Now, the Winona County sheriff and the Goodhue County sheriff's departments are comparing notes to see if there's any possible connection with three similar infant deaths in the area.
"We have some history with these types of investigations, unfortunately," says Goodhue County Sheriff Scott McNurlin.[jump]
Back in 1999, another boater discovered a strange object in Red Wing Bay. It turned out to be the body of newborn girl, her umbilical cord still attached, wrapped in a white towel. Then in 2003, the tiny body of a newborn boy was discovered near Methodist Beach, floating in the water. A blue towel was found washed ashore nearby. Finally, in 2007, the unclothed body of a baby girl was discovered in the murky waters of Sturgeon Lake. It appeared she had been frozen in the river all winter.
The number of incidents caught the attention of the FBI, according to McNurlin, who says his department cooperated in groundbreaking investigative work trying to figure out what happened to the babies. Nevertheless, all three cases are unsolved. DNA testing linked the first two infants maternally, though there was no evidence to suggest the third baby is related in any way. The first two babies were Caucasian, while the DNA testing on the third indicates Native American heritage, according to McNurlin.
Now, there is a fourth baby. Although the seven-pound girl was discovered a fair distance away from the other three cases, McNurlin notes that each baby was found four years apart. He says his department is trying to share any information they can with the Winona County sheriff.
"The one thing they all have in common is the Mississippi River," says McNurlin.
Their commonalities are also what makes the investigation so difficult. Although McNurlin says a certain amount of work can be done with river current patterns to determine a point of origin, pinpointing it is near impossible. The waters also wash away evidence. Then there is the fact that all four were newborns.
"When you have a homicide with an adult, often times you have an identity," says McNurlin. "With an infant you have no idea who that child is or the origin or the parents or even the city they come from."
The latest baby's body has been sent to Dakota County for an autopsy and will eventually be DNA tested. The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is working with four Winona County sheriff's investigators to solve this most recent case. McNurlin is hopeful the upshot of the baby's death is that new light will be shed on the older, cold cases -- perhaps, even inspiring someone with a guilty conscience to come forward.
"There is probably an emotionally scarred individual out there. We want to appeal to him or her to step forward and put some of these things to rest," he says.
Anyone with information on the cases should call the Winona County Sheriff at 507-457-6368 or Crimestoppers at 507-457-6530.