Since 1981, police and the entire community of Sioux Falls, South Dakota have been working to find the mother of their baby Andrew John Doe. Baby Andrew was found in a ditch, around what is present day Sycamore Street on February 28, 1981. Medical professionals determined that he was born alive and likely died from exposure and “failure to assist the baby in maintaining an airway.” The placenta and umbilical cord were still attached. Tears were frozen on the baby’s face- a horrifying detail for the man who found him.
A woman claimed the body and the community attended a funeral for the newborn infant, but they were never able to find his mother. A story similar to the case from South Carolina that was recently solved and led to an arrest in Horry County Baby Doe. At the time, all detectives had to go off of was a blood type.
In 2009 Baby Doe was exhumed and his remains were sent to the University of North Texas’ Health Science Center. They were able to extract DNA and entered it into a criminal database, hoping for a match. Years went by with no luck.
Last year, public genealogy databases allowed for opt-ins for DNA profiles, allowing detectives to compare Baby Doe’s profile to the general public, not just criminals. Two potential family trees were matched, and they were able to trace the lineage down. Out of those results, detectives focused on Theresa Bentaas (then Joston) who was 19 years old in 1981.
Now Theresa Bentaas has been arrested.
Using genetic testing- just like the popular ones you find on the shelves, police located the suspect and retrieved her DNA from discarded items in her trash can outside her home still right in Sioux Falls. They later confirmed the match with a search warrant for Theresa’s DNA.
Since 1989, searching the trash has been considered fair game, and police do not need a warrant. That’s because in the case California v. Greenwood, the U.S. Supreme Court said that trash in a dumpster outside the home has been discarded, disowned, and abandoned in a public place, so the former owner can have an expectation of privacy.
Trash searches are also rendered the evidence needed to find Faye Swetlick’s killer, her rain boot.
However, the U.S. Supreme Court set the lowest bar for individual rights. That means, a state law can give people more rights but it cannot take any away.
Oregon has passed a law that their citizens do have a right to expect their trash to remain private unless there is a warrant, even after it is hauled away.
Baby Andrew John Doe’s mother is a paralegal, and the 57 year old woman’s attorney is arguing that her DNA was illegally obtained without the warrant, leading to what will be an interesting court battle.
If it is found that the evidence was obtained illegally, a jury wouldn’t be able to hear it, meaning the woman who left her baby to cry for her in a cold field until his tears froze and he died, then lived in the same city without a word for over thirty years, may walk free.
One thing is apparent: DNA technology has been increasing the number of unidentified infants and adults being identified. A push for a centralized database could bring many families peace and make it harder to make people disappear.