Justice may finally be coming for Geauga’s Child.
For 26 years, the deceased newborn boy found along a back road in Thompson Township on March 25, 1993, had remained nameless except for the adopted name of “Geauga’s Child” given by caring citizens who provided the boy with clothing and a burial.
Last week that changed as Geauga County Sheriff Scott Hildenbrand announced that an arrest had been made in the 26-year-old cold case.
On Monday, Gail M. Ritchey, 49, came to Geauga County Common Pleas Court to answer to charges of aggravated murder and murder, both of which carry life imprisonment sentences if convicted.
Mrs. Ritchey, of Euclid, represented by attorney Steven Bradley, entered a not guilty plea to those charges.
Geauga County Prosecutor James Flaiz noted that while Mrs. Ritchey lacked a criminal record and had strong ties to the community, a $250,000 bond was needed in the case, given that she confessed to being the mother of the abandoned child and having committed a similar crime in Cuyahoga County two years earlier.
Mr. Bradley argued a $50,000 bond was more reasonable because of her strong ties to the area with a husband and three grown children and limited financial resources. “A $250,000 bond would do nothing more than create a financial hardship,” he said.
Judge Carolyn J. Paschke, however, sided with the prosecutor, setting a $250,000 bond or 10 percent and ordered her to be monitored by GPS at her expense.
At a press conference last week, Sheriff Hildenbrand detailed how detectives tracked down the mother of the child after more than two decades using the latest DNA technology.
“A family tree was produced consisting of over 1,400 people in an effort to identify the parents of Geauga’s Child,” Sheriff Hildenbrand said. “Those people were from around the world in different countries when they started. They were narrowed down by their DNA that they had previously submitted voluntarily to an online data base.”
He said responders who arrived on the scene 26 years ago found the child that had apparently been partially eaten by animals with the umbilical cord still attached. Those who had initially found the baby described it as looking “like a doll,” he said. He said medical examiners determined that the child had been born alive.
Sheriff Hildenbrand said a group of citizens provided the child with handmade clothing and a funeral with many continuing to visit the grave, bring gifts and flowers.
But, for police investigators their work had just begun, Sheriff Hildenbrand said. He said investigators followed up on hundreds, if not thousands of leads. Those who were initially involved in the case, he said, continued their search for what happened even after retirement. He said the child could not speak for himself, so the Geauga County Sheriff’s Department had to do that speaking for him.
Detective Donald Seamon would eventually find hope in a case on the other side of the country when DNA technology was used to catch the Golden State Killer. Using DNA of the child and various distant relatives, the sheriff said, detectives were able to narrow down that search until last week when they served an arrest warrant for Mrs. Ritchey.
He said it was the 51st crime solved using this newest investigative tool.
Sheriff Hildenbrand said Mrs. Ritchey admitted to having abandoned the baby, placing it in a trash bag and placing it in a wooded area somewhere in Thompson Township before it was likely dragged by animals to the Sidley Road location where he was found. She also admitted to abandoning another newborn in Cuyahoga County two years earlier.
Sheriff Hildenbrand said Mrs. Ritchey showed no remorse when confronted with the charges.
“To this day, even though she admitted involvement, she shows absolutely no remorse and takes no ownership of the baby,” he said. “She had not even thought about this until we brought it up. She completely put it out of her mind. She always referred to the baby as an ‘it.’
“I don’t know how you could get up the next morning like that, let alone raise a family and go on like a normal person.”
He said the only connection the Euclid woman had to the area was that she was working at a camp in Geneva at the time of the crime.
He said she claimed she had hidden the pregnancy from the father of the child, now her husband.
Mr. Flaiz praised the sheriff’s department for their work which he said consisted of a “lot of good old-fashioned police work.” That search of the family’s DNA traced all the way back to the child’s great-great-grandparents in the early 1800s.
He said a special grand jury was convened last week to bring the charges.
Sheriff Hildenbrand said his department continues to investigate cold cases every day and preserves evidence until new technologies become available as in this case.
He said the first call he made after getting the arrest warrant was a sergeant who was first on the scene. The sergeant said he could now go to his grave in peace, knowing the case had been solved.
Sheriff Hildenbrand said the Geauga community came together, showing its compassion for the child, ensuring that he had a proper burial.
“It’s just great to live in Geauga County where everybody cares,” he said.
That caring extended to the sheriff’s department that never gave up the search for answers for Geauga’s Child.