25 years later, ‘Baby Jane’ still a mystery

Published 7:59 pm Friday, December 7, 2007

On Dec. 5, 1982, an infant girl was found dead in the Escatawpa River.

Twenty-five years later, her identity and the circumstances surrounding her death remain unknown. No arrests have been made.

That’s not stopping two Alabama women from seeking justice for her, or at least closure.

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A memorial service for “Baby Jane” will be held Saturday at 3 p.m. at Bethel Assembly of God Church in Pascagoula. The church was the site of her funeral attended by about 200 people more than two decades ago.

The baby was buried in Jackson County Memorial Park.

Lynn Reuss and Marjorie Brinker, the Alabama women who are organizing the memorial service, met after researching another missing person’s case. Reuss said she named the baby Delta Dawn because of the time of morning she was found.

“I have always been interested in the fate of this little girl ever since I located her case,” Reuss said. “I just couldn’t understand why someone would throw a baby into a river like that.”

Deputy Virgil Moore, who now works in the community relations division of the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, was with other deputies at a Christmas party in 1982 when a truck driver reported seeing what looked like an adult body in the river.

Reserve deputies found the infant girl after arriving in the Franklin Creek area north of Interstate 10 and meeting with the truck driver.

The girl, who authorities believe was 18 months to 2 years old, had red hair and was wearing a red and white checkered dress and a diaper. She was about 31-inches tall and weighed about 25 pounds, and she was believed to have been dead between 36 to 48 hours, Moore said.

Moore said initial autopsy results indicated that she drowned, but he said that suffocation was never ruled out.

The sheriff’s flotilla recovered her body partially floating and face up.

“There was murky water all in her lungs,” Moore said.

Moore and his wife, Mary Ann, claimed the baby’s body after authorities “exhausted every effort” in trying to locate a relative or someone else who would claim the girl.

“Actually, she belongs to Jackson County,” Virgil Moore said. “She was a beautiful baby girl.”

Instead of an unmarked grave, Moore said that his wife, now deceased, insisted on a Christian burial with a headstone that reads, “Baby Jane — Known Only To God.”

Reuss said she and Brinker chose the church and pastors Joe and Donna Spence for the memorial because they conducted the 1982 ceremony there.

No leads have surfaced in 25 years, Moore said, stressing that “we didn’t have the DNA and other technology that we do today.” With no new leads, the case remains inactive.

He commended Reuss, who lives near Auburn, Ala., Brinker of Grand Bay and others for wanting to keep the case in the public arena.

“I keep hoping that somewhere down the line somebody will say something,” Moore said. “There has to be an aunt, uncle, somebody that wants to come forward.”

Reuss said she and Brinker were overwhelmed when local churches, florists, businesses, citizens and other strangers joined in to help with the memorial.

“We both felt like it needed to be done so that people would not forget and maybe stir up some publicity to help get justice for her case,” Reuss said. “Somewhere out there, somebody knows something.”

Reuss and a friend also set up an online petition to lobby America’s Most Wanted and other national TV programs and media outlets to help provide information about the case.

Another child, referred to as “Baby Jane 2,” is buried next to the infant girl, Moore said. That baby, believed to be about 4-weeks old, was found drowned in Wade in 1987.