The Mystery of Baby John Doe

Wess Haubrich

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Baby John Doe's grave marker. Source: Cowboy State Daily

The 33-year-old mystery of Baby John Doe has a chance of being solved with new advances in DNA.

February 28, 1988 saw some early signs of springtime life for bitterly cold Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Lots of townspeople were out walking that day to release some of that pent up winter energy. Two of those townspeople would make the local news for their frightful discovery near McKinney Drive and Happy Jack Road.

At first, they didn’t know what to make of the blanket wrapped around something on the ground just off the road in a culvert. A feral dog was gnawing at what they first thought was a child’s toy doll.

When the couple got closer they saw something much more sinister. The beast mauled a human baby boy. The baby boy was little – only about 6.5 pounds. His eyes were azure blue and he had brown hair. After the couple scared the mutt away, they found out he was cold to the touch.

Had the wild hound killed little baby John Doe? Who had left him in a culvert to begin with?

All these variables would boil down to one question Cheyenne would wrestle with for years: what happened to baby John Doe?

I. The Case in 1988

Immediately the couple who found him contacted the Laramie County Sheriff’s Office. Upon an autopsy, the medical examiner ruled the death a homicide because baby John Doe had air in his lungs when he died. This would not have been possible had he died while still in his mother’s womb from a miscarriage or botched abortion. The M.E. still noted the death as “undetermined.”

The sheriff’s investigators exhausted every possible lead they had in 1988: they canvassed local hospitals, schools, and even the Francis E. Warren Air Force Base to try to find the parents of little baby John Doe.

Investigators were stymied; no one was looking for an infant fitting John Doe’s description. So, the case quickly went cold.

Until 2021.

II. DNA Warming Things Up

The Laramie County Sheriff is teaming with Othram Labs – a leader in the field of a special kind of DNA analysis called modern parallel sequencing, a technique most often employed by elite law enforcement and in medicine; not something used by small town law enforcement or the public at large. Othram is, in fact, the first private lab to tap this new scientific power: their motto on the website is “Justice Through Genomics”.

Essentially, parallel sequencing allows for accurate analyses of very degraded or contaminated samples. The requirement of DNA needed to do the tests is also much smaller – minute really. Othram bills itself as an expert company in analysis and enrichment of these types of samples.

As you can imagine, this work does not come cheap.

III. The DNASolves Fund

DNASolves is an interesting group dedicated to helping law enforcement solve cases with DNA willingly given by the public and kept in their database. You may have heard of the Golden State Killer, Joseph DeAngelo, being caught by familial DNA – this is close to what DNASolves does. To contribute your DNA, click here.

DNASolves is stepping up in another way too. They put together a crowd funding campaign to raise the $5000 needed for all the testing of baby Doe’s DNA including forensic genealogy.

As of this writing, the fund had $1282. Give here or help by sharing the site. Baby Doe deserves some answers to his enduring mystery.

If you know anything about this case, please contact Detective Sergeant Curtis Burch at the Laramie County Sheriff’s Office at 307-633-4763.

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Former editor, now dogged-maverick journalist and researcher covering the crime beat. I examine the weird, absurd, and downright infamous in American crime both here and at Real Monsters podcast. Contact: wess@realmonsters.live

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