A Wisconsin mother has been charged in connection with the discovery of her dead baby’s body some 13 years ago, the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office announced on Friday. The case involves the 2009 death of a newborn dubbed “Baby Theresa” by the residents of Dodge County — a baby the community spent more than a dozen years attempting to name after coming together to provide the girl with a volunteer-driven funeral in 2009.
According to court documents first obtained by Law&Crime, defendant Karin S. Luttinen, now 45, “will plead no contest/guilty to the charge of Concealing Death of Child.”
Though that document is currently on file with the Dodge County Clerk of Court’s Office, it has not been fully entered before a judge or accepted by the court. That’s because the defendant requested the substitution of a judge in the matter, according to the court docket.
The plea document says the sentencing will be “contested.” The agreement allows the state to “discuss all the facts and circumstances of the case,” including generally discussing the “potential maximum sentence” — which the document indicates is “one and one-half years of confinement” and “two years of extended supervision.” But the agreement expressly requires the state to “not make a specific recommendation as to the length or structure of the sentence.”
“The defense may recommend any sentence,” the document notes.
The request for the substitution of a judge delays the plea agreement’s contemplated waiver of a preliminary hearing and the concomitant “plea of guilty or no contest.”
If the defendant waives the prelim and pleads guilty after a new judge is entered, the plea agreement will remain in effect, according to its own terms.
On April 29, 2009, a man found a “white plastic garbage bag on his property in the woods” in the Town of Theresa, Wisconsin, an amended criminal complaint document filed March 17, 2022 indicates.
The man “stated he opened the plastic garbage bag and saw a bloody towel and possible fetus or newborn baby inside of the trash bag,” the document continues.
Deputies responded. The infant’s body was taken to the medical examiner’s office in nearby Fond du Lac County.
The autopsy concluded that a female infant “consistent with full term gestation.”
From the charging document:
An umbilical cord and small portion of membranes present. There was no placenta present for examination. There were no traumatic injuries on the external examination. There were no skull fractures. There were no internal injuries. There was no decomposition. The cause of death was fetal demise.
A DNA sample was recovered from a maxi pad wrapping which was found inside the trash bag. That wrapping contained DNA the authorities believed to be from a “close female relative.”
The authorities linked the sample to the defendant’s last name — Luttinen — through what the charging document calls “Family Tree DNA results.”
In January 2021, investigators met with the defendant and a male witness described as an individual who is “in a relationship” with the defendant. Both were described in charging documents as “very cooperative.” Though Luttinen “denied ever being pregnant,” she did provided a DNA sample, the court documents reveal.
Luttinen, the defendant, was determined to be the source of DNA on the maxi pad wrappings, the state crime lab told the local constabulary in March 2021.
The unnamed male witness, referred to in the court documents as “Witness S,” was determined to be the biological father of the baby, according to the amended criminal complaint.
Sheriff’s deputies called him on March 22, 2021, to break that news. Here’s how the charging document breaks down that conversation from the perspective of the law enforcement officer who wrote it:
Witness S returned my phone call. I requested a second interview to talk about the crime lab results. Witness S replied, “Are you telling me this is my kid, you have got to be shitting me. I gave you all the information that I knew. I have no idea of how this could be.” I told Witness S that he was the father.
I asked if Karin Luttinen was present. Witness S asked if she is the mother. I replied yes. Witness S replied, “Oh my God, are you kidding me. Oh my God. I don’t think she knew either, that’s why we took the test, we knew it wouldn’t be us. I don’t want to say this is funny but by far the weirdest thing that I’ve experienced in all my life.”
Witness S placed his phone on speaker so Karin Luttinen could hear. Again, I requested an interview to discuss the crime lab results because Witness S is the father and “you are the mother.” Karin Luttinen replied, “OK.”
Witness S spoke softer and I heard him say, “Should we get an attorney?” Karin Luttinen asked that she call me back and the phone call ended.
The man identified as “Witness S” called the law enforcement officer back and said he and Luttinen were both “physically shaking.”
“It’s a little bit of a shock to me,” Witness S said. “I just don’t want her taken from me.”
After a conversation about whether Luttinen would be arrested — the police said she would not be — Witness S added more about the couple’s lives around the time the baby’s body was found dumped in a garbage bag.
“No, I didn’t know anything, we both were enjoying our lives, and we both got big, I didn’t know,” he told the officer, again according to the charging document. “I don’t think she knew until it was too late.”
Both Witness S and Luttinen agreed to speak with law enforcement. Their biographies and life stories — a relationship that started with “a lot of ups and downs” but “turned out for the better” — are documented in the court papers.
Witness S said he had no clue Luttinen was pregnant. He was in college during Luttinen’s pregnancy. From the document:
Karin Luttinen did not know she was pregnant at first, and then she thought that maybe she was pregnant. Karin Luttinen thought that she was in denial, “like this can’t be.” Karin Luttinen was a “lot bigger” back then and her menstruations were irregular.
Karin Luttinen thought that towards the end (of her pregnancy) she knew for sure that she was pregnant but her mind was not grasping the concept.
Karin Luttinen said that it all happened so quickly. She remembers being in the bathroom. (At the Shorewood home) and sitting on the toilet. She was also in the bathtub, “It’s not a perfect picture that I can paint for you of exactly what happened, I didn’t even know it was a girl.”
Karin Luttinen delivered the baby by herself. She was in intense pain for 30″ish” minutes. She believes she passed out because of giving birth.
Karin Luttinen said that her water broke when she was sitting on the toilet. The delivery occurred in the bathtub.
The baby came out head first face down. I asked Karin Luttinen if the umbilical cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck. She replied she thought the cord was partially wrapped around the neck. Karin Luttinen said she went, “blank.”
Karin Luttinen did not hear the baby cry. She did not see the baby move. Karin Luttinen thought she blacked out for about 15 minutes.
The defendant said she “panicked when she came to,” put “it” (the baby) in a towel, drove “aimlessly,” and put the baby “in the woods” while it was still light out. She said she heard nothing about discovery of the baby’s body on the news.
The defendant also said she “did not look pregnant” while she was carrying the baby.
She also told the police that she gave birth in a tub partially filled with water.
“Karin Luttinen said she did not intentionally turn on the water so that the baby could not breathe, she turned on the water to try and get comfortable,” the document states. “Karin Luttinen was in pain and she used the water to try and relax.”
She also allegedly told the police that she kept trying to convince herself she was not pregnant despite feeling “fetal movement” — which she said “wasn’t consistent” — and that there was “always a fear back then that the relationship would not continue.” She also said she “drank 6-8 beers at a time during social outings” and smoked a pack of cigarettes a day.
She said she thought about telling Witness S about giving birth to the child “every day” since the first contact with law enforcement but never did. She said she was “scared for Witness S, for her family, and for herself because she does not want to go to jail.”
She also said she “didn’t know how to repent for this,” the document indicates.
Medical experts were consulted. They said the child’s “separate existence could not be determined,” e.g., it was unclear whether the child died after birth or whether it died before or during the process of birth. But the experts also said “[t]he child made it to term and the child was viable.” It was possible the child could have been dead “a couple of days” in utero.
From that expert:
With the information available, it appears that the child was expelled and either died during the delivery or shortly thereafter. The child could have been born in the water, not retrieved, and drowned. The determination cannot be made because there was no placenta or membranes to examine.
In announcing the charges, the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office bemoaned the thirteen long years between the discovery of the abandoned baby’s body and the present time.
The community gathered to give the baby “a respectful and dignified burial,” the sheriff’s office wrote. “[N]o family members could be identified and “Baby Theresa” was laid to rest without family present on Monday, May 11, 2009, at the Lowell Cemetery in southwest Dodge County. While the family may not have been present, her community in Dodge County was there to pay their respects.”
Medical Examiner PJ Schoebel’s 2009 investigation “did not reveal evidence that supported the contention or charge that the child was murdered,” the sheriff’s office said. “The pathologist concluded that the incident was a “fetal demise” indicating that the child may have died prior to, or during birth.”
“This incident shocked our Dodge County community when it occurred, but as shocking as it may be, the professionals of the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office, the Dodge County District Attorney’s Office and the Dodge County Medical Examiner’s Office, along with our community, came together from the initial discovery of Baby Theresa’s body until today,” Sheriff Dale J. Schmidt continued in a statement.
He thanked others for their role in the case. Sheriff’s Office Chaplain Timothy Bauer conducted the baby’s funeral. Todd Michael and his staff at the Cornerstone Funeral Home donated their services. Matt Lober was a vocalist during the gravesite service. Retired Correctional Officer Hanna Mueller drew the original forensic drawing of the baby. Retired Sheriff Todd Nehls helped in the initial days of the investigation.
“The Dodge County Sheriff’s Office and the Dodge County Medical Examiner still mourn the death of Baby Theresa, but we are thankful that resolution has taken place,” the sheriff continued. “While this certainly has been a shocking discovery for us all, especially to the family of Baby Theresa, closure can now begin for all those touched.”
According to Wisconsin court records, a criminal complaint was filed against an unknown defendant — a “Jane Doe” — on April 29, 2014. Luttinen’s name was corrected on the docket when her identity was confirmed.
Read the charging document below:
[image via the Dodge County, Wis. Sheriff’s Office]
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