Bodies of 3 infants to be exhumed in Martin Co. - Fox29 WFLX TV, West Palm Beach, FL-news & weather

Bodies of 3 infants to be exhumed in Martin Co.


STUART, Fla. - A cold case more than three decades old in Martin County may be closer to being solved.

Martin County investigators and six forensic anthropologists from Florida Gulf Coast University began exhuming the bodies of three infants at the Fernhill Memorial Gardens and Mausoleum in Stuart on Monday.

One of those babies has been referred to over the years as "Baby Moses." He was an unidentified, newborn infant found to have drowned in the St. Lucie River in 1983.

Boaters from Oklahoma found the baby's body, according to investigators, near docks on St. Lucie Boulevard behind The Landing Condominiums.

"Circumstances indicate that soon after the child's birth, he was put into the water," said Martin County Sheriff, William Snyder.

On Monday, forensic experts began peeling back layers of grass and soil, looking for discoloration that will give them a sense of whether the bodies are in boxes or have deteriorated.

The goal is to work meticulous and slowly to maintain any evidence in the soil.

"What I can do is notice changes in the soil that may be indicative of body fluids.  With those changes, we will preserve that material," said Dr. Heather Walsh-Haney of Gulf Coast University.  

Because there are no records of the individual deaths, detectives are unclear how the babies were buried -- in coffins or not.

"My optimism on whether or not we're able to find bones is really based solely on the burial technique that would have taken place back then. If the body was in a styrofoam box or a wooden box, and the box was sealed, then we'll be in good shape," said Snyder.

Snyder said "Baby Moses" still had a protruding umbilical cord, which did not appear to have been cut by a medical professional.

Snyder believes the baby may have been unwanted by his parents.

"Whoever did this probably thought it was over and done for and I would suspect that this is their worst nightmare," said Snyder.

Two other babies buried in the same cemetery also in unmarked graves will be exhumed. Snyder does not suspect foul play in their deaths, but wants to learn who they are any how they ended up in the cemetery.

"We don’t know when we go into those other two graves what we will find. We may find markings in there or something left over. They may be in some kind of container with some kind of identification," Snyder said.

"I think everyone deserves to have a marker on their grave," Snyder continued.

Vague Documentation Hampers Investigation

When "Baby Moses" was buried, the cemetery was owned by the city of Stuart, according to Snyder. Burial documentations were vague, according to Snyder, compared to the information documented today.

Martin County Fire Rescue Division Chief, Jon Belding, says parents of unwanted babies didn't have the same protections in the early 1980s as they do today.

Now, there are laws to protect parents, and systems, such as Safe Place, giving parents a place to safely leave unwanted infants.

"There were no organizations like this. There were no laws that gave them protection. They would actually probably be modified into the court system. They would have to fight to surrender or gain parental rights," Belding said.

Now, in order to protect infants, parents can safely leave infants at any fire station or hospital which are all designated safe havens.

State law also protects parents from being criminally charged, so long as the baby doesn't have signs of neglect or abuse.

An anthropologist will analyze the remains of all three infants. Getting a DNA match could take several months, according to Snyder.

The remains will go straight to the Gulf Coast University to determine gender and any other leads. Then the bones, if they still exist,  to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

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