We told you back in July how Mackinac County Deputies finally solved a 25 year old cold case using forensic genetic genealogy.
The case of Baby Garnet is one that’s haunted investigators since 1997.
“The guy that was cleaning out the outhouses used, obviously the suction and it got clogged and once he went to undo the clog, that’s when he noticed that he had sucked up the baby and that obviously he had called 911,” said Mackinac County Sheriff Ed Wilk.
Investigators immediately went to work gathering what evidence they could.
“They had the foresight to gather the information and the DNA. That really wasn’t the thing. So we really didn’t even know to gather it, but they did very good at the time with what they had,” said Wilk.
Reports from 1997 say an autopsy showed they baby girl was practically a newborn.
In the meantime, the close knit community surrounding the campground named the baby ‘Baby Garent’ and gave her a proper burial at the local cemetery.
Detectives chased down what leads they had, but were never able to make an arrest.
Then in 2010, Ed Wilk, now the Mackinac County Sheriff, gave the case another look.
“I just reviewed the case and I just, you know, put some feelers out because I was assigned to the to the west end of the county. And, you know, granted, is kind of the area I patrol as well, and just to see if I could getting any traction or get any information that maybe somebody would talk. I thought this was a very solvable case as time had progressed,” recalled Wilk.
Fast forward several more years, and modern day technology entered the picture.
“One of the investigators actually read an article that was from North Dakota, I believe, that were forensic genealogy was used in that case to help solve a cold case. Upon looking into that, that kind of let us down that path to do the forensic genealogy,” said Wilk.
Enter Colleen Fitzpatrick and her company, Indentifinders International.
“Well, we’re the pioneers in using forensic genetic genealogy, especially for cold case work,” said Fitzpatrick, the Founder and President of Indentifinders International.
Now, that evidence gathered so meticulously back in 1997 proved critical.
“We talk to the agency, we get sort of a background, we’ll lead them through the process of getting to the point they can send DNA to our labs, and then we get the genealogy data. So we upload it to Gedmatch, and Family Tree DNA and we go forward with the genealogy, explained Fitzpatrick.
“The help of the Identifiers International actually helped us give us a direction to go. And obviously we go to different people that were suggested to us and basically it’s just another lead,” said Wilk.
That sometimes painstaking process eventually lead to Nancy Gerwatowski — Baby Garnet’s birth mother.
Living in Wyoming, she was brought back to Mackinac County this summer to face murder charges.
“The investigators called me and it was I guess a kind of a weight lifted,” said Wilk.
Baby Garnet never had the chance to grow up, the world never got to know what she might have become.
But 25 years later, we’re closer than ever to answer the question of what happened to her and why.
“It becomes fascinating, you know, all the parts that say don’t fit together or do fit together. Do I get tired sometimes? Yes, I do. But do I give up? No, I don’t,” said Fitzpatrick.
“To have it closed, it made me feel good for, again, the officers, the initial people that were involved, but truly, again, and the community. This is also a part of a healing for the community that have lived with this 25 years,” said Wilk.
Investigators say they have identified Baby Garnet’s father using the same technology that help find her mother.
He was unaware of the pregnancy and is considered a victim in this case.
Identifinders International also used this technology to crack a cold case in Kent County.
You can listen to extended interviews with Wilk and Fitzpatrick in our Unsolved Podcast.