, Brook Graham, the baby’s mother identified several years ago through DNA testing, was sentenced to 10 years, suspended to five years home detention and five years probation.

She pleaded guilty to unlawful neglect of a child and desecration of human remains. The maximum sentence for the unlawful neglect charge in South Carolina is 10 years.

A murder charge was dropped because no one could prove the child, who came to be known as Julie Valentine, had been born alive and that Graham was responsible.

Graham also pleaded guilty last year to unlawful conduct of a child and improperly disposing of remains in connection to the body of a baby boy found in 1989, a year before Julie Valentine was found.

It was an Alford plea, which means Graham maintained her innocence but acknowledged the state had enough evidence to convict her.

Graham had been free on bond since the plea last year.

Julie Valentine was named for a victim witness coordinator who worked tirelessly to identify her after her body was found on the day before Valentine’s Day in 1990.

A man picking wildflowers for his wife found the body. She had a head full of black hair, weighed 6 pounds and was 193/4 inches long. The coroner determined she was three days old when she died.

Among the multiple avenues of investigation Greenville Police officers pursued was tracking who bought the vacuum cleaner. Two names could not be ruled out and Graham’s was one of them.

Yet they could not make a case until former Police Chief Ken Miller ordered DNA testing.

Julie Valentine has become a symbol for child abuse prevention in Greenville County. She’s memorialized with a sculpture in Cleveland Park and in the name of the organization that works with abuse survivors.

Julie Valentine is buried in one of three sections identified as Babyland at Woodlawn Memorial Park in Greenville. The headstone says Baby Jane Doe and under that, Julie Valentine Feb. 1990.

The original detectives on the case paid for her marker.

Terry Christy, one of the original investigators, said when Graham pleaded guilty that the plea did not bring closure for him. He thinks of the little girl often and sometimes goes by her grave when he goes to the graves of family members.

His wife, Julianna, is the victim witness coordinator for whom Julie Valentine was named. She called every hospital in the Southeast looking for a recently born baby. There were thoughts the baby had been dumped by someone traveling through because the location was so close to Interstate 85.

There were reports of someone at the dump in a red Pontiac Fiero. Police tried to get a subscriber list from The Wall Street Journal because the baby was wrapped in a copy of the July 12, 1989 edition. Outside that was a pink floral sheet, something detectives thought came from someone’s home.

Terry Christy said last year Graham refusing to admit guilt was characteristic of a woman “so callous to throw away a baby.”

“She got away with it for all these years,” he said.

Graham will get credit for the almost four years she has served on home detention and while in jail after her arrest in 2019.

Her attorney told the court Graham has multiple sclerosis and fears she would not get proper medical treatment in prison, Fox Carolina reported.

The lawyer also said she has gotten “grip of her demons.”

Court records show Judge Thomas L. Hughston handled the sentencing.