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On Sunday morning, November 10, 1996, the body of a newborn infant was found inside a garbage bag placed in an old horse barn one mile east of Lisbon, Iowa, in Cedar County. Clair Wilson — a retired Quaker Oats employee — discovered the bag on the floor near a horse stall while moving lumber into the 40-by-75-foot barn around 10 a.m. Sunday.
The white barn faced the farmhouse where Wilson lived with his son and daughter-in-law, Tim and Debbie Wilson, and their 15-year-old son, Luke.
Wilson, not believing what he found, brought the bag to the house’s patio. The infant’s body lay inside a smaller white plastic shopping bag — its handles tied — that had then been placed in a black plastic open garbage sack. The red printed letters on the white bag’s exterior said “Thanks for Shopping here,” with the “T” and “S” in uppercase letters.
No movement or sound came from the bag, which Wilson estimated weighed about 8 or 9 pounds.
The Wilsons did not touch the baby or take her out of the bag, but said it was obvious the infant was dead.
“It just didn’t seem right in there, because there’s never a garbage bag in the barn. I just grabbed that bag and ripped it open,” Wilson told the Cedar Rapids Gazette in an interview published the following day. “The first thing I saw was feet and hands and … Christ … I knew this wasn’t garbage.”
The Caucasian newborn — whose umbilical cord was still attached to the placenta — had distinct facial features and pale skin, and her eyes were closed. She weighed only 4 pounds but was considered full-term.
Despite freezing temperatures, the body wasn’t frozen, which led the Wilsons to believe the baby had been in the barn only a short time.
State Medical Examiner Thomas Bennett said the baby girl was alive at birth and lived a few minutes, but likely died of exposure. No other cause of death could be determined.
Using body temperature, detectives estimated the baby could have been placed in the barn as late as 6 a.m. the morning Wilson found her. The family kept machinery inside the barn, along with a number of cats.
The night before, Luke Wilson had been the last to go to bed shortly after midnight.
Tim Wilson said the family’s black Labrador began barking a few hours later.
“He was barking his head off between 2:30 and 3, but we came to the conclusion that was probably our paper being delivered,” Tim Wilson told the Gazette.
Cedar County Sheriff Keith Whitlatch dubbed the girl “Baby Jane Lincoln” after the Lincoln Highway, the historic name for US Highway 30 near the barn where she was found.
Whitlatch said many stores used the “Thanks for Shopping here” bag, but believed the girl’s parents were from Cedar County or a nearby area. “Someone familiar with Highway 30,” he said.
The sheriff asked people to think about those they knew who’d been pregnant and then suddenly weren’t pregnant around November 10. Hospitals across the state also were asked to report on any unexplained admissions.
Just three months earlier, Whitlatch had investigated a similar case where a newborn girl was discovered in a toilet at the Brea Z Lake Campground southeast of Tipton. The baby’s mother — just 12 years old — was not charged. That infant, too, had been alive at birth but died of exposure.
“Here’s another baby that’s never going to cry,” Whitlatch told the Gazette about the Lisbon infant.
Whitlatch also organized a funeral service for the baby girl.
The Fry Funeral Home in Tipton handled the arrangements for the November 14 service. Owners David and Janet Fry donated a portion of the costs, and the Rev. Frank Heubner of Cedar Street Baptist Church volunteered to conduct the rites.
That Thursday, about two dozen people gathered at the New Horizon Cemetery in a rarely used, county owned burial plot north of Tipton.
A once-white picket fence surrounded the strangers as they shivered in the cold and laid Baby Jane Lincoln to rest.
Officers quietly checked license plates of vehicles at the cemetery, though none produced any new leads.
Heubner’s well-worn Bible pages fluttered in the wind as he read from Mark 10:13-16: “Suffer the little children to come to me…”
When the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) established a Cold Case Unit in 2009, Baby Jane Doe Lincoln’s murder was one of approximately 150 cases listed on the Cold Case Unit’s new website as those the DCI hoped to solve using latest advancements in DNA technology.
Although federal grant funding for the DCI Cold Case Unit was exhausted in December 2011, the DCI continues to assign agents to investigate cold cases as new leads develop or as technological advances allow for additional forensic testing of original evidence.
The DCI remains committed to resolving Iowa’s cold cases and will continue to work diligently with local law enforcement partners to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice for the victims and their families.
If you have any information you think might help solve this crime, please contact the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at (515) 725-6010, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact the Cedar County Sheriff’s Office at (563) 886-2121.