The sheriff says he hopes "Baby Jane Doe" will get a proper name and headstone

By Christine Pelisek
September 26, 2019 03:01 PM
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Iberia Parish Sheriff's Office

The newborn girl was found dead on Jan. 24, 1994, at a car wash in Jeanerette, Louisiana. Her tiny body was inside a 55-gallon drum that was being used as a trash can.

Next to her, police found a receipt, a girdle and bloody newspapers.

The coroner determined that Baby Jane Doe, as she was named, was born alive and had died from hypothermia from being out in the cold night.

Over 200 people from the small town attended her funeral. She was buried with a Raggedy Ann doll.

The question of who killed Baby Jane Doe remained a mystery for 25 years. But this week, the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office arrested 50-year-old Sonia Charles, who they believe is the baby’s mother.

Charles was booked Wednesday into the Iberia Parish Jail on first-degree murder charges.

“It is great the case came back to light and we were able to make an arrest,” Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Maj. Wendell Raborn tells PEOPLE, who says the case was solved by DNA.

“The crime lab solved this case for us,” he says.

Raborn says the DNA evidence from Baby Jane Doe and the crime scene had been preserved at the crime lab, enabling authorities to get a profile of the mother. “But it was unknown who the mother was,” Raborn says.

Charles’ DNA was eventually matched to a relative through the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, the national database maintained by the FBI.

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“Fortunately for us in the last 25 years, a couple of Baby Jane Doe’s relatives had been put into CODIS,” he says.

Raborn says Charles voluntarily gave a DNA sample.

“In this day and age, science has led us to solve these long, old, cold cases,” he says. “This one is 25-years-old. It is good to see that justice plays out and that there is a closure for the community and for law enforcement.”

The case, says Raborn, was a tough one to crack.

“You have an infant who is placed in a trash can in a very small community at a car wash that is not used late at night, so the chance of witnesses are very slim,” he says. “Without new information, it did become a cold case.”

The murder investigation was reopened a few months ago after a local group looking into unsolved murder cases “started promoting [it] and getting the community to come out to help,” Raborn says.

Raborn hopes that one day, Baby Jane Doe will get a proper name and headstone.

“Maybe once this all plays out and she accepts this was her child, maybe she will give Baby Jane Doe a name and put a real headstone up there,” he says.

Raborn adds, “Unless she tells us exactly what the motivation was we could only guess. Only she holds the true nature of why she did it.”

Charles is scheduled to appear in court Thursday. She is being held in jail on $125,000 bail. It is unclear if she has retained an attorney.