LATEST: Despite national attention, ‘Baby June’ case got just 14 tips, PBSO says


In the month after Paul Merhige stood up at a Thanksgiving dinner in Jupiter in 2009 and killed four relatives before fleeing, authorities got about 200 tips.

In the six weeks since Baby June was found floating near the Boynton Inlet, authorities have received all of 14.

This despite intense media attention in both the Miami-Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach County-Treasure Coast news markets. And national media interest. And pleas by two sheriff’s departments and two Crime Stoppers agencies. And the posting by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office of a $10,000 reward.

And of the 14 tips, “sadly, nothing has panned out,” PBSO spokeswoman Teri Barbera said.

This latest indication of investigators’ dead ends came one day after PBSO revealed Monday that more than 600 South Florida births had successfully been accounted for.

An off-duty firefighter had found Baby June, believed to be four to seven days old, on June 1, 75 yards offshore and just north of the Boynton Inlet. Investigators said she had been in the water six to 18 hours. They have said they still are working to determine the cause and timing of her death and will not say if she was alive when she went into the water.

Detectives later said a prick on the baby’s heel suggested she was born in a hospital. But authorities checked about 600 births in hospitals in Broward and Palm Beach counties and parts of the Treasure Coast and accounted for all of them.

RELATED  PBSO sheriff offers $10,000 reward to solve Baby June mystery

The search had been expanded to Broward on June 7, after investigators said it was "very likely" the baby drifted north from there. Broward Crime Stoppers said Tuesday it didn’t get any tips at all.

“It happens on certain cases that we receive no tips on a significant crime,” said Dani Moschella, the Delray Beach police spokeswoman who has spent more than a decade at South Florida law-enforcement agencies.

“Often when a case captures a lot of public interest, you may get flooded with tips,” Moschella said Tuesday. “Keep in mind those tips can range from absolute nonsense to that key puzzle piece a detective needs to close a case.”

The longer Baby June’s identity remains a mystery, “the more likely it is going to remain unidentified,” Kelsee Hentschel-Fey, manager for the University of South Florida's forensic anthropology lab, said Tuesday. 

Hentschel-Fey said the lab has helped numerous police agencies in Florida and nationwide solve cold cases — but not all of them. She said her program has dealt with adults that still weren’t identified 40 years later. And she said the lab has six unidentified infants and toddlers, one dating to 1980.

A big part of the problem, Hentschel-Fey said, is that parents can kill a child, then move to another area, with no one there the wiser. She said that’s exacerbated by Florida’s transient nature.

Sadly, she said, dead children have been found in suitcases, trash piles, trunks and even plastic bags.

And none of that’s necessary, Hentschel-Fey said.

“They have the ‘haven’ drop-offs, no questions asked,” she said. “You can drop your infant off at hospitals or a fire station.”

Hentschel-Fey did say certain elements particular to Florida might be helping authorities investigating Baby June. But she also said DNA is not the panacea many people think it is, since in this case, Baby June’s DNA most probably wouldn’t be on record anywhere. 

She said the dearth of tips is discouraging. But, she said, “media attention is critical for cold cases. That's how they get solved.”



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