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Minnesota woman arrested in cold case infant deaths

Jennifer Matter, 50, Red Wing, MN
Jennifer Matter, 50, Red Wing, MN(Goodhue County)
Published: May. 9, 2022 at 2:38 PM CDT
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Investigators say they have arrested a mother and are charging her in the death of baby, found in Lake Pepin almost 20 years ago. The baby boy was discovered at the Methodist Campus Beach in Frontenac in December 2003.

The charging documents allege she was also mother of another baby found in the Mississippi River in 1999.

Jennifer Matter, 50, of Red Wing, was named as the mother in the case, and was taken into custody Monday morning. She faces second-degree murder charges.

Investigators say that another baby, a girl found in the Mississippi River’s Lower Boat Harbor near Red Wing back in 1999, is also Matter’s, as proven by genealogy work. The charges announced Monday do not involve that case, and further charges may be pending.

“Genetic genealogy and Rapid DNA testing were both employed to develop a break in the case and then quickly confirm the identity of the babies’ mother,” BCA Superintendent Drew Evans said. “These kinds of scientific advances that can aid investigations are happening all the time. That is why it is so important to never give up on any unsolved case.”

Both cases went unsolved for decades; Goodhue County Sheriff Marty Kelly said the first case happened over 8,000 days ago.

“It has been 8,222 days since we discovered our first newborn wrapped in a towel and floating near the city of Red Wing. Almost 4 years later, another newborn baby was discovered on the shore of Lake Pepin in Frontenac. For over 20 years, the deaths of these innocent babies have haunted our community and the countless law enforcement officers that worked tirelessly on this case. One of these babies, a girl, would have been living her adult life at 22 years of age. The other, a boy, would have just graduated high school with his whole life ahead of him.”

Last year, the Minnesota BCA Crime Lab was able to determine and identify the biological father of the infant found in 1999, and worked to establish that Matter was a person of interest.

Investigators interviewed her in late April, and she denied knowing anything about either case. When they acquired her DNA sample with a search warrant last week, she again denied knowing about either baby.

On a third interview with investigators, she told them that in 1999, she was “in and out of jail, drinking too much, doing a lot of stupid things,” and that she didn’t know she was pregnant until she started bleeding while on the way to drop off two other kids at school and daycare.

She said she then gave birth at home in her bathroom and “freaked out” when she saw the baby was born “blue, was not breathing, and was not crying.” She said she knew she should’ve sought help but that “her mind was not there.” She says she wrapped the baby and, possibly a day later, left the baby’s body at Bay Point Park in the middle of the night.

She told investigators she didn’t remember a second baby, but later said “it was in Frontenac,” and said she was “almost positive” she was at a public beach alone when she went into labor. She says she was “trying to lay low because she had an arrest warrant and believed police were looking for her.” She said she didn’t remember if the baby was crying, but said it was breathing fine.

She said she left the baby on the beach before driving away, and said she did not have a plan about leaving the baby in a safe place, but “hoped that someone in the nearby houses would find the baby.”

She said during the 2003 pregnancy, she never intended to keep the baby and considered giving it up for adoption but otherwise had no plans, and did not receive neonatal care or tell anyone she was pregnant.

If convicted, Matter faces 40 years in prison.

Sheriff Kelly said Jeanne Madtson, a local resident who’s only child was stillborn at 32 weeks, paid for the both of the babies’ funerals. She also visits their graves along with her daughter’s, and two other babies who were found shortly after birth in and around Red Wing during an eight-year span starting in 1999.

The other two babies are not believed to be connected to this case.

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