Kerry Dalling flips through the black binder that holds the photos, warning a visitor that the images get more graphic with each turn of the page. At first, there are pictures of a dirt road turned muddy, perhaps by melting snow. Then there is a photo of something that looks like a white blanket, stained with blood.
The Fairfield police detective doesn't share the rest of the photos. Too gruesome.
But for all three, the unsolved case of a newborn baby boy, murdered and the tiny body abandoned at the town-owned Lake Mohegan open space on March 14, 1986, is a case that haunts them every day. A case that they are bound and determined to solve.
"I've been obsessed with this case for 22 years," said Gagner, now the head of the detective division.
"We have a baby here," Greene said. "Every homicide is tragic, but we have a baby here who has not been identified and was brutally murdered. That would strike at the heart of anyone, no matter what walk of life they're in."
As the 25th anniversary of the baby homicide case approaches, the police investigators want it back in the spotlight. The trio is convinced that someone out there knows something about the murder of baby "Victor" -- a name they gave the infant to signify their confidence that they will be victorious in finding justice for him.
Maybe, Dalling said, that source was too afraid, too intimidated, to come forward all those years ago. "We understand that," she said.
Initial reports of the homicide had indicated the baby's death could be tied to rituals of Santeria, a combination of religious traditions or beliefs drawn from the Yoruba faith, with roots in Africa and South America, and the worship of Catholic saints. Much secrecy surrounds it, though Santeria adherents are known to practice animal sacrifice, typically chickens.
"We feel that whoever is responsible for this had some degree of knowledge of a Santeria-like religious practice," Dalling said. "We called it Santeria because we had to label it something," Gagner said. "There are similar religions; we just don't know enough about the practices to say."
Surrounding the body of the newborn, which was wrapped in a pair of adult pajamas, were pieces of fruit, coins, food and other objects that suggested some sort of ritual. The baby had been suffocated and his jaw broken.
Determined to unravel the mystery
At first, former Chief Joseph Sambrook, who at the time headed up the detective division, wasn't sure there was any connection to a religious ritual. "We are not certain that is the case," Sambrook said in 1986, "but we have to explore every possibility. The circumstances involved are so unusual that they are inconsistent with the conventional disposing of an unwanted child." Later, a New Jersey detective who investigated cult-related killings was called in to consult with Fairfield police.
Pilot Morgan Kaolian, then the traffic reporter for Bridgeport radio station WICC, was asked to fly over the area to help look for more evidence, but the search was fruitless. State Police dogs, called in to comb the lake area for two days, also turned up no evidence.
In the end, Sambrook himself became something of an expert on Santeria, but when he retired in 2006, the fact that the case remained unsolved was one of his biggest disappointment.
When police decided to take another look at the case, one of the first things the investigators did, Greene said, was sit down with Sambrook. "He was very gracious with his time and very helpful in getting the investigation rolling."
Dalling said it was an important step. "It's 25 years later and we've got this folder, all this evidence that was saved," she said. "He helped us sort through things. It was a different world, we had him take us back to what was discovered and why they did the things they did."
Crucial evidence emerges
Police are also now taking another look at an incident that happened just 18 hours before the baby was found dead, but not reported until several days later. Where Sym's clothing store now stands at the Kings Highway/Black Rock Turnpike traffic circle in 1986 was a red brick building that housed a bank data-processing center, Gagner said. "We believe a baby was born in a bathroom stall there," he said. "Unfortunately, the cleaning crew cleaned it up. We didn't find out about it until two days later, when someone from the building read about the baby found at Lake Mohegan."
They'd seen something, he said, that struck them as out of the ordinary, particularly once news of the murdered infant hit the papers.
"We're interested in hearing from any people who worked in the bank building at the time," Gagner said, "because we think that the bank building is possibly the locale where the baby was born."
"This is a plea for help from the public," Greene said. "We are confident there are people out there with some knowledge related to this investigation. Even though they've lived with it for 25 years, we're hoping that at this point, they're wiling to step forward," he said.
They're also convinced that along with some knowledge of Santeria, the person or persons who killed the baby and left him at the lake did it for a reason. "We fell pretty comfortable that it was someone familiar with the area," Dalling said. "The north end of the lake is not a place you would stumble upon."
And, she said, the baby's body was left where it was so it would be discovered.
"They knew it would be a major press event," Greene said, and may have been done to send a message to someone. "They wanted him to be found," Dalling said.
New technology could provide critical break
As it did a quarter-century ago, the state's forensics lab is helping to test things like DNA, but now using technology that was wasn't available in 1986.
Kenneth Zercie, now the director of the lab's Division of Scientific Services, worked on the case of the Lake Mohegan baby back then. "It was a very sad case," he said. "We've been involved in this case from the very beginning."
It was not solved, Zercie said, so as far as the lab was concerned, it remained an open case. In general, with a cold case, Zercie said the lab will go back over all the analytical evidence, and look at what physical evidence the local police department might still have intact. "Are there other tests we can do?" he said. "We're re-examining the original examination of the evidence and trying to cull any new evidence that might be present."
The work on cold cases usually gets squeezed in around the lab's workload of current cases, though Zercie said if a new suspect were identified, the case would likely be moved to the front burner.
"These labs will let us know if any of the leads we're pursuing will take us in the right direction," Dalling said. "All of the officers in this department want this solved."
And for Victor, she said, they plan to do just that.
Anyone with information regarding the 1986 homicide is asked to call the Fairfield Police Department's Detective Division at 203-254-4840. All calls will be kept confidential. Anonymous tips can also be sent via text to CRIMES (274637) or online at www.tipsoft.com.
$25,000 REWARD OFFERED IN CASE
The governor's office on Thursday authorized a $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the unsolved murder of baby Victor at Lake Mohegan 25 yeas ago.
"The authorization by the governor's office with the reward money will provide the opportunity for someone to come forward who might not have otherwise," said police Sgt. Ed Greene. He said Fairfield police are grateful the reward has been issued, since "They get a lot of requests."
Lt. Mike Gagner called news of the reward "huge."