On the 5th of December, 1982, Ted Hammond, a trucker from Florida, called police to tell them he had spotted the body of an adult female floating in the Escatawpa River (which was called Dog River at the time) in Moss Point, Mississippi.Hammond told police that the woman was clad in a blue plaid shirt and that she was on the north side of the bridge at Mississippi 613.1 When Deputy Virgil Moore arrived at the Franklin Creek area north of I-10, he – and several other officers – searched the river but were unsuccessful in finding the body of the adult female. They did, however, find the body of a little baby girl bobbing up and down in the same river around ten miles north of the I-10 bridge. They retrieved her with the sheriff’s flotilla.
The little girl was estimated to be between 18 and 24 months old. She was wearing a white and pink checkered dress which buttoned at the back with a disposable diaper. She was around 31-inches tall and weighed about 25 pounds.2 She had all of her baby teeth and had curly strawberry blonde hair. An autopsy confirmed that the toddler was alive when she entered the water. Water was present in her lungs. Furthermore, it was uncovered that somebody had attempted to strangle her before throwing her in the river. She was estimated to have been dead for between 36 and 48 hours. The little girl subsequently became known as “Delta Dawn” or “Baby Jane.”
Several witnesses came forward to say they had seen a woman with a baby girl walking along the I-10. The woman was said to be in a distressed state yet refused any assistance from the passing drivers that stopped to see if she was okay. She wandered aimlessly across a bridge. It was theorised that this was Delta Dawn and her mother. It was also theorised that the adult female body seen floating in the same river was that of her mother who had killed her daughter and then herself. Divers were sent to search through the flooded waters of Escatawpa River and during their search, they found the body of a young man who had been shot in the back of the head. An investigation determined that he had no relation to Delta Dawn or her missing mother. “I can’t believe we’ve found two bodies while looking for another one, and both were just luck,” said Jackson County Coroner Benny Bryant.3 However, the body of the adult female was never retrieved.
A funeral was held for Delta Dawn at Bethel Assembly of God Church at 2105 Martin St. in Pascagoula. Over 200 mourners packed into the small church to pay their last respects to a little girl they didn’t know; a little girl that still remained unidentified. Afterwards, she was buried in Jackson County Memorial Park. Instead of an unmarked grave, Deputy Virgil Moore and his wife, Mary, insisted she had a Christian burial with a headstone which read: “Baby Jane – Known Only to God.” The service and burial was paid for by Deputy Virgil Moore and his wife as well as by donations from Thornton Bonding Co., Pierce Bonding Co., Bob’s Garage and employees of Brown and Root. Several years later, another unidentified baby who was found drowned in Wade was buried next to her.
In 2008, Delta Dawn was exhumed to obtain DNA samples which investigators had hoped would link her to another out-of-state cold case. In March, police were contacted by a California coroner who told them that a local family thought Delta Dawn may be their family member. They said she had disappeared at around the same time that Delta Dawn was found and that the digital composite sketch looked eerily similar to the missing girl. According to the family, the boyfriend of the girls’ mother claimed he kidnapped the child and killed her but refused to tell authorities where he hid the body. No matches were made and Delta Dawn remained unidentified.
Around the same time, the case was taken over by Jackson County Sheriff’s investigator Hope Thornton who shortly afterwards stated that Ted Hammond, the man who called the police to report he had seen a woman’s body in the river, is “still a suspect in my book.”4 She refused to elaborate because of the ongoing investigation but did state that that Hammond’s story had changed dramatically over the forthcoming years.
Despite a lengthy and exhaustive effort to identify the little girl, she remained unidentified. Eventually, she was posthumously adopted by Deputy Virgil Moore and his wife. “Actually, she belongs to Jackson County,” he said. “She was a beautiful baby girl.”
Anyone with information on Baby Jane should contact the Sheriff’s Department at 228-769-3063.