Mom arrested after DNA links her to babies left in 2003 and 1999 along Mississippi River

Minnesota authorities arrested the mother of a baby found dead along the Mississippi River in 2003, and another baby found dead along the river in 1999.

Jennifer Lynn Matter, a 50-year-old resident of Belvidere Township, was arrested Monday on two counts of second-degree murder. Investigators with the Goodhue County Sheriff’s Office and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension connected Matter to the infants through DNA testing. 

“The deaths of these innocent babies have haunted our community and the countless law enforcement officers that have worked tirelessly on this case,” Goodhue County Sheriff Marty Kelly said in a news conference. “Many members in our office have come and gone, and it is these two cases that have lingered in their minds and their hearts.”

The baby boy was discovered unclothed with its umbilical cord attached on the shore of Methodist Beach, southeast of Minneapolis, on the afternoon of Dec. 7, 2003, according to a criminal complaint. An autopsy concluded the boy was a full-term baby likely born alive, and the death was ruled a homicide with no known cause of death.

In 2004, law enforcement concluded the boy was related to a newborn baby girl who was found dead floating in the Mississippi River on Nov. 4, 1999. The girl was found wrapped in a towel, also with the umbilical cord attached, off the shore of the City of Red Wing, west of where the baby boy was found, according to the criminal complaint.

The infant deaths remained unsolved for years, but authorities reopened the case in September 2020. In June 2021, DNA samples from the babies connected them to Matter, the criminal complaint says.

Investigators interviewed Matter on April 25, and she denied the baby girl was her child, saying she wasn’t pregnant in the time frame and declined a voluntary DNA sample.

On May 2, investigators completed a search warrant for a sample of Matter’s DNA, and testing gave “very strong evidence” Matter was the mother of the baby girl, as well as the baby boy.

Investigators interviewed Matter again at her home on Thursday, and when asked about the babies, she said she was “in and out of jail, drinking too much, doing a lot of stupid things” in 1999 and noticed she was bleeding while dropping off her kids at school.

She told investigators she returned home and gave birth in her bathroom, but noticed the baby was blue and not breathing. The complaint said she “freaked out” and wrapped the baby in a towel. She said she does not remember what happened next, but the next day, she drove near the river, put the baby in the water and walked away. 

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When asked about the baby in 2003, Matter denied knowledge of it but then “spontaneously” remembered it, according to the complaint. She was “almost positive” she was at the beach by herself, because she had an arrest warrant out for her, when she went into labor. She told investigators she remembers the baby was breathing fine but couldn’t remember if he was crying.

Matter said she didn’t call police and drove away from the beach, hoping someone nearby would find the baby.

Matter was arrested and charged for the baby boy’s 2003 death, but Goodhue County Attorney Stephen O’Keefe said “charges may be amended or added at a later time” in relation to the baby girl’s death in 1999 “as more evidence comes to light.”

Matter has a bail hearing scheduled for Tuesday. If convicted, she could face 40 years in prison. 

“I think many of us sighed a sigh of relief when we found out, certainly this morning for the arrest,” Kelly said on Monday at the conference. “I spoke with the sheriffs previously and they told me that they not a day goes by where they don’t think about (the case). Some wanted to have this all before they retired.”

Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jordan_mendoza5.