'Baby Hope' cold case solved in Colorado, 2 decades after infant girl's body was found

Published: Mar. 9, 2020 at 2:10 PM MDT
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DNA testing was used to solve a Colorado cold case centered around the death of an infant girl more than two decades ago.

In 1996, fishermen found the body of a newborn baby in the Arkansas River.

"The autopsy revealed it was a live birth, and that the child was alive when she was born," said Pueblo County Sheriff Kirk Taylor. "The autopsy designated the case as a homicide."

But the case quickly grew cold after that initial determination.

"At that time, the sheriff's office worked diligently to follow any clues and find any evidence that may have existed at the time, and they were unsuccessful," Taylor said.

The child was buried under the name of “Baby Hope” at Mountain View Cemetery. Years went by without answers, though the sheriff's office said detectives would "periodically" dust off the file and make another attempt at finding the child's mother. The attempts came to nothing -- until early last year.

"Based upon some new scientific and forensic technology, Detective Butterfield from the sheriff's office was able to team up with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation Forensic Lab and utilizing some relatively new techniques, some of which you're familiar with, there was a 'Baby Faith' case up in Fort Collins last year, some of the same technology that was utilized in this case," Taylor told reporters in a news conference Monday. "Detective Butterfield resubmitted DNA that we had taken from Baby Hope and was able to work with CBI to identify some possible parents in the case."

When investigators began interviewing some of those people last fall, one woman refused to provide DNA.

"Unfortunately, about four to five days later, she was the individual that was found in the car that was burned over by the old Greyhound park. That was designated a suicide," Taylor said.

Detectives were able to take DNA samples from the woman, identified as 52-year-old LeeAnn Hed, after her death. When comparing them with Hope's DNA, investigators had their answer: Hed was the baby's mother.

Detectives have determined Hed was the sole person responsible for Hope's death. After nearly 24 years, the case is now closed.

"We're glad to bring this to an end. I think a lot of times there's some people out there that think we don't work on some of these old cases. I can assure you that we periodically review these cases as to whether or not there's new technology or new evidence."

Taylor thanked the detectives who worked the case, specifically Butterfield who he said took over the case in 2017 and infused it with new interest.

"Quite frankly, it was just the due diligence of a new detective in the ID section that in his interest and curiosity kinda moved this one forward."

He also thanked the CBI, whose support, he said, was invaluable in solving the case.

"If not for the support and assistance provided by the CBI, the case would still be unsolved."

Taylor also referenced the "Baby Faith" case in Larimer County, which also involved a newborn infant found in water -- the Horsetooth Reservoir in that case -- in August 1996. That case was solved just a few months ahead of Baby Hope and was found not to be related, Taylor said.

The Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office reminds the public that if they have information on any active or cold cases, contact the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office at 719-583-6250 or to remain anonymous call Crime Stoppers at 719-542-STOP (7867).