DNA evidence combined with tenacious detective work has helped Ohio investigators solve the 26-year-old “Geauga’s Child” cold case. The unidentified body of a male infant known both as “Geauga’s Child,” and “Baby Doe,” was discovered in 1993 on a rural road in Geauga County, Ohio. On June 6, Gail Eastwood-Ritchey, 49, was identified through DNA as the child’s mother and arrested for his murder.
A grand jury was convened on June 5 and Gail Eastwood-Ritchey was taken into custody the next day, charged with one count of aggravated murder and one count of murder. The Euclid, Ohio resident admitted to giving birth to the baby, placing him in a garbage bag and abandoning him in the woods. The infant’s body was later found on the side of the road, dismembered by animals. If convicted, Eastwood faces a possible life sentence.
The unsolved case touched the hearts of Geauga County residents, who began calling the unidentified baby “Geauga’s Child.” Community members paid for the infant’s burial and funeral expenses and continue to leave flowers and gifts at his gravesite. The epitaph on his gravestone reads “Geauga’s Child lies here now in safety – just too late. Too late to save his life. Too late to make things right. But not too late to teach us all to love and cherish life.”
Here’s what you need to know about Gail Eastwood-Ritchey and the Geauga’s Child case.
1. The Baby Was Discovered by Two Young Women Delivering Newspapers
On March 25, 1993, Cheryl Jenkins and friend Wendy Sweeney were out delivering newspapers, when they stopped to inspect what they thought was a discarded doll on the side of Sidley Road. Jenkins and Sweeney were horrified when they realized they’d discovered a baby and immediately called the police. Soon after, more than 30 members of the Geauga County Major Crime Unit arrived to search for clues along the remote road that cut through the snow-covered woods and farmland of Thompson Township.
The body of “Baby Doe” was sent to the Cuyahoga County Coroner’s Office where the medical examiner determined the baby was 1-3 days old and had part of the umbilical cord still attached. The infant had air in his lungs, confirming he had been born alive. A cause of death could not be established and it’s uncertain if the baby died immediately after childbirth or after he was abandoned.
Jenkins told 19 News that discovering the baby was a traumatic event. “I always think about him, I’ve never forgotten that day. I mean it’s burned in my memory, every step of that day.”
She couldn’t understand why a mother would abandon her baby, and shared her feelings after hearing news of the arrest. “That lady could have dropped that kid on a doorstep, done something with him, taken him to a church,” she said, adding, “Oh thank God, now this poor baby can rest in peace.”
2. Investigators Created a DNA “Family Tree” to Crack the Case
The decision to try and solve the case using DNA was made in September 2018. Using tissue samples from “Geauga’s Child,” investigators worked with a Virginia-based DNA laboratory to create a “family tree” of 1,400 possible relatives. The initial trace went back to the infant’s great-great grandparents who were born in the early 1800s.
Detectives then asked certain individuals from the “family tree” to voluntarily provide DNA samples or make their DNA from popular genealogy websites available for comparison. By tracing the baby’s genealogy through DNA, law enforcement was eventually able to hone in on Eastwood-Ritchey, who’d been tipped off by family members that the police were closing in on her. “We had contacted family members (about submitting DNA) who had previously alerted her to the fact that we were getting close. So (Eastwood-Ritchey) was waiting for us, if you will,” Detective Donald Seamon explained during a June 6 press conference.
Seamon added that Eastwood-Ritchey’s relationship to the baby was confirmed after police got a search warrant for her DNA. Her husband has been identified as the infant’s father.
Geauga County Sheriff Scott Hildenbrand said his department tries to use the latest technology, including DNA science, whenever a case like “Geauga’s Child” goes unsolved. “Fortunately, evidence has been preserved well that we can go back and do testing that wasn’t available then,” he said.
3. Eastwood-Ritchey Admitted to Abandoning Another Baby in 1991
Detectives were shocked when Eastwood-Ritchey revealed she’d abandoned another baby around 1991 in the city of Euclid, located in neighboring Cuyahoga County. Authorities are uncertain if Eastwood-Ritchey’s husband was the father of this child.
Hildenbrand stated that Eastwood-Ritchey provided specific information regarding the site where she discarded the first baby. News 19 reported that the Geauga County Sheriff’s Office and Euclid City Police were spotted searching a vacant lot. No remains or other evidence was recovered. Cuyahoga County law enforcement and prosecutors are determining how they will proceed with the investigation.
Hildenbrand described Eastwood-Ritchey as admitting to abandoning both infants but showing no remorse for either crime.
4. Eastwood-Ritchey is Married With Three Grown Children
Friends and neighbors were shocked upon hearing of Eastwood-Ritchey’s arrest, only knowing her as a happily married woman with three grown children. Eastwood-Ritchey’s Facebook page indicates the couple was married in 1994.”They’re a church-going family. Very respectable,” neighbor Diane Hendon said.
According to Hildenbrand, Eastwood-Ritchey said she hid the pregnancy from her husband. Investigators are trying to determine if her spouse was involved. Currently, he is not facing charges.
“We do not have evidence at this time to present any other individuals to the grand jury for potential probable cause finding,” Geauga County Prosecutor Jim Flaiz stated.
5. Eastwood-Ritchey Told her Employers She was In Trouble Two Weeks Before She was Arrested
Eastwood-Ritchey, who was employed as a receptionist at Noreen Londregan’s School of Dance in Mayfield, told the school’s founder Noreen Rhode and her daughter, director Colleen Rhode, that she was in trouble two weeks prior to being taken into custody. This coincides with the time investigators obtained her DNA sample.
According to Colleen Rhode, Eastwood-Ritchey did not go into details. “Her and her husband just met with my mom and I just to give us a heads up something might be happening,” She told WKYC. “They didn’t go into any details at all…She was here Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week working. Everything was fine.”
Colleen Rohde told WKYC that she’s known Eastwood-Ritchey for approximately 18 years and described her as “a nice Christian woman and is shocked that her friend and employee was arrested for murder. “It’s something I would have never, ever have dreamed of her doing 25 years ago,” she said.