by Jen Lynds
Three minutes into my interview with retired Maine State Police Maj. Charles Love of Winthrop earlier this month, I knew that his memories would form the lead to the story that my colleague, Julia Bayly and I, were writing about the unsolved homicide of Baby Jane Doe more than 28 years ago.
Love, who retired from the state police in 2003 after first joining in 1970, was one of the first investigators to get to the crime scene in Frenchville. Even though close to 3 decades had passed, the emotions that came to the surface along with the facts about the crime scene were both powerful and palpable.
“It was so cold, just very, very cold,” he recalled of that morning. “I was not the first officer on the scene, but I was one of the earliest. I was walking the scene, trying to gather information. It was so quiet in that gravel pit, and it appeared that a vehicle had driven in, as the tracks were very clear in the snow. Right near them were plainly a set of dog tracks. I turned and followed those paw prints right back to the house, where it had dropped the baby right by the door.”
The dog tracks belonged to Paca, the Siberian Husky owned by Armand and Lorraine Pelletier. The canine was the first to discover the newborn in the gravel pit, and she carried her less than a quarter mile back to the Pelletier home. The 6 pound, 8 ounce full term baby with reddish blond hair was soon discovered by Armand Pelletier after an insistent Paca kept pounding against the sliding glass door of their home.
Baby Jane Doe was born in the early morning hours of Dec. 7, 1985, on a gravel pit access road. Her place of birth and place of death were the same. Paca was the only mother figure she ever knew, the only living being that tried to offer her shelter from the 30 below zero temperatures that had hovered over the St. John Valley on her birthday.
But by that time, she was dead. Officials said she could not have lived more than 30 minutes in such freezing cold.
I got the idea to do the story on Baby Jane Doe earlier this year after a reminder I received while visiting my mother at her workplace. A nurse who has spent 40 years in her profession caring for the elderly, nobody is more dedicated. My brother and I visited the residents at her workplace constantly while we were growing up, and she often reminded us that the elderly are sometimes forgotten. While some residents had lots of visitors, others saw family and friends infrequently, if at all. A number hadn’t seen a guest beyond a visiting preschool or kindergarten class in years. For several, the only visitor was loneliness.
So it was after I left my mother’s workplace that I was reminded about how terrible it would be to be forgotten. What if there was no one around to speak up for you, to remember you? I knew from past visits to the State Police website about the Baby Jane Doe case, and I realized that no one out there was in more danger of being forgotten. The baby doesn’t even have an identity, so there aren’t even family members to think about her, to mourn her loss. That was the catalyst for the idea.
I also knew instantly that I would do the project with Julia Bayly, who I call my writing soul sister. An immensely talented award winning writer and photographer, she and I are practically mirror images as far as how we write and structure stories. We are so into a writing groove that we rarely talk on the telephone, preferring to send messages via Facebook, as if speaking aloud would somehow jinx us.
Julia was instrumental not only in interviewing current investigators, but also in speaking with the Pelletiers, the owners of Paca and the couple who first saw the baby. They now live in Bangor.
Similar to my realization about the lead, Julia also knew that our readers would be most impacted by statements that the couple made early in their interview.
“We don’t have children,” Lorraine Pelletier said. “We could never have children, [and] what I don’t understand is why if the woman did not want her baby, she did not ring our bell, leave the baby on our steps and just run away.”
Armand agreed, adding softly, “If she had lived, we could have adopted her.”
There is so much gut punching sadness behind those words, such a heart breaking sense of loss that still lingers, even 28 years later. How painful it must be for this couple, one must think, to have had so much love to give to such a child and realize that you were just a short distance away from someone who, for some unknown reason, could not just ring your doorbell, leave the baby and let you do it.
Our story became the number one most read story on Sunday morning, and Julia and I were both reading the comments that people made under the story on the Bangor Daily News website and on Facebook. We both remarked that only one or two people brought up the possibility that sexual assault, incest or domestic violence could have been a factor in the crime. With that in mind, you can picture a few possible scenarios. What if it was an incest victim whose abuser forced her to do that? Could it have been a traumatized sexual assault victim who thought she had no other options, or even a battered woman whose batterer took the baby and left it there? Police have said that they are not sure if the woman drove herself to the scene or was driven there by someone else.
Others questioned how it would be possible for someone to hide a pregnancy in Frenchville, which is such a small community. On their unsolved homicides website about the case, state police speculate that the mother might be from Canada.
At the same time, there have been several notable cases where teenagers have successfully hidden pregnancies, only being found out after the child was born.
In 1997, 18-year-old Melissa Drexler of New Jersey, nicknamed “Prom Mom” by the media, successfully hid her pregnancy from family, friends and the baby’s father until her water broke on the way to her senior prom. She gave birth to the live infant in a stall in the bathroom, wrapped the baby in several garbage bags, and deposited it in a trash can. She then returned to the dance floor. She was offered a plea deal and was found guilty of aggravated manslaughter, which came with a sentence of 15 years in prison. After serving nearly 37 months, she was released on parole.
In Nov. 1996, Amy Grossberg, 18, gave birth to a baby in a Delaware hotel room with her boyfriend, Brian Peterson, at her side. They then disposed of the infant in a dumpster. Grossberg was able to avoid her parents because she was attending college in another state, and she also wore baggy clothes for the course of the nine months. She began having seizures afterwards and was taken to a hospital, where it became clear that she had recently given birth. Both served prison time.
In Dec. 2012 in Bartow, FL, 14-year-old Cassidy Goodson was sentenced to 18 months in prison for murdering her infant son. She dressed in baggy clothes and avoided her mother for nine months in order to keep her pregnancy a secret before giving birth in the family bathroom. She then killed the infant and told her mother she miscarried so she could seek medical care. She was arrested once the infant’s body was found.
Julia and I are both hopeful that our story will bring in some new information for the detectives who keep working to solve the Baby Jane Doe homicide.
They are her only chance, not just for justice, but also for an identity.
I think that there is at least one person out there who is trying to forget what happened on that freezing cold morning back in 1985.
But I am happy that there are still some others who will make sure that everyone else remembers.