Homicide

Who is 'Baby Sarah'? Police use DNA to help solve 42-year-old cold case

Jan. 6, 1975: The body of an unidentified newborn girl is found inside a storm drain in Waukesha, a suburb of Milwaukee.

Jan. 6, 1975: The body of an unidentified newborn girl is found inside a storm drain in Waukesha, a suburb of Milwaukee.  (Waukesha Police Department )

On a January afternoon in 1975, a boy sleigh riding in a Milwaukee suburb spotted what he thought was a doll lying face up in a storm drain along a sidewalk where children rode their bikes and waited for the school bus.

The discovery led police to the body of a newborn girl -- her umbilical cord still attached and her identity unknown. 

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Now, 42 years later, police have exhumed the remains of the child -- named "Baby Sarah" -- to create a DNA profile that might solve a mystery haunting the town of Waukesha for decades: Who are Sarah's parents, and what led to her death inside a sewer hours after her birth?

"We’re working diligently to give Sarah a voice and we’re asking the public to share this story," Detective Tim Probst of the Waukesha Police Department said Monday.

"This child deserves justice," Probst told Fox News.

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Sarah, a 9-pound, full-term girl was born alive and breathing, according to the medical examiner, who said her death was caused by a lack of postnatal care and exposure to the elements. The baby had been dead anywhere from a week to a month when she was discovered.

Retired Waukesha police officer John Bacskai, who was first on the scene, described how his 9-year-old son, Jeff, came running home to report what he had seen in the sewer.

Bacskai, now 73, lived yards away from the storm drain at the corner of Birch and Irving Streets and was off duty on the day the girl was found.

"My son said, 'Dad, I think there’s a baby in that storm sewer,'" Bacskai recalled. "I couldn’t believe it at the time. Then I looked into the drain and I knew it wasn't a doll."

"I can still see that child’s eyes -- glazed over -- when they took her from the storm sewer," Bacskai said. "I can't believe how someone could be that cruel to a baby."

Investigators believe the child was born in a home not far from where she was found. At the time, detectives canvassed the neighborhood, interviewing anyone who might know the identity of the girl, known first as Waukesha County Coroner's case No. 7090. Their pursuit led nowhere.

The community raised money to give the girl a proper burial and three Waukesha clergyman named the girl "Sarah," a Hebrew word meaning "princess" that was the name of the wife of the biblical patriarch Abraham.

"The saddest thing in life is an unwanted child, and the most beautiful is a loved child," the Rev. Howard Kusler of the E & R United Church of Christ told mourners at the girl's funeral.

Probst said authorities have considered several theories over the years that might explain the child's death.

"Did the girl's parents panic and place her in the storm drain after she stopped breathing?" Probst said. "Or were the circumstances more sinister, like the cover-up of an extramarital or incestuous affair?"

He said he believes the child's parents lived in the area. 

In August, police obtained court documents allowing them to exhume the girl's remains and create a DNA profile. A forensics team at the University of North Texas is working on the profile, which Probst said should be completed by April.

The renewed investigation has led police to northern Wisconsin and Ohio to interview individuals with possible knowledge of the girl's identity, including a man who once lived in the neighborhood and who was later convicted of sexually assaulting a minor. 

Probst said the department has questioned about 50 people over the last several months and continues to receive leads. One such tip came from a man who claims he saw a girl kick what he thought was a doll into the sewer in the fall of 1974.

Probst said a DNA profile -- a tool not available in 1975 -- could be key in solving the case.

"This was a very traumatic event back then and we want to see it solved," Probst told Fox News.

"Someone, somewhere is living a 42-year-old lie," he said.

Anyone with information on the identity of Baby Sarah is urged to call the Waukesha Police Department at 262-524-3814.

Cristina Corbin is a Fox News reporter based in New York. Follow her on Twitter @CristinaCorbin.