A now 50-year-old woman told Seattle police detectives she blocked her unplanned pregnancy from her mind, then panicked after delivering a baby boy in the restroom of a Lake City gas station in 1997 and placed him in a trash can, according to King County prosecutors.
Arrested Thursday, Christine Warren, whose DNA matched DNA from a placental blood clot found at the scene, was charged Monday with second-degree murder and remains jailed in lieu of $10,000 bail, jail and court records show.
If convicted on the murder charge, Warren faces a sentence of roughly 10 to 18 years in prison, Senior Deputy Prosecutor Karissa Taylor noted in charging papers.
It was not clear from court records on Monday whether Warren is represented by an attorney.
A clerk at the Chevron station in the 8700 block of Lake City Way Northeast called police at 12:40 p.m. on Nov. 20, 1997, and said she’d discovered the infant’s body at the bottom of a clear, plastic trash liner when she went to remove trash from the restroom, say the charges.
The medical examiner later determined the baby, who was still attached to the umbilical cord and placenta, was born alive and weighed 7.7 pounds. First ruled a natural death, it was reclassified a month later as a homicide.
During the investigation, police learned another clerk had cleaned up blood and sanitized the restroom early on Nov. 19, 1997, according to the charges. After the baby’s death was made public, a woman contacted police and said she’d held the store’s door open for a woman late the previous evening who was wearing a blanket around her waist and headed straight for the restroom, and police obtained video-surveillance footage corroborating the witness’ account, the charges say.
The woman seen on the video at 11:20 p.m. on Nov. 18, 1997, exited the restroom and left the store 14 minutes later, say charging papers.
In summer 2018, the mother’s DNA was sent to a private lab for genotyping and was uploaded to GEDmatch, a public genealogy website; from there, genealogist Barbara Rae-Venter compiled a list of candidates with ancestral links to the baby’s mother, according to the charges.
Warren, who was 27 when the baby was born, was added to Rae-Venter’s list in March 2020 and police determined she lived in the Seattle area and matched the physical characteristics of the woman seen in the store’s surveillance footage, charging papers say.
That November, detectives sent Warren a mailing, inviting her to participate in a survey for a fictional beverage company. DNA from the envelope she mailed back was matched to DNA from the placental blood clot, say the charges.
Police say Warren admitted to being the baby’s mother when detectives interviewed her on March 1 and identified herself in a still photo taken from the store’s video footage, according to charging papers. Detectives say she told them the baby’s father reacted negatively when she told him she was pregnant. She told the detectives she ignored her pregnancy, didn’t tell anyone else she was pregnant and didn’t receive prenatal medical care, say the charges.
Police say Warren told detectives she was experiencing cramps and asked a friend to pull over at the gas station, where she delivered the baby, then “panicked” and placed him in a trash can, covering him with garbage, charging papers say. Police say Warren did not believe the baby was alive but never checked his vital signs.
Michelle Oberman, a law professor at Santa Clara University who has researched neonaticide, the term for infant homicide within the first 24 hours of life, said in an interview last week that the crime is marked by extreme impulsivity and not a deliberate, premeditated strategy seen in first-degree murder cases.
Those who abandon their babies tend to be “socially isolated, marginalized and vulnerable women who find themselves paralyzed in the face of pregnancy,” she said.