It was around 4:30PM on the 12th of November, 1991, when a hunter heard a woman screaming near Jake’s Lake, just off Interstate 40 near Warner, Oklahoma. Joseph Barnes said that he feared that a woman was being attacked and followed the sound of the screams.
However, when he got closer, he saw a man and a woman close by the water. The woman was lying on the ground and the man was in front of her. At one point as she screamed, the man told her to shut up.” He said that he watched the scene for around thirty minutes, trying to figure out what was going on. Then he saw the man pull something from between the woman’s legs.
He couldn’t get a clear picture because the man’s back was obscuring his view, but he saw the man put the object into a plastic bag and repeatedly hit it. The man then turned around and noticed Barnes standing among the trees, watching them. He said: “That’s when he turned around, and I’m pretty sure he saw me. They were screaming and hollering all the way down the trail.”1
When the couple left, Barnes decided to go and investigate what was inside the plastic bag. To his horror, it was the lifeless body of a newborn baby girl. “I touched her finger with my hand and it was cold,” he recollected. “I just about threw my guts up.”2 He immediately called the sheriff’s office to report that he had just witnessed the birth and murder of a newborn.
Describing the scene, Barnes said: “But what he had done was put the baby in the sack and hit the baby. It was terrible.”3
Police would announce that they were waiting for a medical examiner’s report to see if the baby was killed or whether it was a stillbirth. However, McIntosh County dispatcher Cal Pippin would state: “There may have been a blow struck to the baby’s head.”4
It would be determined that the baby wasn’t stillborn. She had died from repeated blows to the head.
The search for the mother and the man seen at Jake’s Lake was now underway. They were described to be between 18 and 20-years-old. The woman was white with brown hair. She stood at around 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighed around 130 to 140 pounds. The man was white with dark hair. He stood at around 5 foot 8 to 5 foot 9 and weighed around 165 pounds. After they left the scene, Barnes saw them climb into a white-over-red 1975 or 1976 Monte Carlo.5
Police would alert area hospitals to keep an eye out for a woman suffering from blood loss. McIntosh County Sheriff Bobby Gray would state: “Judging from the scene, she had lot a lot of blood. We feel she’ll have to check in with a hospital sooner or later.”
The unidentified baby became known as “Warner Jane Doe.” The community would come together to ensure that the baby girl have a funeral service. “It’s pulled on all of us. There have been lots of prayers, a lot of emotion,” said Cindy Smith of Smith Funeral Home. Typically, unidentified bodies receive a “pauper’s burial” but the community would not settle for that. The funeral home donated their services while Checotah municipal officials gave burial space and the Gifford Monument Co. of Broken Arrow contributed a grave monument.6
In a bid to generate some tips, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation would put forward a $1,000 reward for information that could lead to an arrest.7 A segment on the case would be aired on national television as well but no lucrative tips ever came in.
There were no developments in the case until July of 2009, when a woman living in Broken Arrow was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. She was identified as 37-year-old Penny Anita Lowry and according to investigators, he was the mother of the deceased baby found at Jake’s Lake all those years ago.8
The murder case had been re-opened in 2003 because of advancements in DNA technology. DNA samples from the crime scene were entered into a national database and a match came back to Lowry. When she was finally arrested, she showed no semblance of emotion, with McIntosh County Sheriff Joe Hogan stating: “She showed no remorse… she said she didn’t think about that time much at all.”9
According to police, they were able to identify the newborn baby’s father as well, tracking him to California. However, while there was a man at the murder scene, police did not believe that this man was the newborn’s father; the man at the scene was white and the newborn baby girl was biracial. They were still wanting to identify this man.
Lowry was 19-years-old when she gave birth to the baby girl. She had been interviewed just a couple of days after the murder and she denied that she gad recently given birth and denied that she had ever been pregnant. When the DNA came back as a match to her and police arrived at her front door, she confessed that the baby was hers.10
Lowry was ordered to stand trial on first-degree murder charges but in October of 2010, she leaded guilty to a reduced charge of first-degree accessory to murder after the fact. She was sentenced to 45 years in prison.11 She refused to give police the name of the man who was with her at the lake.
- Tulsa World, 14 November, 1991 – “Infant Killed After Birth”
- Tulsa World, 15 November, 1991 – “Hunter Tells of Screams, Fists, Blood”
- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 14 November, 1991 – “Couple Wanted in Baby’s Death”
- Tulsa World, 13 November, 1991 – “Baby’s Body Found in Bag”
- Tulsa World, 14 November, 1991 – “Hunter Witnesses Slaying of Newborn”
- The Oklahoman, 19 November, 1991 – “Community Plans Rites for Baby”
- The Oklahoman, 4 December, 1991 – “$1,000 Reward Offered in Baby Slaying Case”
- Associated Press, 21 July, 2009 – “Mother Charged With Murder in Baby’s 1991 Death”
- Muskogee Daily Phoenix and Times-Democrat, 22 July, 2009 – “Mother of Infant Slain in 1991 Arrested”
- The Oklahoman, 22 July, 2009 – “DNA Test Proves She is Mother of Dead Girl”
- Muskogee Daily Phoenix and Times-Democrat, 28 October, 2010 – “Woman Pleads Guilty in Baby’s Death”