Woman charged with murder in death of newborn found in Mississippi River in 2003

A woman speaks at a podium with men standing behind her.
Jeanne Madtson helped arrange for burials for two infants recovered from the Mississippi River in 1999 and 2003. She spoke to reporters Monday after authorities announced charges in the death of the newborn found in 2003.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

Updated: 5 p.m.

Goodhue County authorities announced Monday they have filed second-degree murder charges against a woman they say is the mother of two newborn babies found dead in the Mississippi River in 1999 and 2003.

The woman, Jennifer Lynn Matter, 50, of Belvidere Township in Goodhue County, was recently identified through DNA as the mother, officials told reporters. She is currently in jail and expected to make a court appearance Tuesday.

A grave at Oakwood Cemetery in Red Wing, Minn.
A grave at Oakwood Cemetery in Red Wing, Minn., for three newborn babies found dead in the Mississippi River in Goodhue County in 1999, 2003 and 2007. The grave is pictured on Monday — the day authorities announced charges against a woman they say is the mother of two of the newborns.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

The charges against Matter are connected to the baby boy discovered dead on Dec. 7, 2003, along the shore of Lake Pepin in Frontenac, Minn. An autopsy determined that he was likely born alive and died by homicide.

A second child, a newborn baby girl found dead on Nov. 4, 1999, at a marina along the Mississippi River near Red Wing, was also determined through DNA to be Matter’s child, officials said.

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Goodhue County Attorney Steve O'Keefe said he was still considering whether to charge her in that death. Matter allegedly told investigators that the girl was not breathing when she was born.

Genetic genealogy and rapid DNA testing helped break the case and confirm the identity of the mother, said Drew Evans, superintendent of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

Jennifer Lynn Matter of rural Goodhue County, Minn.
Jennifer Lynn Matter, 50, of rural Goodhue County, Minn., was charged Monday in the death of a newborn baby found in the Mississippi River in 2003.
Goodhue County Sheriff's Office

"They used publicly available records to look for possible relatives of these children,” he said.

Investigators obtained a court order to obtain a DNA sample from Matter and scientists with the BCA were able to confirm the match to both children, he added.

Goodhue County Sheriff Marty Kelly said “investigators worked all the way back to the 1850s out of Germany and tracked it back.”

He said the deaths have haunted the county and local law enforcement officers for years.

Officials said donations from the community helped pay for the renewed DNA testing in the case.

There was also a third infant found dead in the river — in March 2007, near the Treasure Island casino and resort. DNA testing at the time indicated that newborn girl was not related to the other two babies. Officials on Monday provided no new information on that case.

Jeanne Madtson had lost a daughter decades ago, and she said the baby girl's death in 1999 struck a nerve, prompting her to reach out to the Sheriff at the time.

"We saw it on the news, and I called Dean Albers and wanted to know where she was going to be laid to rest. And we had four lots at Oakwood, and we put her next to our daughter that we lost in '89. So that way our daughter wouldn't be alone, and the little girl, that we named Jamie, wouldn't be alone."

The two infants are there together now, along with the third girl found in 2007, all in a grave in the cemetery on the hill above town. Authorities say they're still asking anyone with information about any of the cases to come forward.

In 2000, a year after the first baby’s death, Minnesota enacted the Safe Place for Newborns law, which to this day lets mothers safely relinquish their newborns anonymously at a hospital, ambulance or health care clinic.

Watch: Authorities brief reporters on murder charges filed in 2003 death of newborn found in Mississippi River: