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Mother charged with murder in ‘Babies in the Water’ case

Jennifer Matter, 50, of rural Red Wing, admitted to leaving two babies in or near the Mississippi River in 1999 and 2003, according to the criminal complaint.

RED WING, Minn. — Describing it as a mystery that has pulled at the hearts of law enforcement and community residents for decades, Goodhue County Sheriff Marty Kelly announced charges have been filed against a woman who has been linked to two children who were found dead in the Mississippi River in 1999 and 2003. 

Authorities say 50-year-old Jennifer Matter is charged with two counts of second-degree murder in the death of a baby boy pulled from the river in 2003. Goodhue County Attorney Stephen O'Keefe says additional charges are pending as prosecutors finalize the case of a newborn girl found in the Mississippi River nearly four years earlier. 

Matter is being held at the Goodhue County Law Enforcement Center following her arrest just after 6:30 a.m. Monday at her home in Belvidere Township. Sheriff Kelly said the defendant was taken into custody without incident. 

"Did she know it was coming? I think she did," Kelly told reporters during a press conference Monday. 

The cases of the infants, plus a third baby whose lifeless body was pulled from the Mississippi in 2007, were recently profiled by KARE 11 reporter Lou Raguse. They remained unsolved through the administrations of three previous Goodhue County Sheriffs, all of who left office with the tiny children on their minds. 

RELATED: Minnesota Unsolved: The mystery of the babies in the water

"For over 20 years, the deaths of these innocent babies have haunted the community and the countless law enforcement officers that have worked tirelessly on this case," Kelly said. 

Investigators from Goodhue County and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension worked the case for all those years, following up on tips and leads but coming up empty. DNA profiles obtained during autopsies performed on the children had previously determined that they were related. The break finally came when DNA profiles were used to conduct a genetic genealogy search that led to potential relatives in Goodhue County. 

A criminal complaint filed against Matter says in June of 2021 the Minnesota BCA crime lab used the samples to identify the biological father of the girl found in 1999. Prosecutors say in the complaint that Interviews with that man and further investigations led them to the defendant. 

Credit: Goodhue County Jail
Jennifer Matter is charged with murder in the death of a baby boy found in the Mississippi River in 2003, and authorities say they have tied her to another infant death using DNA.

Investigators interviewed Jennifer Matter on April 25, 2022, and say she denied being the mother of the deceased infants. When asked for a DNA sample the investigators say she declined. 

On May 2, a search warrant was executed and law enforcement collected a DNA sample from Matter. It was compared against the profiles of the two infants and found both were a strong match to the defendant. 

Prosecutors say in the criminal complaint that during a second interview with investigators from Goodhue County and the BCA, Matter admitted to giving birth to both children, saying she was drinking too much, in and out of jail and doing "a lot of stupid things."

In the case of the infant in 2003, Matter reportedly told investigators that she went to the river and left the baby on the beach before driving away. She said that the child was breathing fine and it may have been crying.

The complaint says Matter told detectives that she did not call 911, but hoped someone would find the baby. Authorities also quote her as saying she never intended to keep the baby, she had no prenatal care and considered other options like adoption but had no plans to leave him somewhere safe following the birth.

Sheriff Kelly credited investigators who wouldn't quit and a community that invested in the short lives of the children. He told reporters that local residents contributed the $10,000 that paid for the genealogy search that cracked the case. 

Jennifer Matter is scheduled to make her first appearance in Goodhue County Court on Tuesday. 

Authorities made clear they do not believe Matter is tied to the death of the third infant discovered in the Mississippi in 2007. They are asking for anyone who knows anything about that case to call them with information. 

RELATED: Goodhue Co. Sheriff's Office seeks public's assistance in cold cases

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