Greg Bodker: On the last episode of Solvable…
The pathologist in Jackson County determined that Baby Jane Doe was 18 months old…and had died likely about a day or two before she was found floating in the Escatawpa River.
200 strangers in Southern Mississippi memorialized her short life when she was laid to rest in a plot purchased IN PART by an area law enforcement officer and his family.
For decades investigators tried relentlessly to identify her but leads always dried up.
Then, after 2008 a new Jackson County Sheriff’s office investigator named Hope Manning, took over the case and decided to exhume Baby Jane’s body…
*Large equipment beeping & digging*
While crews were digging at the cemetery, Hope made a startling discovery.
There was a second unidentified baby interred beside Baby Jane.
*Large equipment lifting something*
In the ground, buried next to our Baby Jane from 1982 was the body of another unknown deceased little girl, who we’ll call Baby Jane 2.
Her grave marker stated that she entered and left this world in 1988.
Hope Manning was caught completely by surprise.
She knew a lot about the 1982 Baby Jane case, but no one had ever mentioned that a second Baby Jane was buried in the same cemetery, six years later.
Hope had rifled through boxes and boxes of investigative reports and evidence for Baby Jane from 1982 and even found an artist’s rendering of what she would have looked like in life. But information about the circumstances surrounding Baby Jane 2’s death was, for lack of a better word, non-existent.
Amanda Reno: In my research as a genetic genealogist, I am drawn to cases like Baby Jane 2’s. A case where there is no information, no one looking for the deceased, and they’re just seemingly forgotten.
In my experience, the best way to learn more about her history and how she ended up buried next to our Baby Jane is to exhume her remains and use genetic genealogy on her DNA.
If a viable DNA sample can be retrieved, there is a chance more of her story can be known.
Until then, here’s what little information we do know from the records that are available:
Baby Jane 2 was between 3 and 5 weeks old when a fisherman along the Pascagoula River found her on Wednesday, June 29th 1988.
Her body was entangled in a trotline in the water near the city of Wade, Mississippi.
For those of you who don’t know what a trotline is, it’s essentially a heavy fishing line with baited hooks and shorter fishing lines spread out at different points along it. It’s usually stretched across a wide area of a river in an attempt to lure multiple fish at a time.
So, think of it as like a clothesline in the water with hooks across it instead of clothespins.
Baby Jane 2’s autopsy revealed that she weighed about 6 pounds and had brown hair and blue-gray eyes.
The pathologist determined that she was born most likely between May 21st and June 4th of 1988 and had been dead for 3-4 days before being found in the river.
Her tiny skull had been crushed but it was too difficult for the pathologist to know for sure if that was the cause of her death or just a postmortem injury.
One undeniable conclusion from her autopsy was the fact that she was a victim of a homicide.
Her lungs contained sand particles, which meant she was alive when she entered the water and was able to take tiny breaths before expiring.
Greg Bodker: After Baby Jane 2 was found in 1988, two local funeral homes donated a graveside service and buried her beside the first Baby Jane from 1982.
Back then Chief Deputy John Ledbetter’s grandfather who was the sheriff of Jackson County at the time told the Hattiesburg American, quote— “We still put flowers on the grave. I go by there every once in a while, to make sure it’s ok.”—end quote.
Baby Jane 2 is one of 2,666 unidentified minors in NAMUS.
465 of those are estimated to be five years old or younger.
We interviewed a representative for NAMUS who told us that the database only contains approximately one-fourth of all unidentified people in the United States.
Interestingly, in most states, it’s not even required that NAMUS profiles be created for the unidentified.
So, the true figure of unidentified children may be closer to 12,000.
Just think about that for a minute, that’s 12,000 lives cut short far too soon.
Most if not all are just sitting in paupers graves or waiting under a Doe headstone for their identities to be restored.
We have provided a link to Baby Jane 2’s NAMUS entry on our website at www.solvablepodcast.com
We encourage you to visit NAMUS.gov and review the unidentified, unclaimed, and missing individuals from your area…it is so important that we work together to give these individuals their identities back.
During our Baby Jane’s grave exhumation, Hope Manning noticed that the grave itself was flooded…
The same was noted for Baby Jane 2’s burial plot.
Hope Manning: I know when we exhumed her and we talk about the cemetery, she was underwater.
Greg Bodker: In the grave or vault?
Hope Manning: No, no vault, in an old casket but where both plots are she was submerged in water.
Greg Bodker: Is the water table that high there?
Hope Manning: Yes, so when we exhumed her we brought her up to the opening and the pathologist Magary collected the samples. They were very skeptical because of her age and the water. Her little body was like leather.
Amanda Reno: That’s not surprising considering that particular area of Jackson County has endured decades of hurricanes…most notably, the superstorm Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
When we visited the cemetery last summer, the first thing we noticed was that it was in serious disrepair.
Everywhere we looked we saw weeds growing a foot high and headstones sinking into marshy ground.
*Feet walking on gravel & leaves*
It took us hours to locate the correct headstones.
When we finally located the gravesites for Baby Jane and Baby Jane 2, the rectangular memorials were flush with the ground and the metal plating on each had the distinctive blue-green patina of weathered copper.
Both markers were nearly identical and sat only a few inches apart. Baby Jane from 1982’s marker reads “Known Only to God,” and Baby Jane 2’s marker reads “In God’s Care.”
On the bottom left side of both copper plates, is the image of a shepherdess who resembles Bo Peep, standing accompanied by three little lambs with her shepherd’s hook in hand.
A pounded copper vase sat atop each marker and someone had left a small bouquet of white, yellow, pink, and red silk flowers in them.
The only other difference between the two memorials, besides the dates inscribed on them, is that our Baby Jane’s marker has a color copy of the artist’s reconstruction of her face on it.
Greg Bodker: After the exhumation and while awaiting forensic findings, Hope Manning’s investigative efforts in identifying Baby Jane from 1982 focused on getting the case renewed media attention.
She created a Facebook page for Baby Jane and tried to tap into social media.
During this process, she felt compelled to give Baby Jane a more formal name.
Hope Manning: Well, I named her Delta Dawn because she deserves a name. My sister had passed away, it was just a thing between me and her and my mom. We would always get her, and she would sing Delta Dawn my sister would just, so. She needed something, it was about 7 o’clock, it was right at dawn, so it just all fell together.
Greg Bodker: Hope also took a big step and officially loaded a profile for Baby Jane / Delta Dawn into the NAMUS database.
And for the first time in decades, new leads emerged from out of state and as far away as Germany.
Amanda Reno: When Jackson County investigator Hope Manning finally got Baby Jane, who she also calls Delta Dawn, uploaded into the NAMUS system. She worked tirelessly to review possible matches that came up.
Hope Manning: I think it was NAMUS, a lady with NAMUS, I was in very close connection with 2 different people, we finally got her put on the site, now at the time all we had was the composite, that’s all we could put out there, and they kept pushing it out there on the websites, and then I would push it, I can’t even tell you how many, I wouldn’t say hours, I would say years, I spent behind a computer screen looking for her. Once we finally got it out there, that’s when the calls started coming in. I feel if I didn’t get it out there, I wouldn’t have any leads whatsoever.
Amanda Reno: Leads started to come in from all over the United States and even overseas.
Hope Manning: It was the one in Germany, was the second one I got. It was after the California one. But the time frame didn’t add up with the age of the child, there was no way she could have been here from the time they said the child come up missing. There would have been no way, as far as the time frame goes. In California, they sent pictures, when we exhumed her, I held her body, and when we unwrapped her because of the way the water somehow mummified the baby, it was like holding a baby doll. So, I knew after the fact that it couldn’t be that child. People would say, “Well because it has been decades and this and this, you know,” and I say, “You weren’t there. You didn’t hold that child.’ It was like the baby was preserved. I’d never in my life seen anything like this.
Greg Bodker: As part of her effort to push Baby Jane’s case forward, Hope also became determined to track down the truck driver, Ted, who in 1982 had reported seeing an adult’s body in the Pascagoula River, the same day that Baby Jane was found in the neighboring Escatawpa River.
Hope actually did a phone interview with Ted years after the fact to try and pin down his story more.
Unfortunately, an official recording of that call no longer exists at the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, but we found a segment of it in a YouTube video on this case.
Ted, truck driver: I could hear a child or a baby crying at the top of his lungs and it’s got to be down in the water there in a boat or something, I didn’t know.
Greg Bodker: That brief snippet of Ted’s voice explaining to Hope what he remembered witnessing back in 1982, struck her as extremely odd.
Hope Manning: I did a phone interview with him, um his story completely changed, from seeing a body, face down, blue and black checkered, the description, to I heard a baby crying…
Greg Bodker: Like Hope just said, long gone was Ted’s story that he saw an adult’s body in the Pascagoula River on December 5th, 1982.
Instead, he told Hope that he heard a child crying while he had his window down driving on I-10.
Which again, to Hope, seemed extremely strange, and quite honestly, impossible.
Hope Manning: Now he is traveling 45 miles per hour, eastbound on the interstate with at the time his refrigeration was going down, but on the interview he said had an empty trailer. So, everything changed, it went from seeing a body face down to hearing a child scream.
Greg Bodker: Our investigative team has tried multiple times to contact Ted and interview him for this show, but each time he’s refused to speak with us.
We’ve talked with his wife several times on the phone, but she always states that he isn’t available or does not want to be involved.
In the police reports for this case that we’ve been given exclusive access to, we’ve seen Ted’s full name pop up, but for the sake of respecting his wishes and understanding that he’s never formally been named a suspect in this case, we’re choosing to only refer to him by his first name.
Amanda Reno: When Hope Manning’s quest for answers, including trying to squeeze more info out of Ted led nowhere, her role in the case began to change as year after year dragged on.
But despite getting further and further from the case, Hope still continued to manage the Facebook page for Baby Jane and stayed involved in the investigation as much as she could.
Basically, she was approaching retirement, but unwilling to end her watch before Baby Jane got her identity back.
Hope Manning: I told the Sheriff I could retire once we give her a name.
Amanda Reno: In August 2020, when the Solvable team was granted access to case files, reports, and documents, everyone within the Jackson County sheriff’s office was prepared to do things a little differently.
By 2020, all of the investigators involved and those who had knowledge about the case wanted to provide us with as much information as possible, in hopes of finally identifying Baby Jane.
Greg Bodker: I’ll be the first to tell you, sharing information in an open case is not something most investigators and law enforcement organizations feel comfortable doing.
Especially when we know Baby Jane’s case has all the telltale signs of likely being a homicide.
Detectives always work with a prosecution in mind, and they want to make sure they don’t release too much information that may lead to a false confession or harm the integrity of the investigation.
But with us, and this case, in particular, Sheriff Ezell and Chief Ledbetter were willing to shift their way of thinking.
They realize that making an arrest or convicting someone of a crime, in this case, may not happen. So, they are now prioritizing identifying Baby Jane / Delta Dawn and finding her family above all else.
Amanda Reno: The first major break in the case happened in 2019.
In November of that year, Jackson County evidence technician, Jeremy Miller, along with several others in the department, began looking into using genetic genealogy to identify Baby Jane.
Othram, a Houston-based lab, was willing to help.
But as it is with many departments across the country, securing funding for the testing was a concern.
Before Jeremy could spend much time worrying about how to get the funds, he received an unexpected phone call from New York.
Jeremy Miller: It was like everything just fell into place, you know what I mean, like the light shown down from the clouds, everything started falling into place, because about the same time I got the price list, I was contacted by a lady in Brooklyn NY, and she wanted to donate to pay for it, because she remembered growing up and I drove the samples myself to Houston, hand-delivered them in person.
Greg Bodker: Is that a 10-hour drive?
Jeremy Miller: It was about 9 hours, but worth it. 9 hours is nothing compared to 40 years.
Amanda Reno: The donor from New York who offered to pay Othram labs in Houston to do genetic genealogy testing on Baby Jane’s remains for the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office was a woman named Catherine Serbousik.
We called Catherine at her home in Brooklyn to learn more about what inspired her to offer to sponsor the entire cost of genetic genealogy testing.
Catherine Serbousik: Well, I think I was about 8, that’s when the first composite sketch of her. What she might of looked like, had been released, and so it was on the news. Um, to my memory I thought it was on Unsolved Mysteries, but I don’t think it was on Unsolved Mysteries now that I am an adult and I tried to look up the episode. But it stuck with me because at the time they thought she was 2 years old and I thought well she would have been my age I could have been friends with her, I grew up in Arkansas and that’s probably why it was on local news. So it wasn’t that far-fetched in my mind to think, somebody could have moved from Mississippi to here. I could have known her and it kind of brought into my eight-year-old mind the thought of mortality, my own mortality, and that it was possible for kids my age to die. And so I never forgot her because of that. My father had died when I was a baby and so I understood death, but then having to think of that with other people, that dawning realization of oh, something terrible could happen to me.
When I decided to do this, I was turning 40 and I had saved up because everyone does big blowouts for their 40s, 40th birthday these days so I saved and I never decided what I was going to do. I thought I would take a big trip. Something big. And then my sister warned me, well you’re gonna have all this existential dread because our father died when he was 40. And I thought, well I know that and experiencing things is different from knowing, so then my birthday happened, I love birthdays, and I just didn’t want to do anything, and I didn’t know what to do. Where do I want to go? What do I want to do? I guess not making a decision. Then I joked with my sister that I was gonna start a podcast called Unsolved, Unsolved Mysteries, working through the cases that are unsolved, of the original Unsolved Mysteries and because I joked about it and was really thinking about it. And I do not have the time, but I thought about what I would do first, and immediately I know this is what I would do. And so I had that thought and months later I was sitting at home, my daughter was in school, my son was napping, I didn’t have work that day and I thought well, who would I contact if I were just gonna ask about doing this? I just Googled, I could just call and ask, what’s the worst that could happen that someone could say, no? Okay, I can live with that, it’s me asking to give you money, so…
Amanda Reno: At first, Catherine’s call and offer to pay for critical testing was bounced around a bit, from one person to the next.
Then, finally, her phone call landed with the right person, evidence tech Jeremy Miller.
It didn’t take long for Jeremy to accept Catherine’s offer and in November 2019 he made the trip from Jackson County to Houston to hand-deliver the DNA samples to Othram.
Hopes were high, but there was one big problem.
According to Othram CEO, David Mittleman, the sample from Baby Jane was in very poor condition.
Due to so many years passing since she was first buried, and the fact that her grave had been flooded, the evidence sample that the lab had to work with was contaminated with bacteria.
To everyone’s dismay, the condition of the remains meant the sample would take much longer than anticipated to develop into a usable profile.
Greg Bodker: So, while they waited for results investigators had no choice but to go back over the many theories that had emerged over the years as to who Baby Jane was, what had happened to her, and where her mother could be.
By that point, the sheriff’s office was convinced that the report of the adult body seen floating in the Pascagoula River the same day Baby Jane was found in the Escatawpa River was most likely the little girl’s mother.
All of the evidence and witnesses’ testimony in the case pointed to that being the likeliest scenario.
Amanda Reno: By 2019, what investigators realized was that in all of their years looking into Baby Jane’s case, they’d never taken a big enough step back and looked at other crimes happening in Jackson County during the 1980s.
When they did widen their scope, they discovered an alarming number of horrific unsolved homicide cases that overlapped with the same timeframe that Baby Jane and the body of her supposed mother were reported.
Many of those cases were homicides of young women and bore striking resemblances to each other.
Next time on Solvable…
We’re taking a brief break from discussing Baby Jane’s case to dive into some of these other unsolved murders, one of whose prime suspect may be linked to Baby Jane…
Hope Manning: We had red flags everywhere, he implanted himself into these murders.
In his journals, he admitted that he’s the one that killed Delta and shot the mother with a .22 under her chin.
Greg Bodker: That’s on the next episode of Solvable…