Mother Who Allegedly Left Baby to Die in Frigid Field in 1981 Arrested: I Was 'Young and Stupid'

By KC Baker
March 11, 2019 01:33 PM
Theresa Bentaas, 57, of Sioux Falls, S.D.
Uncredited/AP/REX/Shutterstock

A 57-year-old South Dakota woman says she was “young and stupid” in 1981, when she allegedly abandoned her newborn son in a frigid cornfield, leaving him to die with tears frozen on his face. She has now been arrested for his alleged murder.

On Friday, after a decades-long investigation recently aided by advances in DNA technology and genetic genealogy, police in Sioux Falls arrested Theresa Rose Bentaas in the death of her infant son, authorities announced during a press conference.

Police arrested Bentaas at her home in Sioux Falls, a short distance from where the newborn’s remains were found wrapped in a blood-stained blanket 38 years earlier, when Bentaas was 19 years old.

The ditch in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where Baby Andrew's remains were found on Feb. 28, 1981.
Sioux Falls Police Department

Bentaas is now married to the father of the baby, with whom she has two other children, ages 18 and 19.

She is charged with first- and second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter. She has not yet entered a plea of guilt or innocence. She is being held on a $250,000 cash bond.

The baby’s father has not been charged because he was not involved in the alleged crime, said police. He told authorities he didn’t know Bentaas was pregnant when she allegedly gave birth.

During Friday’s press conference, authorities talked about the long pursuit of justice for the child in a case that has haunted the community for decades. “I couldn’t be more pleased with the results today,” said Chief Matt Burns, praising Det. Mike Webb, who took charge of the case in 2009.

Webb said he never forgot the newborn, whom authorities named Baby Andrew John Doe.

With the arrest, Webb said, “I think his voice was heard.”

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The alleged crime surfaced on Feb. 28, 1981, when local residents uncovered a stained blanket in the field, with a newborn wrapped inside, said Webb.

The baby had been “born alive and had been breathing, but slowly succumbed to the exposure,” he said.

The case remained cold until recently, when authorities sent a sample of the baby’s DNA to Parabon NanoLabs, which found two possible matches using a public genealogical database.

These databases have been used in other cold cases, including the 2018 arrest of the Golden State Killer, who had eluded detection for years.

Investigators pieced together a family tree, which led them to Bentaas. A DNA sample obtained from Bentaas showed “extremely strong evidence” to support a biological relationship between Bentaas and the child, the Associated Press and Fox News report.

Webb interviewed Bentaas and her husband on Feb. 27, which would have been the baby’s 38th birthday.

A court affidavit states that Bentaas told Webb she was “young and stupid,” had hidden her pregnancy and gave birth to the baby alone in her Sioux Falls apartment, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader reports.

Panicked, Bentaas said she drove to a nearby field where she allegedly left the baby in a ditch.

The child was found with the placenta still attached and with tears frozen on his face, the affidavit says, according to the AP.

Asked if she ever thinks of the baby when she drives near the area where she allegedly left him, the affidavit said she allegedly told authorities, “Of course.”

It is unclear whether Bentaas has retained an attorney who can speak on her behalf.

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