The forensic science of 'Baby Moses' cold case

Posted at 12:55 PM, Jan 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-23 18:17:10-05

The next step in solving a Martin County cold case begins in a forensic lab at Florida Gulf Coast University, where a forensic anthropologist and her team are hard at work, trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together. They're unearthing a mystery.

"My big job here was to preserve the evidence, because we only had one shot at that," said Dr. Heather Walsh-Haney, the forensic anthropologist in charge.

Her lab is uncomfortable quiet at time, as forensic science is slow, meticulous work. Using wooden tools and brush, her team will photograph, measure, and analyze. They will gently remove soil to preserve evidence.

The Baby Moses case is their latest one, as the requests keep coming in. She said they'll spend hundreds of hours on this single cold case.

Martin County investigators say a newborn was found in the St. Lucie River back in 1983. The case was never solved. Now the sheriff hopes new DNA technology will change that.

This month, two unidentified infants were exhumed by Dr. Walsh-Haney from a cemetery in Stuart, all in hopes of getting answers more than three decades later. She will have to try to figure out their ages and which remains belong to "Baby Moses," and pick a bone to send to a different lab for that DNA testing. Walsh-Haney hopes they'll be able to extract DNA.

"The bones we are looking at here are smaller than even one of my fingers," she said. "The bone after 5,10,15,20,30 years really starts to disintegrate."

In this high tech lab, they're recreating the scene in Stuart using simple models and not-so-simple 3D imaging.

Dr. Walsh-Haney showed us the technology and trade of forensic science and how it applies to the Baby Moses case, but since it's evidence, she did not show the actual remains.

The decades that have gone by, the tiny nature of the bones and whether there is still DNA to extract make this a very difficult case to crack. Still, she thinks it's possible.

"I always think I will make a difference," she said. "That's why I do that I do."