It was the 23rd of May, 1996, when a man was walking along a wooded canal bank on Old U.S. 27 in Clewiston, Palm Beach County, Florida. He was searching for scrap metal and cans when he came across a maroon and white Indian or Mexican style blanket and a woman’s black and white sweater. The area was in a seldom travelled dead-end road, around two miles from Hendry County.
The man decided he would investigate. As he got closer to the blanket and sweater, he noticed that there was a deceased baby girl wrapped up inside. She was estimated to be between four and six weeks old and was either white or Hispanic. The baby girl had black or dark brown hair. Due to decomposition, it couldn’t be determined what colour her eyes were.
The man immediately called police who cordoned off the area and transported the body to the medical examiner’s office for an autopsy to be conducted. It would determine that she had been dead for around five days. She also had a fractured mandible and maxilla and had died either of accidental or intentional injures.
With a cause of death determined, it was now time for an identification to be made. Unfortunately, due to the decomposition, fingerprints could not be lifted from the baby girl. Footprints, however, could be lifted and investigators would compare them to the footprints of hundreds of missing children that were available at local hospitals. None of them came back as a match.
Investigators would appeal to the public for information about the baby girl. However, no leads or tips came in. In an attempt to stir public interest, investigators working on the case would name the baby girl “Baby Belle” and would release a composite sketch of what she would have looked like before she died.
The grim discovery completely stunned the area and traumatised even the most seasoned investigators. The baby girl was barely a month old and she had met a violent death. “It hit a nerve with us,” said Sgt. Jim Stormes, who was supervising the investigation. They would ultimately announce that the death of Baby Belle was being investigated as a homicide.
With a lack of leads, investigators would subpoena birth records from two hospital in the Glades area for all births up to eight weeks before Baby Belle was discovered. Within the first week, they were able to rule out 25 of the 30 babies that were born within that time frame.1
Twelve days after Baby Belle was discovered, investigators along with four clergymen planted a cross of white carnations, roses and daisies at the scene where Baby Belle was found.2 They continued in their search for information which could crack the case, speaking to local farmers who lived in the secluded area and holding multiple press conferences.
Very quickly, the tragic case went cold. “At this point, we’re pretty much at a dead end,” said Sgt. Stormes. “We have an infant who is not going to get a decent burial, and that’s extremely upsetting no matter how many cases you handle.”3
Despite an exhaustive investigation, the true identity of Baby Belle, along with the identity of the person who took her life, still remains a mystery.