Jonathan Lange: Cheyenne’s Baby John Doe Mystery – Will DNA Technology Solve It?

in Column/Jonathan Lange

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By Jonathan Lange, columnist

Cowboy State Daily reported last Monday that the Laramie County Sheriff’s Department has partnered with Othram labs to reopen a 33-year-old murder investigation. (Wendy Corr, “Laramie County: Wyoming Investigators Reopen 1988 Dead Infant Case” April 12, 2021)

Using the new technology of Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing©, they are working to solve the case of a “Baby John Doe” who was found in west Cheyenne in 1988.

Rapid developments in DNA sequencing are opening cold cases all over the world. Just a year ago, a similar case was solved in Meriden, Connecticut. The newborn had been left under a tree two months before Baby John Doe was found in Cheyenne.

When the DNA trail led police to his mother, she told them that “she’d been waiting 32 years for the day [when] police would be knocking on her door regarding this incident.” Her reaction revealed a simple truth: The solution that she found in a moment of panic neither resolved her problems, nor ended the matter.

My heart breaks for the child who was killed. But it also aches for the decades of mental torture that his mother must have experienced. Thankfully, this mother’s path to healing was opened by the application of DNA sequencing.

I pray for the mother and father of Cheyenne’s Baby John Doe. They, too, have an opportunity for healing that remains hindered so long as the truth remains hidden.

The similarity of these two cases led me to perform a simple internet search to inquire how many others there might be. In less than a second, I found dozens of cold-cases from all over the nation where newborns were left to die anonymously. Undoubtedly, each of these cases will be solved as genetic databases become more and more complete.

Until now, these sad stories only reached the national news in those rare cases when parents were located by traditional forensic means. Today we are standing at the beginning of a tidal wave of mysteries solved by emerging DNA technologies.

To get an idea of how large this wave might be, I consulted one Wyoming Ob-Gyn physician. I learned that he encounters patients on a monthly basis who have complications from self-procured medicinal abortions at home.

Occasionally, there are signs of a live birth, but the patient denies having had a baby. That’s only one practitioner in one city. Multiply this by twelve months in a year, and nearly three dozen such doctors in Wyoming and the potential numbers are staggering.

Each one of these women represents a case in which the State’s best efforts have failed. They did not receive information about the law and the many ways that Wyoming’s agencies, non-profits and safe-haven laws could have helped them avoid this crime and the guilt that followed it.

Each newborn was a Wyoming citizen who was not afforded the protections promised in Wyoming’s Constitution. Each father either failed to care for his child or was never informed of the pregnancy and given the chance to step up.

Wyoming can do better. That starts with opening our eyes to the problem. For years politicians have been pretending that such things do not happen in our state. That is no longer tenable.

Wyoming just passed SF 34 Born alive infant-means of care into law. It’s time for the Board of Medicine to create policies that ensure its enforcement. SF 34 addresses failed abortions, but it does not cover babies like little John Doe. Currently, Wyoming has no procedures in place for doctors to report obvious signs of birth without a baby. The Board of Medicine must address this also.

We are deluding ourselves if we believe that continued cover-ups help these mothers. Reluctance to investigate helps no one. Justice is not only beneficial for the victim. Justice is also beneficial for the perpetrator.

An ancient king named, David, learned this lesson and wrote of it when he tried to cover up his crimes. “[W]hen I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long” (Psalm 32:3). His cure was found in confession: “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin” (v. 5).

As DNA sequencing technology becomes ever more accurate, many more hidden crimes will be brought to the light. Rather than fearing this revelation of the truth, we should embrace it.

It is painful to face our failings, but it also opens a powerful path to healing. Jesus died for the crimes of all. He rose from the grave to give new life to all. He placed his Church on earth to forgive the sins of all who are repentant. By God’s grace, the revelations of DNA technology will give countless people an opportunity to hear and receive this forgiveness.

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