Janet Johnson stared down at the face of a dead baby in a hospital room 23 years ago, buried the child and tried to get on with her life after the stillborn birth."They brought me this baby but said it would be better if I didn't hold him. I insisted, I just had to. I had him about 20 seconds and then they took him away."
Now, Johnson has discovered the tears she's cried over the years may have been for a child that wasn't hers, and she and Murray police are united in the search for answers.
Recent DNA tests show the baby, named William Edward Colton, did not come from the womb of Janet Johnson. The tests were performed after Johnson had the body exhumed, obtained femur bones and had them sent to a well-respected lab in North Carolina. DNA from the infant's bones were compared against saliva from Johnson and the lab revealed an answer the mother said she has long wanted to know, but still dreaded learning.
"They said that baby couldn't have been mine. To say I was shocked is to put it lightly. I was expecting the tests to match. I wanted to be able to forget about it and get on with my life."
Johnson had the baby at Cottonwood Hospital on April 2, 1975. Administrators there insist their documentation shows she delivered a stillborn baby boy.
The infant was buried in the American Fork cemetery operated by Anderson & Sons Mortuary, and Johnson went on to raise eight children. Every year, on William's birthday, the family would remember the brother who never got to share their life by baking a cake and decorating it with candles.
"It has been a loss to this entire family," she said. "It has been devastating, like this person has been ripped from us for the last 23 years."
A simple talk show is what led Johnson to question the circumstances of her baby's birth.
On an episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" five years ago, Johnson and one of her daughters watched as mothers on the TV show talked of being heavily drugged during delivery and being told later their babies had died.
Too many of the circumstances lined up with what Johnson said happened to her.
"I've had eight children and this is the only time I was heavily drugged. And they didn't want me to hold the baby."
Johnson also said the baby's death certificate appears to be altered in several places, containing spots where information was scratched out and written over.
"It nagged at me for several years and finally my children talked me into going through the exhumation if only for peace of mind. It would be worth whatever it cost."
Johnson's discovery eventually led her to the Murray Police Department, where Lt. Dean Rowland said the distraught mother simply walked in off the street to report the incredible story.
"I've seen a lot of things happen in 27 years, but nothing like this," Rowland said.
So far, everything Johnson has done procedurally has checked out, Rowland said, making investigators there arrive at the same conclusion she did: The baby in the cemetery was not her child.
Cottonwood Hospital spokesman Jess Gomez said Friday multiple levels of documentation there show that Johnson delivered a stillborn baby. Fetal monitoring done prior to the delivery revealed the baby had no heartbeat.
Gomez said there were no other stillborn births at the hospital that day, but there were several live births.
"Right now, there are more questions than there are answers," Gomez said. "But it is unfeasible there was a switch."
Medical records associated with Johnson's stay have been subpoenaed by police.
Rowland said both physicians present at the birth will be questioned, as well as other staff.
Johnson said she believes that whatever went wrong, went wrong at the hospital. She said she has checked with the mortuary, and her infant was the only infant death the business handled the entire year.
In the meantime, Johnson is anxiously awaiting the next round of answers.
"I want to know what happened to my baby. I have to know."