It was a horrific discovery that jolted a Markham Fire Department crew dispatched to a house fire in July 2017.
“One of the lieutenants had felt something under him and found the infant,” recalled Lt. Scott Adams of the Markham Fire Department. “For not only a firefighter but also for a parent, it’s a terrible thing when you have an infant involved in a fire.”
The 911 call came into Illinois dispatchers at 6:30 a.m. for a fire at a vacant house in the 15400 block of Hamlin avenue. Markham firefighters rushed to the fire and were able to douse the flames quickly. Only afterwards while searching the attic, did they make the agonizing discovery.
“It was up in the rafters, so it wasn’t just visible from plan sight, it was between two rafters,” Adams recalled. “It strikes home when you have an infant involved in a fire.”
The charred baby girl’s remains were discovered inside a garbage bag. She was wearing a 9-month-old onesie. Firefighters reported seeing a pink blanket with elephants wrapped around her tiny body. The bag also contained other burned baby clothes, a diaper and a ball of yarn.
An autopsy performed by the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office found no soot inside the babies’ nostrils and no evidence that the one-year-old had died from the fire.
“It was arson and murder,” Markham police Chief Terry White said. “The fire was set after the baby died.”
White said the fire was designed to conceal the homicide, but firefighters put out the flames before the body was destroyed.
Authorities quickly learned that identifying baby Jane Doe was going to be difficult because no parents came forward after the fire and they were left trying to identify a baby that had no name, no address and no parents.
“This child can’t speak for herself and this child needs answer,” said Andrew Holmes, a victim advocate who heard about the fire.
After reading the autopsy report that showed the baby had broken ribs that had already healed, Holmes said, “This baby had old wounds, old wounds.”
“You’ve got to punch that baby. You have to intend to do that,” he continued.
Holmes got a hold of a composite of baby Jane Doe from the medical examiner’s office and walked through the neighborhood knocking on doors. Mile and mile. Week after week, Holmes walked and put up flyers trying to find answers to who the baby was.
Finally, he got a tip from a gas station owner who knew the grandparents.
“He knew this is his grand baby and he was hurting, “ Holmes said. “And the grandmother is deeply hurt.” But Holmes now had a name for the baby—Anna Marie Townsend.
Holmes also learned that mother was Melody Townsend, 30 years old. However, no one knew who the father or boyfriend was. Holmes was told the couple vanished three weeks after the fire.
White said that his investigation has led to suspect names that he wants to speak with.
Most recently, Holmes was given a copy of a California driver’s license from Anna Marie’s grandparents with a picture of Melody Townsend. The address could not be confirmed by NBC5 Investigates. No charges have been filed against the unnamed people police say are possible suspects.
The FBI won’t confirm to NBC5 Investigates but Holmes said that they have joined the search for the suspects. He continues to leave toys on the steps of the house where Anna Marie was found saying that she was a baby no one was supposed to find and a baby he won’t forget.
“As a child growing up, I remember having all that,” Holmes said about the toys in his hands. “If people take them or not, that’s okay. At least that little angel knows I had left her some toys.”