Technology gives a face to mother of baby found dead in Calgary on Christmas Eve

CALGARY — Police have released a high-tech image they say is a likeness of the mother of a baby girl found dead in a dumpster on Christmas Eve.

They have also released a composite sketch of the baby.

Police say the mother’s image was produced by a company in Virginia that specializes in DNA phenotyping, which can predict physical appearance and ancestry from unidentified DNA.

It’s the first time Calgary police have used the technology.

“They have had success in the United States,” Staff Sgt. Martin Schiavetta of the homicide unit said Wednesday. “This technique actually has been publicly utilized in Canada twice already in Ontario — in Windsor and Sudbury.”

Police said they received numerous tips after the baby was found in the northwest community of Bowness, but all were investigated and ruled out.

“We have exhausted all other investigative inquiries,” said Schiavetta. ”We are really at an investigative standstill.”

As part of that investigation, police found biological material at the scene that they sent in for the DNA phenotyping.

The results indicate that the mother is likely to be of mixed race — possibly of Metis or Indigenous descent — with fair skin. Her hair is described as dark, probably brown or black, and her eyes are hazel that may also appear green.

Schiavetta said the technology cannot predict age, weight, height or hairstyle.

“This is a scientific approximation and obviously a mother’s — or anyone’s — physical appearance can change,” he said. “Concentrate on the hair colour, the eye colour and the ethnicity.”

Schiavetta said investigators hope the image will lead to tips that help find the mother.

An autopsy showed the baby was breathing on her own at some point after being born.

Police said identifying the mother will help determine what led to the baby being placed in the dumpster. They still don’t know whether the death is suspicious, so the mother is not being sought as a suspect.

“We have some really difficult and challenging questions to ask the mother, but please do not assume that the mother placed the baby there,” said Schiavetta.

Anyone who may know the identity of the woman in the Calgary case is asked to call the homicide tip line at 403-428-8877 or the Calgary Police Service at 403-266-1234.

Another Canadian case where the same technology was used in 2017 was the homicide of Renee Sweeney in Sudbury, Ont. The case has stymied police since 1998 when she was repeatedly stabbed behind the counter of the adults-only video store where she worked.

In Windsor, Ont., police used the technology in the 1971 murder of a six-year-old girl named Ljubica Topic. She was playing outside her home with her older brother when a man approached the pair and offered her money to come with him. Her body was found nearby four hours later.

Both cases remain unsolved.

The company, Parabon Nanolabs, said on its website that the images from the DNA profile have helped in several U.S. cases — including police arresting and charging a Baltimore resident with murder in January for the 2017 death of his girlfriend.

A Texas man confessed to murder in November 2017 after police released an image matching his description.

The technology also helped identify and convict a North Carolina man who gunned down a couple in their home in 2012.


Illustration by THE CANADIAN PRESS The Calgary Police Service has used DNA phenotyping to create an image, shown here,that has a likeness to the mother of a baby that was found deceased in a dumpster on Sunday, Dec. 24, 2017.

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