Wrong Bridge, Wrong Bodies

The body count is increasing and the mysteries are deepening. The communities of Southern Jackson County, Mississippi mourn the loss of a young life.

Episode Info

Episode Transcript

Amanda Reno: On the last episode of Solvable, a truck driver named Ted alerted Jackson County Sheriff’s Office to an adult’s body floating in the Pascagoula River off of I-10 in southern Mississippi.

*Police siren wail*

When deputy Mike Waugh responded to the call., he mistakenly began his search at a bridge further east on the interstate. A bridge that stretched over the Escatawpa River, NOT the Pascagoula River.

There, he spotted the dead body of a baby girl in the river.

*Police radio chatter & motorboat sounds*

So, by sheer chance, the sheriff’s office had two bodies they were looking for, on the same day, in two different rivers, right next to one another.

And when investigators tried to reconnect with the truck driver who reported the first body, he was nowhere to be found.

Greg Bodker: According to an autopsy report given to us by the Jackson County sheriff’s office, the little girl, known as Baby Jane, weighed between 20 and 25 pounds and would have stood two and a half feet tall.

When she was found she was barefoot and wearing only a red and white checkered dress and disposable diaper.

Her strawberry blonde hair with loose curls was about shoulder length and she had either brown or blue eyes.

Due to the state that her body was in when authorities found her, her eyes were clouded, and it was difficult to make out their true color.

When the pathologist conducting her autopsy measured her stage of decomposition those readings indicated that she had died not long before being discovered. It was highly likely she’d died somewhere in the ballpark of 36 to 48 hours before being found on the morning of December 5th, 1982.

Despite being described as well-nourished, she had no food in her stomach and her bladder and bowels were empty. Indicating it had likely been days since her last meal or drink.

The pathologist used Baby Jane’s 12 little teeth to estimate her age. She was roughly one and a half years old.

The report states she died from suffocation, but at the time, drowning was considered synonymous with that ruling.

Amanda Reno: Baby Jane Doe lived only 18 months before her life was cut short in the dark waters of the Escatawpa River.

For law enforcement, so many questions remained. Like, who was this child? How did she end up in the river?

Then, there were the reports of a woman seen holding a baby on this same stretch of highway just 2 days earlier.

Could the baby in that story have been Baby Jane?

If so, where was her mother? And most important of all, where was truck driver Ted who’d reported seeing a woman’s body in the Pascagoula River, the body whose clothing closely matched the description of the wandering mother?

As deputies struggled, and ultimately failed to locate the truck driver to get additional information, the Jackson County flotilla continued their search with the limited information they’d received up until that point.

*Boat motors*

The search involved boats scouring both the Escatawpa and Pascagoula Rivers.

Reports even indicate the river was dragged in hopes of recovering anything or anyone below the surface, but nothing turned up.

No woman’s body…

No further clues…

Nothing that helped investigators identify Baby Jane.

Greg Bodker: But even though searching Jackson County waterways got police nowhere with Baby Jane’s case…they did find something else of extreme interest.

Just three days after pulling Baby Jane’s body from the Escatawpa River, another gruesome discovery was made downstream.

Flotilla crews stumbled upon another body. This time it was the severely decomposed skeletal remains of a young man.

Here’s Jackson County Sheriff’s Office evidence technician Jeremy Miller to explain.

Jeremy Miller: As they were looking, they found Baby Jane and looking for the mother, found the skeletal remains of a black male, that was in his upper teens to mid-20s in age, fully clothed, and appeared to have a gunshot wound to the back of the head. He had been lying there for…

Hope Manning: 6 months

Jeremy Miller: No like 3 years. Fully skeletal.

Greg Bodker: What are the chances for that?

Had searchers not been out scouring for clues in Baby Jane and her supposed mother’s case, who knows how long it would have been before this young man would have been discovered, or if he’d have been discovered at all.

Sadly, to this day this man’s body is still without a name. Even after nearly 40 years.

He’s one of nearly 14,000 Doe’s whose case is recorded in NAMUS.

*Digital database sounds*

Amanda Reno: NAMUS is the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, which is described as a national information clearinghouse and resource center for missing, unidentified, and unclaimed person cases across the United States.

The case information for this John Doe discovered on December 8, 1982, describes him as approximately 18-22 years old, standing at a height of 5’6” and weighing only 120 pounds.

He had a scar on the left side of his forehead from a healed injury and was wearing blue jeans.

There’s also an artist rendering of what he may have looked like in life which we have provided a link to on our website

Someone, somewhere may know who he is and be able to help give him back his name.

Greg Bodker: After the body of John Doe was recovered, no additional findings were made in Baby Jane’s case…and nothing ever turned up regarding the body in the blue checkered shirt reportedly spotted in the Pascagoula River either.

Having no answers was extremely unusual for Jackson County flotilla captains. In all their combined years of experience, they had a very high body recovery rate.

In our interview with Louis Seaman on his boat last summer, we asked him how many bodies over the years the flotilla has been unable to locate.

He said the only ones he could remember were a few small children.

Greg Bodker: Have there been people you couldn’t find?

Louis Seaman: See, we have 3 babies since I have been in we couldn’t find, up in Sandy Slew but up there the sand shifts real bad, and, we was kinda figuring they got under the sand.

Greg Bodker: The only thing left for law enforcement to do in 1982 was to try and identify Baby Jane Doe with the technology they had at the time, which wasn’t much.

They, like everyone else in Jackson County, thought surely this little girl belonged to someone, a family, anyone.

There had to be somebody missing her.

Amanda Reno: While our team was in Jackson County last year, we visited the sheriff’s office and met with Chief Deputy John Ledbetter.

After talking in his office for a while about Baby Jane, out of the blue, he called a former investigator assigned to the case.

Her name is Terry Byrnes Hansen.

Ledbetter knew Terry would remember the case and be a great resource to take us back to the events that happened during the initial investigation.

Through her years of service, Terry has worked many cases, but to her the case of Baby Jane is different.

It’s haunted her for nearly 4 decades.

Terry Byrnes Hansen: Hello.

John Ledbetter: Is this Ms. Terry Hanson?

Terry Byrnes Hansen: Yes it is.

John Ledbetter: Ms. Hanson this is John Ledbetter down at the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office

Terry Byrnes Hansen: Oh, hello.

John Ledbetter: How you doing?

Terry Byrnes Hansen: Fine, how are you?

John Ledbetter: I’m doing pretty good, I talked with Jimmy Macenally this morning on the phone and he referenced you and I think he contacted you today.

Terry Byrnes Hansen: Yes he did, he called me early this morning.

John Ledbetter: Okay, what we are doing is we are looking at the old 1982 case on the interstate, Baby Jane case, and we’re gathering information and we’re trying to, trying to do our best to get DNA evidence, and get some identification done and in the process what we are going to do, do you mind sharing some things with us, some of your experiences and some of your information.

Terry Byrnes Hansen: Oh, of course not, what do you need?

Amanda Reno: With Terry on board and willing to help, it was time to get more information.

Terry Byrnes Hansen: I’ve been having (over the last, well, 38 years I guess it’s been) I have been having these nightmares, ever since I had my son, he looked just like her when I was carrying her, to do the autopsy, I wasn’t ever able to solve that case.

Amanda Reno: Terry vividly remembers the December morning in 1982 when Baby Jane was found.

Terry Byrnes Hansen: …and we just happened to get called in. They said we have a possible body out there, and when we got there, they told us it was a child. And when they finally recovered her, they gave her to me, and I took her in an ambulance to the hospital. I want to say it was Dr. McGary or (side discussion)…Dr. McGary was the one that helped me put together that kit.

Greg Bodker: The kit Terry is referring to is a collection of samples from Baby Jane’s body.

Terry was there for part of Baby Jane’s autopsy. After the pathologist collected the samples, she personally drove them to the state lab for further analysis and storage.

Terry Byrnes Hansen: It was 18 months, his guesstimate was 18 months, his best guesstimate, so we did 2 years just to be safe, all the kids we could narrow within Jackson County green county, mainly it was Pascagoula Hospital. Dr. Lee at the time was an ER doctor, he made some calls, he helped out. And what we did was we were just trying to narrow down any children of that age group how many were born in the counties closest to us and they reached out to Harrison County as well trying to see if we can catch up with all these children that were possibly born or were they around or could we make sure they were alive and well.

It was no use, we couldn’t find anyone missing. And then at the same time, I was checking on the clothing and I think it was CradleTogs and it was made out of Texas. I sent all that into the crime lab or course it had been in the water. We were hoping to find where it was distributed.

Greg Bodker: Was there much media attention on the case?

Terry Byrnes Hansen: No, the attention came of course when the Sheriff and I don’t remember if it was Virgil or somebody like that set up a funeral. That was really the only time that the public got involved.

Amanda Reno: Terry is just ONE of MANY people we’ve interviewed for this show who has expressed how this case has stuck with them, for decades.

We got a  sense of just how deeply Baby Jane’s story shook citizens in Jackson County.

SFX funeral music

When her funeral service was eventually held in a local church, 200 community members, complete STRANGERS to Baby Jane, poured into the sanctuary to mourn a life unknown to them but valued nonetheless.

*Church bells tolling*

Baby Jane was laid to rest in a grave paid for in part by members of the community.

Local businesses, a church, and citizens came together to ensure that Baby Jane Doe received a proper burial.

In an interview with Chief Deputy Ledbetter, we learned just how much the mystery surrounding this unnamed little girl affected everyone in Jackson County at the time.

John Ledbetter: Her headstone reads, “Known Only to God.” Did you see that online? And that would be great if we can put a name on that tombstone and have it changed, but more than that to get why did this happen, how did this happen, how did she end up on the side of the interstate.

Greg Bodker: Baby Jane’s poignant memorial service made everyone in Jackson County take pause.

But, like we see so many times in law enforcement, investigators working her case didn’t have the luxury of pressing pause on their work.

Investigator Terry Byrnes Hansen had to push forward but it seemed like everywhere she turned to follow leads. She repeatedly found herself hitting dead end after dead end.

Every missing child case she looked into that matched Baby Jane’s age, gender, and description, the child always ended up being accounted for.

After years of getting nowhere, Terry had to reluctantly move on with her other cases but she never forgot Baby Jane.

She always held onto hope that one day the case would be solved.

The case remained at a standstill, for 26 years, until one day it was assigned to a current Jackson County investigator who would bring the haunting cold case into the 21st century…

Greg Bodker: In 2008, 26 years after Baby Jane’s body was recovered from the Escatawpa River, the case was assigned to Jackson County investigator Hope Manning.

Hope Manning: In 2007 I came on, in 2008 I went to the captain of CID when I heard about this case for many years and requested if there’s a possibility I could reopen it, and got the go-ahead and we hit the ground running.

Greg Bodker: You got hired in ‘07 and started working it in 08? What caused you to do that, why did you?

Hope Manning: It was heartbreaking. There were a lot of people here in Jackson County that wanted closure. Just the thought of that little girl dying alone.

Greg Bodker: Yeah, it’s heartbreaking.

Hope Manning: Absolutely.

Amanda Reno: During the nearly two decades that the case grew cold, citizens of Jackson County and vigilant internet sleuths had played an important role in keeping interest in Baby Jane’s case alive.

Right around the time that Hope Manning began looking into the case, she discovered that a memorial was going to be held for Baby Jane.

A group of local women had organized the vigil and wanted the event to not only draw attention to Baby Jane’s case but also get out information related to other local missing or unidentified people in Jackson County. Which turns out, there were a lot.

One of the women who spearheaded this event is named Lynn.

Lynn: It was nice, we had a table set up and a guest book, people signed it, and then we had, Ellen had just started one of her websites Mississippi Missing and Unidentified, and she had a few business cards and stuff that she put up. I had some little pamphlets made up, that people could read. I showed a video of some of the people that had been missing.

Amanda Reno: So, not only was Baby Jane memorialized by the Jackson County community back in 1982…and by so many law enforcement officer’s who’d carried the torch in her case over the years…but this little unidentified girl’s legacy was still remembered by people in 2008 and even now.

That is incredible and is just an amazing reminder of how much this story resonates with people in Southern Mississippi.

Greg Bodker: For five years Hope Manning was the lead investigator assigned to the case and she really focused her attention on reviewing old files, reports, and evidence, hoping to find some scrap of new information that had not been explored.

Hope Manning: When I got the case is when I first really started trying to find interviews, or find something other than just a typed report.

Greg Bodker: Through those 5 years, were there people that you know, I read some articles, you had some people in mind you thought were maybe suspect or involved with it?

Hope Manning: Yes, several people.

Greg Bodker: So, what lead you to those people?

Hope Manning: Um, we’ve had different murders here in Jackson County. Names, certain people would basically implement themselves into the investigation, so that threw red flags. Um, it was just so much. Once I got into it, it was so overwhelming, because of the outreach from the public. They are wanting this solved, closed, she deserves this, but we only had so many leads. I mean we didn’t have a lot to go with, but what I had, we hit the ground running. We executed search warrants, in FL, just by getting information coming in, people possibly them thinking “this could be my sister”, “this could be a cousin” so anything we got like that, you know, in reference to there’s a possibility, even if it was just closure for them, whether they were or not. We tried to do everything we possibly could.

Greg Bodker: In 2008, 2009, and 2012, advancements in DNA technology had come lightyears from where they were in 1982.

Also, by that time, small pieces of information, or what some in law enforcement like to call tips, had trickled…and Hope began chasing those down as well.

So, with those two things falling into place, she took the next logical step in trying to identify Baby Jane.

She requested an exhumation order for the body.

But on the day of exhumation, the dogged investigator encountered something completely unexpected.

The little baby girl who everyone, including Hope Manning, had assumed had sat all these years alone in death, in fact, was not alone.

Hope Manning: The day we went to the cemetery to exhume her body is when the second one.

Greg Bodker: That’s on the next episode of Solvable.