In Sue Fiduccia’s 35 years of service in the Winnebago County Coroner’s office, she estimates she has performed more than 400 autopsies on homicide victims alone. But one in particular stands out in her mind.
In Sue Fiduccia’s 35 years of service in the Winnebago County coroner’s office, she estimates she has performed more than 400 autopsies on homicide victims alone.
But one in particular stands out in her mind.
So much so she still displays a picture of the victim, at rest in a miniature casket. The 5-inch by 7-inch framed photograph of Baby Crystal, who looks likes she’s sleeping, hangs in Fiduccia’s downtown office.
This month marks the three-year anniversary of the discovery of the 7-pound, 3-ounce newborn, found frozen to death inside a white plastic garbage bag that had been discarded along a lonely stretch of road in Shirland Township.
Fiduccia doesn’t hesitate when asked why she keeps a picture of the infant.
“Because I don’t want anybody to forget about Baby Crystal,” she said. “She was a beautiful little girl, and her mother threw her away like a piece of trash.”
Baby Crystal is one of three unsolved homicides from 2004 still being investigated by the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department’s cold case squad.
Crystal was found by a 13-year-old girl whose dog returned home with a piece of bloodstained clothing in its mouth. The girl followed her dog to the garbage bag in the 1500 block of Will Road, about a mile north of Yale Bridge Road.
The death of Baby Crystal may prove to be the Sheriff’s Department’s toughest case to solve yet.
There are no known family members or friends to interview.
The newborn didn’t even have a name until Fiduccia and Sheriff Dick Meyers gave her one. Meyers said the infant was found during the day, but he and Fiduccia were on the scene well into that “crystal clear” night trying to figure how and why the baby was left to die.
“I remember,” Meyers said. “It was colder than hell that day. I remember the bag on the side of the road, and there was this little hand reaching out to you. It just made you want to pick that little baby up and hug it to make it warm.”
The only physical evidence is the mother’s bloodstained clothing, wrapped around the nude infant before she was placed in the bag.
Deputy Chief Dominic Iasparro said the one piece of evidence that can positively link the black-haired baby to her mother is DNA.
In February 2005, toxicology tests were returned to the coroner’s office. Authorities learned Crystal had cocaine in her system, and she had tested positive for hepatitis B, a viral infection of the liver caused by sexual contact with an infected person or by the use of contaminated needles and other instruments.
Armed with that information, detectives examined medical information of all white female inmates at the Winnebago County Jail within 12 months of Crystal’s birth.
Authorities at the Green and Rock county jails also checked the medical records of their female inmates, to no avail.
Because of privacy laws, detectives are unable to access medical records at hospitals and clinics.
While the leads have grown cold, Meyers and Iasparro are convinced they are a phone call away from finding Baby Crystal’s mother and bringing closure to her death. They doubt a woman who had just given birth hours earlier could drive — let alone walk — to a rural road in harsh weather to discard the infant without help — or someone seeing her.
“Somebody knows or has suspicions but are just unwilling to make that phone call,” Iasparro said. “They can call anonymously to Crime Stoppers. We’re not necessarily interested in where the call comes from.”
The plight of Baby Crystal left an impression on the hearts of many in the community.
Fitzgerald Funeral Home donated its services, and Calvary Catholic Cemetery on West State Street donated a plot in Babyland.
About 75 to 100 mourners attended the funeral.
“Everything in the casket (blankets, stuffed animals and a rosary) was donated by people in the community,” said Fiduccia, who visits Crystal’s grave each year. “We had to get a bigger casket to hold it all. This was the only things she had, so we buried everything with her.”
With laws in place allowing mothers to leave their newborns at hospitals, police departments or manned fire stations with no questions asked and without fear of prosecution, Fiduccia said, “No matter what the mom’s problems were, she didn’t have to throw it away. Baby Crystal didn’t need to freeze to death.”
Staff writer Chris Green can be reached at 815-987-1241 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to help
If you have any information regarding the unsolved case of Baby Crystal, call the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department at 815-319-6300 or CrimeStoppers at 815-963-7867.