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Murder of an Innocent : Baby Underfed, Neglected Until She Died, Then Her Body Was Left in Alley

August 31, 1985|PATT MORRISON | Times Staff Writer

Whatever name she was born with, she was abruptly rechristened on that overcast August morning after a man on his way to work found her small, naked body lying on its side in the middle of an oil-spotted alley.

The new name they gave her, in that alley behind a Baldwin Hills apartment building on Aug. 19, was "Jane Doe 61." The Los Angeles police investigators who are trying to find out who starved her to death sometimes call her, more conveniently and more intimately, "Baby Doe."

She was about 10 months old, a black girl weighing just 14 pounds--"a pathetic-looking sight," one investigator said.

Neglect Led to Death

Someone had neglected and underfed her until she died, apparently of pneumonia brought on by malnutrition. Then, between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. that Monday morning, someone had left her body lying there in the alley.

Police believe that something--perhaps a car passing by, a door slamming--had panicked the person who had intended to hide the child in a nearby trash dumpster or in some foliage and the person fled, leaving the body in the roadway.

And even in the Police Department's child protection section, whose detectives spend every day investigating the brief and tortured lives of abused children, this one, in almost every way, is different.

For one thing, she is dead. Most of their cases involve living, abused children.

For another thing, they do not know who she is, and no one has called to tell them.

'Not One Call'

"This is the only one we've put out to the media and never got a phone call," Lt. Vance Proctor, who is in charge of the section, said this week. "Not one call, not even from a kook. Nothing."

Even for a murder victim--and that is how they are classifying Jane Doe 61--hers is a "very rare" case, the lieutenant said.

She is not, for example, the newborn infant of a terrified, teen-age mother who abandons the child, or even kills it, to keep her secret. Nor is she the child killed in one explosive fit of rage by a young, unemployed mother or her boyfriend, when money and patience have long since run out and a sick, screaming child is the last straw.

"You can't condone it, but you can maybe in a way understand that situation," Proctor said. "But how do you understand this, where a child is starved to death and then just thrown away like that?"

Four New Teeth

They know only that she was 10 months old--at the curious, crawling age where babies are already personalities. And she had four new teeth, top and bottom. Someone had simply, slowly, neglected her to death.

"She didn't have a diaper or anything on when she died," Proctor said.

The coroner is still investigating a police suspicion that the child was sexually abused.

So this is a rough one for Proctor, and for the two detectives on the case, Vicki Calagna and Lindon Sloan.

"Just about everybody here (in the section) has kids," said Proctor, who has a teen-age son and an older daughter. "They don't like it very much, and my wife doesn't like to hear it. She'll say, 'What kind of day did you have?' and I'll say, 'Bad,' and she'll say, 'OK, don't tell me.' "

The detectives have put in some 18-hour days, going door to door in the Baldwin Hills neighborhood. Mail carriers in the area will soon begin delivering a police sketch of the baby door to door, Proctor said. But no one--not a neighbor, not a relative--has missed a brown-eyed baby girl.

"I think we're looking for a parent, obviously, because there's no missing reports on this child," Proctor said.

First Such Case

Over the years "we have plenty of John and Jane Doe (dead) adults, but never a child. If this child was kidnaped, you can bet there'd be instant reporting" of her absence, Proctor said with a snap of his fingers.

The lieutenant hopes someone in the neighborhood saw something that morning, perhaps without realizing its import. None of the apartment building residents questioned by police has a clue. Neighbors have shaken their heads when police have knocked on their doors with the baby's sketch.

If this had happened in certain other neighborhoods of Los Angeles, Proctor said, "people would be up in arms . . . but you would think the people in that area would be upset too. We're talking about a child, not about a dope dealer who's been shot and no one wants to get involved."

'There's No Excuse'

As for the unknown parent, "there's no excuse" for such neglect, Proctor said with an edge to his voice. "There are so many people out there to help that I can't imagine, in this country, in this state, in this city, that situation ever developing where there is no one who can help. That (excuse) just doesn't exist as far as I'm concerned."

Whoever the parent is, he said, "business does not go on as usual with that family."

If the days go by and the phone does not ring with a name, a description, a license plate number, then "if we have to go back and check all the hospital (birth) records in L.A. County and account for all those (babies), we'll do it," Proctor said. "We sit and talk, and brainstorm this thing. We keep wondering what else can we do?

"Somebody knows. Somebody out there knows. We need them to help us."

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