Three decades after she left her baby for dead, police knocked on her door. She had been waiting.

Police had worked with forensic genealogists to analyze the DNA of the baby and the mother against genealogy websites.

A rose is rests on the gravestone of David Paul at Walnut Grove Cemetery in Meriden, Conn. DNA testing has helped police identify the mother of David Paul, an infant who was abandoned and found frozen to death in a Connecticut parking lot in 1988.
A rose is rests on the gravestone of David Paul at Walnut Grove Cemetery in Meriden, Conn. DNA testing has helped police identify the mother of David Paul, an infant who was abandoned and found frozen to death in a Connecticut parking lot in 1988. –Chris Angileri / Record-Journal via AP

The newborn was swaddled in blankets, resting at the base of a tree that was hidden from the road. By the time police found him on Jan. 2, 1988, he had died of exposure to the frigid weather.

Unable to identify the baby, police in Meriden, Connecticut, named him David Paul, which has a biblical meaning of “God’s beloved little man.” A local resident donated a plot at Walnut Grove Cemetery, where police have held a graveside ceremony honoring the child every year since his burial.

In the decades that followed, Police Chief Jeffry Cossette said investigators heard false confessions and traveled to several states in search of leads on the boy’s identity. On the 32nd anniversary of the child’s discovery, two detectives confronted the woman who turned out to be his mother.

Advertisement

Karen Kuzmak Roche, the chief said at a news conference Tuesday, told detectives that “she had been waiting 32 years for the day in which the police would be knocking on her door regarding this incident.”

Police had worked with forensic genealogists to analyze the DNA of the baby and the mother against genealogy websites, the same technique that in 2018 helped investigators to identify the suspected “Golden State Killer.” The new technology has simultaneously alarmed privacy advocates and excited law enforcement officials who say that it forges a crucial new avenue for identifying criminals.

In 2012, police started working with Colleen Fitzpatrick, founder of the genealogical service IdentiFinders International. Fitzpatrick told reporters that she had identified the mother’s possible last name by 2014.

Three years later, Fitzpatrick chose David Paul as a test case for whether autosomal SNP testing could help identify people from their DNA. In the months that followed, she used the genealogical website GEDmatch to map the baby’s and mother’s family trees.

“This is one of two original cold cases that were approached using this new way of doing things,” Fitzpatrick said.

In November 2019, investigators traveled to Florida to talk with the person whose DNA was the closest match that they could find. Around the same time, Fitzpatrick told police that she had found another of the mother’s distant family members.

Advertisement

Investigators learned that some of the mother’s female relatives had lived in the neighborhood where the baby was found and the discovery led them to Roche. She admitted that David Paul was her son and expressed remorse for abandoning him, Cossette told reporters. A DNA test later confirmed that Roche was the mother.

Roche did not return a call made Thursday to a phone number listed for her.

Law enforcement officials do not expect to criminally charge Roche because the state has a 20-year statute of limitations on manslaughter cases, said Cossette, who as a detective in 1988 was called to respond to David Paul’s discovery.

Roche told police that she was in a bad state of mind when her baby was born. Then 25, she said she hid her pregnancy under loose clothing and delivered the child by herself at home. Police say they do not believe that David Paul’s father knew about him.

After Roche left her son under the tree on Dec. 28, 1987, she called a local fire department and told them in vague language that there was something they needed to look for in the parking lot. Cossette said first responders did not know that they were looking for a baby and did not find him.

Roche told police that if Connecticut’s Safe Haven Law had existed in 1988, she would have taken advantage of that resource. The statute, which went into effect in 2000, allows a parent to voluntarily give up an infant 30 days old or younger to an emergency room’s nursing staff. Similar laws exist across the country.

Advertisement

Fitzpatrick said that discovering the identity of David Paul’s mother answers a lingering question but does not provide closure.

“All I believe in is release of information that allows us to go on with our lives,” she said. “I don’t believe there is such a thing as closure because we can’t go back and undo the past.”