MERIDEN — Police have identified the mother of a baby that froze to death after being abandoned in a South Meriden parking lot 32 years ago this month.
The break in the investigation came through the use of advanced DNA testing, Police Chief Jeffry Cossette announced during a press conference Tuesday.
Police interviewed the mother, Karen Kuzmak-Roche, who will not been charged with a crime, Cossette said. She was 25 when she abandoned the baby in the parking lot of AGC Inc., a machine shop on Evansville Avenue, near her home at the time on New Cheshire Road.
The baby, who police named David Paul, was found frozen near a tree in the parking lot on Jan. 2, 1988, but had never been identified.
“At this point in time we believe that she will not be charged. We’re looking at a manslaughter, which has a statute of limitations of 20 years,” Cossette said.
He said the New Haven state’s attorney’s office would have the final say on what charges would be pursued, however.
Det. Lt. Steve Burstein and Det. Sgt. Shane Phillips met with Kuzmak-Roche on Jan. 2 and she admitted being the mother of the infant. Police confirmed the relationship through a positive DNA test from the state laboratory last week, Cossette noted.
“Ms. Roche indicated that she had been waiting 32 years for the day in which police would be knocking on her door,” Cossette said.
Interview with police
Kuzmak-Roche told police she felt a lot of remorse for what happened. She told police she was “in a very bad state of mind,” in a relationship and that she delivered the baby herself at home.
Kuzmak-Roche told police she never sought medical care for herself following the delivery. She said she called the South Meriden Volunteer Fire Department on Dec. 28, 1987 to report there was “something” they needed to find in the AGC parking lot.
"Ms. Roche indicated that she had been waiting 32 years for the day in which police would be knocking on her door."
-Chief Jeffry Cossette
Cossette confirmed the call did take place and crews responded to the area. There were two parking lots at the time and the baby was in a wooded area that was not visible from the street, he said.
Kuzmak-Roche told police she hid the pregnancy with loose clothing and no one but she knew about it. Kuzmak-Roche identified the father of the baby to police, and Cossette said detectives plan on speaking with him. The father’s name was not released.
Cossette noted they don’t believe he knew about the pregnancy or baby at the time of the incident.
RJ file photo - Carrying the casket of little David Paul are, from left, Capt. Dominick Colangelo, Patrolman Edward Wall, Sgt. Keith McCurdy and then Detective Jeffry Cossette, of the Meriden Police Department March 30, 1988.
Cheshire town records indicate that Kuzmak-Roche currently owns a condominium at 44 Quarry Village Road. A woman who answered the door Tuesday declined comment to a reporter.
Kuzmak-Roche told detectives she followed the initial coverage of the case for the first few years, but eventually did not see a point in coming forward because it wouldn’t change anything, Burstein said.
Kuzmak-Roche has not visited the baby’s gravesite, Burstein said. She continued to live in Connecticut, Cossette said, and did not have any other children. She has since gotten married.
Colleen Fitzpatrick, a forensic genealogical consultant and founder of Identifinders International, worked with police on the investigation and attended the press conference Tuesday.
Fitzpatrick, who is also co-executive director of the DNA Doe Project, said the Doe Project had been working on the DNA sequencing in the case, which has since been referred to Indentifinders.
"We were looking for an agency or two that was really forward thinking, that would see the merit in trying something else, that had such a compelling case that they really wanted to solve."
Fitzpatrick became involved in 2012. In 2017 she was approached by another forensic genealogist about trying to use the same technology that would later be used to identify the Golden State killer — autosomal snip testing.
Fitzpatrick said she began looking for cold cases to use the technology.
“We were looking for an agency or two that was really forward thinking, that would see the merit in trying something else, that had such a compelling case that they really wanted to solve,” Fitzpatrick said. “We decided the Meriden Police Department would be one of those two agencies that we could believe in.”
Fitzpatrick said she and another forensic genealogist spent much of 2017 finding a way to use the technology in this case. She said companies like 23 and Me and Ancestry.com don’t take forensic cases and they had to find a way to do the work on their own.
Colleen Fitzpatrick, a forensic genealogical consultant and founder of Identifinders International. | Dave Zajac, Record-Journal
“So this is a landmark case,” Fitzpatrick said. “This is one of the original, one of two original, cold cases that were approached using this new way of doing things, a new approach to forensic identification.”
After extensive research, the DNA sequencing led investigators to relatives of David Paul and they were able to narrow the search further.
Fitzpatrick said they worked for a long time on putting the genealogy together. Meriden police put their resources behind the research to reach this conclusion, she said.
Never gave up
Retired members of the police department were at the announcement on Tuesday. Former Chief Robert Kosienski said it was always important to him that the department not give up on the case. At the graveside ceremony on Jan. 2 Kosienski said they made a commitment to the baby to keep investigating.
“I feel very, very good that it’s come to this point. That we now know who the mother is, David Paul at least has a relative that we can say is his mom,” Kosienski said on Tuesday. “All of these years have gone by and it was so sad.”
Keith McCurdy, a detective sergeant in 1988, was also at the announcement and said that his overwhelming emotion is sadness. He said he knew all along there would be no good outcome, but acknowledged the department made a promise to the baby.
“We made a commitment that we would continue on with this investigation, that we would not just simply forget the child,” McCurdy said. “So I think we fulfilled that commitment to bring it to an end.”
RJ file photo - Meriden Police Det. Sgt. Keith McCurdy arranges flowers on the grave of David Paul , followed by Ann Javornisky, 4, Jan. 2, 1990.
McCurdy said Kuzmak-Roche’s account to police, some of which he could not discuss yet, is “very compelling" and when the information can be released will give people a better understanding of what transpired that day. Kosienski said he believes no woman can carry a child full term and make that decision lightly.
“A mother doesn’t give up that easily. Something happened,” Kosienski said.
Safe Haven Law
Kosienski spoke about testifying at the state Capitol to get the Safe Haven law passed. The law, which went into effect in 2000, allows a parent to voluntarily give up custody of an infant 30 days or younger to the nursing staff of an emergency room without being subject to arrest for abandonment. The act does not protect the parent from being arrested and criminally prosecuted if abuse or neglect has occurred.
Under the statutes, the parent can decline to provide identifying information.
More than 30 infants have been saved from abandonment since the law went into effect, according to the state Department of Children and Families.
Kuzmak-Roche told detectives that if the Safe Haven law had existed at the time, she would have taken advantage of it, Cossette said.
Reporter Mike Gagne contributed to this story.