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Mystery solved: DNA leads to the mother of a baby found dead in trash can in 1997

KIRO Seattle logo KIRO Seattle 3/15/2021 Gary Horcher

According to Seattle police detective documents, DNA taken from the body of a newborn infant left to die in a gas station trash can in 1997 led to the arrest of the baby’s mother for murder, 23 years later.

King County prosecutors say DNA indicates that 50-year-old Christine Marie Warren is the mother who gave birth to a baby boy in the bathroom of a Chevron gas station on Lake City Way in Seattle’s Maple Leaf neighborhood on Nov. 18, 1997.

“The King County Medical Examiner autopsy in 1997 determined that Baby Boy Doe was born full-term and was alive at birth,” said Seattle Police Department col case detective Rolf Norton.

Two days after the birth, the horrific discovery of the infant’s body in the garbage by a gas station worker made headlines that captivated Seattle. The boy’s body may never have been found were it not for the trash can liner. It was clear plastic, so the employee emptying the garbage immediately saw the body, according to detectives.

A surveillance image of the mother walking out of the store generated hundreds of tips, and detectives started to work on a murder mystery with very few clues.

After the autopsy, the baby was buried under the name “Baby Boy Doe” in the children’s section of North Seattle’s Calvary Cemetery, in a funeral funded by donors and attended by dozens of people. The headstone was carved with the words “We Care,” along with the image of a teddy bear.

“This case was investigated by several generations of detectives covering multiple decades,” said Norton, who added that the breakthrough was sending the baby’s DNA to a famous DNA sleuth.

According to court documents, DNA from the scene was sent to a private laboratory in Oklahoma City, where scientists completed the genotyping and entered the profile into “GEDmatch,” a public genealogy website.

The website generated a list of people with possible ancestral links.

Dr. Barbara Rae-Venter, who used DNA to solve the Golden State Killer case, researched the ancestral line and compiled a group of possible candidates.

Court documents state detectives received DNA from one of the possible matches in March 2019.

While that person was excluded, the analysis showed she was likely a relative of the mother, possibly a first cousin.

Dr. Rae-Venter continued her research, putting together another list of candidates in May 2019.

In March 2020, she added a sixth name to the list, Christine Marie Warren in Seattle, who had voluntarily put her DNA in the open genealogy databank, and opted not to make her data private.

Detectives noted Warren had similar physical characteristics to the woman in the surveillance video.

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In Nov. 2020, detectives sent Warren a piece of mail which included a gift card and an invitation to participate in a flavored-water beverage survey for a fictional product called Sparkling Icy.

Warren returned the survey, and police used the saliva on the envelope’s seal to extract DNA which was an exact match to the DNA found in the placental clot left behind in the Chevron bathroom 23 years prior.

According to police, Warren admitted she was the woman in the surveillance photo and left her baby in the trash can.

The court documents detail the interview and Warren’s version of what happened that night:

“Warren said her pregnancy was unplanned and that the father of her child reacted negatively when she told him she was pregnant. Warren said that she could not handle the idea of having the child and blocked the pregnancy out of her mind. She ignored the fact that she was pregnant. She said that she did not receive any medical care during her pregnancy and did not tell anyone she was pregnant. Warren stated that the night of Baby Doe’s birth, she was riding in a friend’s car and started experiencing cramps. She asked her friend to stop at the gas station. Warren said that she went inside and delivered the child in the restroom. She said that the baby dropped into the toilet where she left him for several minutes. Warren said she panicked and placed the baby in the trash can, covering him with other debris inside. Warren said that “in her mind” she did not believe baby was alive, however conceded that she did not check the baby for vital signs, and admitted that she did not know for sure what the baby’s status was when she discarded him in the trash can.”

Prosecutors say Warren has no criminal record and is fully cooperating.

“I can certainly say there’s no celebration going on, this is an awful case,” said Seattle police Detective Rolf Norton, who added that the case never went cold for police.

“The original case detectives, the scene detectives in this investigation, did a tremendous job. And they created a foundation of evidence that we were able to parlay into a conclusion with science that we have 20 years later that didn’t exist then,” said Norton, “This was an incredibly sad case in 1997, and it’s an incredibly sad case in 2021.”

Warren was charged with second-degree murder on Monday.

The judge ruled bail would remain at $10,000, and Warren is still in the King County Jail.

She is scheduled to enter a plea on Mar. 29.

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