A month after a prematurely born baby was found dead in her crib, police are frustrated and still searching for clues in Jenna Nicole Crabtree’s death.

State police have interviewed dozens of people in the case, but do not have enough information to charge anyone, said Detective Patrick Lehan. He said police hope more people will talk about any possible abuse of the infant they might have seen or heard.

The child, a few days shy of being 5 months old, was discovered dead by her mother on Aug. 23. Her death, of a skull fracture, came six weeks after she went home for the first time following months of treatment in Maine Medical Center’s neonatal unit.

This week, in an unusual attempt to attract attention to the case, state Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Kristin Sweeney provided details of the autopsy performed on Jenna’s body.

The baby died, Sweeney said during an interview this week, after her head hit a wall, counter, table or other flat object. Sweeney said the injury occurred at least 10 hours before she was reported dead. She said the child may have been unconscious for several hours before she died.

Also, during the days or weeks before she died, the baby suffered 17 broken bones. Sweeney said those injuries were likely caused by a person or people who shook, jerked, jabbed or squeezed Jenna.

The autopsy determined that one of the fractures, a broken thigh bone, probably happened between two and 10 days before Jenna died and probably caused the baby extreme pain whenever she moved or was moved, Sweeney said.

Detective Lehan said he asked Sweeney to take the unusual step of releasing the autopsy information to the news media. Lehan said he hopes that the nature of the injuries found in the autopsy will prompt people to come forward and talk with police so they can solve the case.

“Getting the information out could be crucial to solving the case, ” Lehan said.

The case, he said, “is one of those deals when no one wants to think someone could do this to a little child.”

Lehan said police have heard, while interviewing people who might know about the case, that Jenna suffered from a bone disease, and that contributed to her death. Sweeney said tests showed the child did not suffer from a bone disease.

Interviews denied

Lehan would not comment on whether police have suspects.

During interviews, Lehan said, Jenna’s parents, Richard and Heather Crabtree, told police that they were the only people who cared for the child during the six weeks she lived in their apartment on Gray Road.

Lehan would not say what else the couple said, or reveal what friends, neighbors and relatives of the couple have told police. The couple declined requests to be interviewed for this article, referring questions about the case to their separate lawyers.

After Jenna’s death, the Department of Human Services put the couple’s other child, 19-month-old Brandia, into protective custody. A custody hearing is scheduled for Oct. 8, said Neale Duffett, Heather Crabtree’s lawyer.

Duffett would not comment on the criminal investigation into Jenna’s death. Richard Crabtree’s lawyer, Peter Rodway, criticized police for releasing more details about the child’s death. He said the couple hasn’t had enough time to grieve, and will now be subjected to more media attention.

“Putting heat on them through the media is dirty pool to me, ” Rodway said. Police “should interview everyone they need to interview, not do interviews with you guys.”

Richard Crabtree’s father, Roy Crabtree Jr. of Saco, said he showed his son a copy of the autopsy report at the request of state police detectives. He said Richard Crabtree said neither he nor his wife knew what happened to their child.

“I’m taking his word for it, as a father would do, ” Roy Crabtree said.

The baby was born premature on March 29, after 25 weeks of pregnancy. Sweeney said the child was released to her parents on July 12 in good health.

Police say Heather Crabtree called 911 at 9:30 a.m. Aug. 23 from the second-floor apartment at 245 Gray Road, where she and her husband live.

Rescue workers found the child dead in a wicker bassinet, Sweeney said. Dr. Donald Yorkey, a state medical examiner, found no signs of foul play in his examination of the child in the apartment, Sweeney said. Investigators also found no evidence at the scene that might have indicated a crime occurred.

SIDS originally suspected

Initially, investigators thought that the child might have died of sudden infant death syndrome, Sweeney said. SIDS is the label given to a baby’s death that occurs suddenly and cannot be explained, even after an autopsy. It typically occurs in healthy babies who seem well when put to sleep, but later are found dead.

But Sweeney said she found bruises on the child when she examined the body under brighter lights at the medical examiner’s office in Augusta later that day.

Also, Sweeney said, the baby’s left thigh appeared swollen, and shorter than her right thigh. X-rays showed Jenna’s left thigh bone had been broken.

Sweeney said X-rays also found that 13 of Jenna’s 24 ribs had been broken, and that the child had suffered a broken ankle, wrist and shin. Sweeney said she believes some of the injuries occurred up to several weeks before the child’s death, but that others appeared more recent.

Tests revealed that the child did not suffer from osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as “brittle bone disease, ” Sweeney said. The condition can cause bones to break very easily.

Sweeney said it is difficult to say how much pain the baby felt from most of the broken bones. However, she said the child’s broken thigh bone was so far out of alignment that it probably was painful.

“Every time the baby’s thigh moved, it seems like it would have caused pain, ” Sweeney said.

Relatives of the Crabtrees say they are bewildered by the death.

Ruth Crabtree of Gorham, Richard Crabtree’s grandmother, said she visited the couple several times after Jenna came home from the hospital in July. She said the child was usually sleeping, but that Jenna’s parents told her the baby cried a lot.

“Of course, it’s not unusual that a new baby’s been crying a lot, ” Ruth Crabtree said. “I never saw any abuse.”

Neighbors living in other apartment units nearby said they rarely saw Richard Crabtree, who receives disability payments, or Heather Crabtree, who does not work.

The couple’s landlord in Windham, Donald Skolfield, said Richard and Heather Crabtree are good tenants and seemed to be very concerned parents.

The baby’s death, Skolfield said, is a mystery and excruciatingly painful for the Crabtrees: “They’re just going through hell.”