Hours later, a soldier driving on the road spotted the bag and what appeared to be a doll inside.
It was a baby boy, not even 24 hours old, his umbilical cord still attached.
The baby was dead.
Eighteen years later, the case still haunts Charlie Disponzio, a former detective with the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office, who was the first to arrive on the scene.
"Looking at it all again, and now that I'm a grandfather and I'm 18 years older than I was . most of (the) homicides I've dealt with, over 150, you just deal with it," Disponzio said.
This case, he said, was different.
No one has ever come forward to claim the infant, later named Baby Michael and buried in a church cemetery in Linden.
Still, Disponzio and other investigators who worked the case haven't lost hope that someday, Baby Michael's mother will be found.
It was cool and overcast that March day when Disponzio, then assigned to the Major Crimes Unit, heard the call dispatched at 2:06 p.m.
"That's what went out over the radio," he said. "Baby found by the side of the road. I'll never forget it.
"I first thought, 'No, this can't be.' So I go out there and, lo and behold, it was a baby."
He weighed 7.5 pounds and had no signs of drugs or alcohol in his blood, according to an autopsy. Homicide investigators were called, and lawmen began collecting evidence and canvassing the area to see if anyone had seen anything.
Canady Pond Road stretches 2.5 miles between John McMillan and Chickenfoot roads south of Hope Mills, in a rural area near Robeson and Bladen counties.
The baby was found near the dirt road that leads to the Shady Acres Rodeo.
Investigators were hopeful that the infant didn't suffer by being thrown from the vehicle, Disponzio said, but the autopsy report crushed those hopes.
"It really hit home when the (medical examiner's) report came out that the baby was alive when he was born and alive when he was thrown from the vehicle," Disponzio said.
The cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma.
"We knew the baby was alive when he was thrown out the window," Disponzio said. "He had a compound fracture of the right arm that was still bleeding."
The baby had fractures to his skull, ribs, pelvis and spinal column, and lacerations to one lung and his liver.
"The umbilical cord was still attached," Disponzio said. "You could tell the person who cut it wasn't a professional."
Then-Sheriff Moose Butler publicly pleaded for the parents to come forward. When no one did, he and his staff made plans to see that the baby received a proper burial.
Kathleen Watts, a crime analyst at the Sheriff's Office, didn't want the baby to be buried without a name. She took steps to have him legally named Baby Michael, after the patron saint of law enforcement officers.
A funeral service was held March 30, 1999, at Hair's Chapel Free Will Holiness Church on Duck Pond Road. Baby Michael was buried in the church cemetery.
The investigation slowed in the months that followed, but the case remains open. Any time a case similar to Baby Michael's happens in the region, investigators follow up to see if it might be the infant's mother.
Sam Pennica retired from the State Bureau of Investigation on Sept. 1, 1999, six months after Baby Michael was found.
As an agent, Pennica was assigned to Cumberland County for three years. He knew people, and he followed criminal cases.
Pennica, who is now director of the City-County Bureau of Investigation in Wake County, remembers hearing the news reports about Baby Michael.
"I thought, when I saw it had occurred, I thought that I wish was there and able to work on it," Pennica said.
He got his wish. In April 2000, Pennica joined the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office and was assigned to the Homicide Unit.
"When I got here, I pulled the file and started to go through it. I wanted to see what could be done with this case."
When Disponzio moved to the Homicide Unit, Pennica assigned him the job of sifting through and organizing evidence from Baby Michael's case and detectives' notes from interviews.
"I gave it to Charlie," Pennica said. "He got through it and we took off."
Acting on tips, they interviewed a few women who were pregnant and may have delivered a baby around the same time of Baby Michael's death.
"We actually had one mother," Disponzio said, "and we thought we had struck gold."
The woman came to authorities, claiming to be the mother, telling them she delivered the baby in her home but panicked and threw him out on the road. The woman began telling people she was Baby Michael's mother.
"It all sounded too good," Disponzio said.
Authorities interviewed the woman and asked for the name of her doctor, he said.
"We went to the doctor and he said, 'Detective, she can't get pregnant.'"
They posted fliers with a picture of Baby Michael's face, thinking it might tug on the heartstrings of the mother or the father, Pennica said.
Then he discovered that the trash bag that held the baby contained the mother's placenta.
"I realized we've got a great piece of evidence and we needed to do something with it," Pennica said. "I sent it to the state lab and they did a DNA test on it."
The DNA was entered into the Combined DNA Index System, a criminal justice database that contains DNA samples collected at crime scenes and also from people convicted of violent crimes.
Disponzio questioned and obtained DNA from nearly 50 women. There were no matches.
At one point, a woman who had been mentioned as the possible mother was killed in a wreck near Columbia, South Carolina. When Disponzio learned that the medical examiner there had tissue from the woman's body, he found a civilian pilot who flew him to Columbia.
Disponzio obtained the tissue and flew back to the North Carolina medical examiner's office to obtain DNA from the sample. It didn't match that of Baby Michael's mother.
To date, no samples have matched.
Disponzio and Pennica have theories about how Baby Michael wound up on the side of the road and what might have happened to his mother.
Pennica thinks the most likely scenario is that both parents are from Cumberland County.
"That, on the morning this occurred, they were headed to the trash dump with Baby Michael. When we reopened the case, we discovered a trash dump less than a mile away.
"On the day that Baby Michael was found, that's the day the trash dump was closed," Pennica said. "I feel like that's where they were headed. They discovered it was closed and, in a panic, I think they threw (the baby) out of the moving car."
Disponzio has tried to figure out the mother's motive. Perhaps it was a woman who had an affair and found herself pregnant. Maybe it was a victim of incest who was forced to give up the baby.
Eighteen years later, tips are few and far between, but the investigators haven't forgotten Baby Michael. They'll look into any case that bears a resemblance.
About a year ago, Pennica said, he learned of a Johnston County woman who gave birth and buried the baby under her house.
"My hope of Baby Michael spiked," he said.
He followed up with the Selma Police Department to have DNA samples compared. There was no match.
Six months ago, Pennica contacted Disponzio after a woman in Wake County buried her newborn baby. She, too, was not Baby Michael's mother.
If he were alive, Baby Michael would be 18, almost 19.
"He has a family out there who never knew him," Pennica said. "He may have brothers and sisters, but he definitely has grandparents.
"What happened that day . everyone involved has a place in their hearts for that child. We want closure."
Information from: The Fayetteville Observer, http://www.fayobserver.com
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