It’s been 29 years since Julie Valentine’s lifeless body was found in a cardboard box in a field off Hilton Street in Greenville. Just days old, she was wrapped in pages of The Wall Street Journal and covered in rags — an umbilical cord hung loosely around her neck.
Through DNA technology service Parabon NanoLabs, detectives with the Greenville Police Department were able to identify and arrest the suspected mother — 53-year-old Brook Graham of 11315 Hampden Drive in Greenville — on April 3.
An autopsy of the infant showed she was alive after birth, and as a result, Graham has been charged with homicide by child abuse.
“The baby was driven to a field not far from where the mother lived [at the time] and was discarded along with a pile of other debris that was located in the field,” Police Chief Ken Miller said at a news conference April 4.
Miller said the department started working on the case in October or November after solving the decades-old Jenny Zitricki case using Parabon NanoLabs.
“The technology gives us the leads that we need to reactivate a case, and then our detectives actually have to work that case much like they would any traditional case, and so it takes a lot of legwork, a lot of coordination, and a lot of teamwork within the detective division to bring closure to these cases to help guide them through,” Miller said.
Miller said the department is also working on about 16 other cold cases, and that the Zitricki case served as a field test for using the genealogy service.
“We had done kind of a field test with Jenny Zitricki’s case, and so we were examining our other cases where we felt we might be able to make progress,” Miller said.
The detectives were able to determine the DNA of the father of Julie Valentine through a voluntary genealogy service that Parabon identified. Lt. Jason Rampey said the results of the test came back Monday. The father then cooperated with law enforcement to help identify Graham as the suspected mother, and a warrant for her arrest was issued on April 3.
“The father identified who, in his mind, clearly had to be the mother in this case,” Miller said. “We do have some question as to whether or not the father was aware the child was born, but again the case is very much active for us even though an arrest has been made.”
Rampey said the department’s current information indicates the father did not know the child was born, but the case is still being investigated.
The South Carolina Public Index for Greenville County lists several prior criminal charges for fraudulent checks of less than $1,000 for Graham. Miller said Graham still lives in Greenville and has two children.
Retired Capt. Terry Christy was one of the detectives on the scene nearly three decades ago when a 32-year-old man who was picking wildflowers for his wife found the six-and-a-half-pound infant in the field on Feb. 13, 1990.
“It seems like every detective in the division went out to work,” Christy said. “It takes more out of you to see a child being violated or neglected like that.”
Christy’s then-girlfriend and now wife, Juliana Christy, worked as a victim’s advocate for the city at the time. Detectives decided to name the baby “Julie Valentine” partly after Juliana and because she was discovered the day before Valentine’s Day.
“The justice for Julie is just all these years, the love that people have had for her and not to forget her,” Terry Christy said. “It is good to finally know, get some closure, on the parents of the child and other relatives she might have had. But the justice has been keeping her alive all these years.”
The Julie Valentine Center, a nonprofit started in 1974 for abuse victims, was named after the infant in 2011.
“Although today we feel some satisfaction, some closure and justice, at the same time, we grieve. We grieve the loss of what could have been,” Executive Director Shauna Galloway-Williams said. “This is the complicated nature of child abuse — the wondering of what life could have been like if only. The question of ‘Why?’ as if there is any explanation that would really explain such a horrific act as this one, this is the question we all ask when a child has been abused. The community, the professionals, the survivors, we all ask, ‘Why?’ As if the answer would make us feel any better.”
Galloway-Williams said Julie Valentine has become a symbol and a call to action in the community to better prevent child abuse.
“There are ways that we all honor Julie Valentine every day — when members of our community report abuse, we honor her memory,” Galloway-Williams said. “We may never be able to answer the question of why this happened to her, but we know that together we can honor Julie Valentine every day with simple acts of kindness, service, and love for every member of the Greenville community.”
Christy said he was excited to find out a suspect had been arrested in the case, which he never considered to be cold.
“It’s always been in our minds,” Christy said.