A mother has been charged in the death of newborn “Baby Mary,” whose body was found wrapped in a towel in a plastic bag — umbilical cord still attached — by two boys out fishing in the New Jersey woods on Christmas Eve 1984.
Two boys reported the baby girl abandoned in a remote wooded area off Mount Pleasant Road in Mendham at about 10:35 a.m. on Dec. 24, 1984. The infant — less than 24 hours old at the time of her death — had been alive at birth, and the death was ruled a homicide, police said.
Over nearly four decades, investigators worked to identify the baby and learn about the circumstances surrounding her discovery.
Crediting modern DNA technology and old-fashioned police work, investigators cracked the case recently when they identified the baby’s biological parents.
The baby’s mother was arrested in South Carolina on April 24. The 57-year-old woman, then 17, has been charged as a juvenile with one count of manslaughter. Since she was a juvenile at the time of the death and has been charged in a juvenile delinquency complaint, her name will not be released, officials said. The baby’s biological father has died. Authorities say there is no evidence he was aware of the pregnancy or the infant’s birth and death.
“This arrest is the culmination of decades of effort across multiple generations of law enforcement,” Morris County Prosecutor Robert J. Carroll said in a news release. “The death and abandonment of this baby girl is a tragic loss and, even after nearly 40 years, remains just as heartbreaking,” Carroll said. “Justice may not take the form the public has imagined all these years, but we believe with this juvenile delinquency complaint, justice is being served for Baby Mary,” he said. “Nothing can right this terrible wrong.”
The baby girl, whose identity was unknown when she was found, was baptized by Rev. Michael Drury of St. Joseph Church in Mendham, who was also the township’s police chaplain. He named her “Mary.” She was buried in the church’s cemetery. Since then, the reverend has held a graveside service to honor and pray for the deceased child every Christmas Eve.
“Every Christmas Eve for the past 35 years, members of our department and community have left their own families at noon to remember Baby Mary at a service by her grave to ensure she is never forgotten. Today, we are finally able to bring closure to this case and the community that has supported her,” said Mendham Township Police Chief Ross Johnson.
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