PASCAGOULA, Miss. (AP) — Investigators say DNA testing has identified a Missouri toddler whose body was found on a riverbank in Mississippi in 1982.
The child long known only as “Baby Jane” or “Delta Dawn” has been identified as 18-month-old Alisha Ann Heinrich. The sheriff of Jackson County, Mississippi, announced the child’s identity at a news conference Friday.
Sheriff Mike Ezell said a deputy found the girl’s body on the bank of coastal Mississippi’s Escatawpa River on Dec. 5, 1982.
Her mother, Gwendolyn Mae Clemons — sometimes also known as Gwendolyn Mae Clemons Heinrich — was a 23-year-old resident of Joplin, Missouri. She left home on Thanksgiving 1982 along with her baby daughter and a boyfriend, telling relatives that they planned to start a new life in Florida, Ezell said.
Clemons hasn’t been heard from since 1982, Ezell said. The man she was dating later returned to Missouri and is now deceased, he said. The sheriff did not release his name.
Not long after authorities found Baby Jane, former Jackson County Sheriff’s Deputy Virgil Moore and his wife asked to give her a proper burial since no one had claimed her body, the Sun Herald reported. The baby’s body was exhumed from a cemetery in the county in 2009 so investigators could obtain DNA.
Authorities said the break came when the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office received information needed to identify the child and her mother with the aid of Othram Inc., a Texas-based company specializing in DNA technology.
Orthrom determined the baby’s lineage through DNA testing and tracked down the child’s aunt and others relatives, which ultimately helped find her identity. Investigators traveled to speak with the mother’s family.
“They were still under the assumption that Alisha was alive and living somewhere but they were very thankful that after 38 years, the case was still being investigated,” FBI agent Joe Bignell said.
On Dec. 3, 1982, witnesses reported seeing a woman carrying a toddler along Mississippi Highway 63 and Interstate 10 in Jackson County. One person told investigators she was monitoring the CB radio that night when there was chatter about a woman with a child walking down the interstate in distress but refusing to let anyone help her, WLOX-TV reported.
Two days later, a truck driver called police to report seeing a woman’s body in the Escatawpa River. A deputy responded and, while searching for the woman, found the baby’s body.
Though authorities dredged for the woman’s body, it was never found.