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On Tuesday, October 17, 1995, two police officers on foot patrol in Storm Lake, Iowa, entered a boarded-up mobile home and, on the floor inside a dark closet, found the body of a 2-day-old baby boy wrapped in a youth’s sweatshirt.
The officers entered the 502 C West 8th Street trailer on what they thought would be a routine investigation, the (Storm Lake) Pilot Tribune reported Thursday, Oct. 19, 1995.
A dozen police officers and agents from the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation spent most of Wednesday searching for clues to the baby’s identity and the person or persons responsible for the infant’s death. Police sealed off the home as a possible crime scene as they awaited criminologists from the DCI Crime Lab in Des Moines.
Storm Lake Police Captain Joe Hoye said they were treating the case as a criminal investigation, and that manslaughter or murder charges may be implicated in the child’s death.
Hoye called the incident a difficult case emotionally for officers to handle.
“Police are trained for difficult situations, but I don’t think you could ever prepare anyone to deal with something like this,” he told the Pilot Tribune. “When you are talking about a child dead of neglect, it is very hard for the officers to deal with.”
A preliminary report from an autopsy conducted in Sioux City by the State Medical Examiner’s Office determined the baby was a male and less than two days old. Hoye said the child appeared to be a full-term delivery, but didn’t know whether the baby had been born in a hospital setting or elsewhere.
According to the autopsy report, the baby had been abandoned in the trailer about 24 hours before being discovered Tuesday by police about 7 p.m.
Storm Lake officers had stepped up efforts on foot patrol since summer due to increasing crime reports in the Vista Estates mobile home park.
The trailer had been boarded up for months and was situated against an embankment, nearly hidden from view by occupied mobile homes. Officers became suspicious after noticing one of the boards had been removed from the trailer.
Dale Barr, who managed the Vista Estates mobile home park, said the trailer at 502C had been abandoned about two years earlier and that he’d finally boarded it up with wood and nails after the last tenants left it in such bad condition he’d judged it beyond repair. It hadn’t stopped people from illegally entering the trailer.
Officials considered the sweatshirt — believed to be a youth size worn by a teen or small adult — a key piece of evidence in the case. Flyers were passed around town in English, Spanish and Lao with a picture depicting the garment, described as having orange sleeves, a purple shoulder area, a black torso with a purple quilted horizontal band over an orange horizontal band, and a black waistband, cuffs and neckband.
The chest area depicted an emblem stating: “Genuine Original, Varsity, Universal, 586.”
“We’re hoping that anyone who recognizes the sweatshirt will give us a call and help us with the investigation,” Hoye said.
Officials announced a $1,000 reward for any information leading them to the person or persons who’d abandoned the baby.
A week after the baby’s discovery Police Chief Mark Prosser said investigators continued to pursue leads but there had been no breaks in the case.
On Friday, October 27, 1995, the Storm Lake community held a memorial service at Lakeside Presbyterian Church to say goodbye to the infant. Six ministers and many church-goers of different faiths attended the service, along with the St. Mary’s children’s choir and several musicians.
The service opened with the children’s choir singing “Amazing Grace,” who later sang a musical tribute — “Like a Little Child” — to Baby Doe.
The ministers prayed for justice and peace for the person or persons responsible for the baby’s death, and for the “gift of consolation” for the community.
Police officers distributed memorial booklets titled “Baby Doe, Child of the Storm Lake Community,” and placed a teddy bear displaying the department’s logo next to the single red rose atop the casket to be buried with the child.
Those attending the Friday services wept openly.
“We now entrust this soul to the Lord…that this child may find a home in His Kingdom,” said Father Mike Erpelding, who concelebrated the service with several members of the Storm Lake clergy.
“This child may have died alone, but as one who was chosen by God,” Erpelding said. “This child, like us, experienced an imperfect world.” (Storm Lake Times, Oct. 28, 1995)
When services ended, the tiny casket — scarcely bigger than a bread box — was carried from the church, accompanied by the full force of the Storm Lake police.
The officers also stood by during the infant’s burial at Buena Vista Memorial Park Cemetery.
Nearly six years passed after Baby Doe’s death when another male infant about 24 hours old was found in a shredder at the Harold Rowley Recycling Center. On May 30, 2002, workers found the infant’s remains in the trash chute on the conveyor where recyclables were separated. The infant’s body had been damaged by the shredder, Buena Vista County Sheriff Chuck Eddy said in a Pilot Tribune story dated April 22, 2006.
The second child, dubbed “Child of God,” was ruled out as being African-American, and the sheriff said it was impossible to determine whether the baby was born alive due to the condition of its remains.
The newborn’s body was found outside Storm Lake’s city limits, although the Storm Lake Police Department and Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation assisted the Buena County Sheriff’s Office in the investigation.
To date, both infants’ deaths remain unsolved.
If you have any information about Baby Doe’s unsolved case, please contact the Storm Lake Police Department at (712) 732-8010. If you have any information about “Child of God’s” unsolved case, please contact the Buena Vista County Sheriff’s Office at (712) 749-2530.