Genealogy site, DNA on stamp lead to mother of newborn left to die in trash 23 years ago, police say

SEATTLE — Genetic genealogy, a stamped envelope and 23-year-old DNA evidence have led police to the woman they allege gave birth to a healthy baby boy in a gas station restroom in 1997 and left him to die in the trash can.

Christine Marie Warren, 50, was arrested Thursday on suspicion of homicide in the death of the infant known only as “Baby Boy Doe,” according to KIRO in Seattle. She remained in the King County Jail on Monday, records showed.

Warren is suspected of being the mother of a newborn boy found in the bathroom trash can of a Seattle gas station on Nov. 20, 1997. She is cooperating fully with authorities, the news station reported.

“This case was investigated by several generations of detectives covering multiple decades,” Detective Rolf Norton, a cold case detective with the Seattle Police Department, told KIRO. “The original case detectives, the scene detectives in this investigation, did a tremendous job. And they created a foundation of evidence that we were able to parlay into a conclusion with science that we have 20 years later that didn’t exist then.”

While authorities are glad to have solved the case, Norton said he could “certainly say there’s no celebration going on.”

“This was an incredibly sad case in 1997, and it’s an incredibly sad case in 2021,” he said.

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Officers were called to the gas station after employees cleaning a bathroom pulled a clear plastic bag from the trash can and, to their horror, saw a baby’s lifeless body in the bag. An autopsy indicated that the child had been dead for a couple of days.

It also determined he was born healthy.

“The King County Medical Examiner autopsy in 1997 determined that Baby Boy Doe was born full-term and was alive at birth,” Norton told KIRO.

Homicide detectives began trying to find the boy’s mother.

“The 23-year-old case captured headlines at the time as police sought to identify a woman seen on the gas station’s surveillance cameras,” police officials said last week. “While police received leads at the time, they were unable to identify the woman.”

DNA evidence from the scene was analyzed, however, and entered into the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab database. The Associated Press reported that the genetic material was taken from a placental blood clot found with the baby’s body.

Authorities found no match in the state database or in the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, which became a national database the year after the infant died. Months turned to years and years to decades as the case grew cold.

The slain baby was buried in Seattle’s Calvary Cemetery. Donors who paid for the funeral had him laid to rest under a headstone reading “Baby Boy Doe.” The stone is etched with an image of a Teddy bear and the words, “We care.”

“In keeping with SPD’s ongoing commitment to unsolved cases, in 2018, SPD detectives began re-investigating the death and obtained information from a public genealogy website,” police officials said.

The investigators reached out to Barbara Rae-Venter, the genetic genealogist who in 2018 helped California authorities find the infamous Golden State Killer. With Rae-Venter’s help, they found the DNA data of a woman who both was a possible match to the DNA evidence and who fit the description of the woman seen on the gas station’s surveillance footage.

That woman was Warren.

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Detectives told KIRO that Warren, apparently unconcerned about DNA evidence left behind or unaware of the far-reaching implications in 2021, had uploaded her own DNA profile into the open genealogy databank and opted not to make her information private.

Investigators then went undercover, the news station reported. They sent Warren a letter and, when she mailed a response, she licked the stamp and the envelope before dropping it in the mail.

The DNA from her saliva indicated she was the dead baby’s mother.

Warren has no prior criminal record, KIRO reported.

Prosecutors were expected to make a charging decision this week. According to the AP, the statute of limitations for manslaughter is three years in Washington state.

There is no statute for felony murder, prosecutors said.

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