When Cumberland Police Chief Matt Benson arrived at his office shortly after the holiday break, a suspicious package was waiting for him. Inside sat food scraps.
"I opened it up and there were two ziplock baggies, with a half-eaten cookie and two half-eaten baby carrots," Benson tells Yahoo Life, describing the contents as evidence from a young Rhode Island citizen claiming they may potentially have proof that Santa Claus is real.
Alongside the objects: a handwritten note on yellow-lined paper from its sender, 10-year-old aspiring detective Scarlett Doumato.
"Dear Cumberland Police Department," it read. "I took a sample of a cookie and carrots that I left for Santa and the reindeer on Christmas Eve and was wondering if you could take a sample of DNA and see if Santa is real?"
In a matter of minutes, the package made an indelible impression on the department.
"We're human, as well, and it put a smile on our faces," Benson says of himself and his fellow officers. "You could see the energy and the kind of light and excitement that was garnered from them just reading it. So, we immediately put our heads together and decided we needed to do something about this, we need to really invest in it and make this really special for her."
Soon after receiving the package, Benson opened a full-scale investigation and released a statement to the media about the situation (with Doumato's name redacted), noting Santa’s other aliases, “Kris Kringle” and “Saint Nicholas.”
In the press release, CPD confirmed they sent evidence — including surveillance images of a reindeer in the vicinity that night extracted from a nearby camera — to the State Forensic Unit for further testing.
But, unbeknownst to Benson, Doumato was on the case long before the police stepped in.
"Two years ago, my dad tried to catch Santa," Doumato tells Yahoo Life. "He put his phone out, but then, when we looked at it the next morning, it looked almost Photoshopped. I got suspicious."
Doumato credits her inquisitiveness to the long hours she spends with her dad watching detective shows (her favorite is Monk). Those instincts were put to the test on the morning of Dec. 25, 2022, when she discovered the baby carrots and cookies she'd left for Santa and his nine reindeer the night before were half-eaten. By whom? she wondered. And can their DNA be traced?
"If Santa isn't real, then who puts the presents under the tree?" she asks.
All good questions, argues Benson, who, like Doumato, dreamed of being a detective from an early age.
"She has me in spades," he says. "She's far more advanced than I ever was at that age. I mean, this was something I always wanted to do, but she's taken it to another level. This is something that she wants to do, and she's actually working on her craft and really investing in it personally."
The industry needs more people like Doumato, says Benson.
"This girl has a passion for truth, and a passion for answers, and at such a young age," he says. "I'd be doing a disservice to her and her family if I didn't, from what my little distance to the situation is, if I didn't support that, if I didn't foster that and if me or my staff didn't get behind and invest in it as well."
The investigation, which has since gone viral, has turned into a family affair. Alyson Doumato, Scarlett's mom, says she supports her daughter's dreams of becoming a detective.
"Let kids be who they are," she tells Yahoo Life. "Each kid has a personality and we need to look at their strengths, and give them the things they need to let that continue to grow rather than try and change them."
The results are inconclusive
As soon as the public became aware of the investigation, Rhode Island Governor Dan McKee confirmed that the state’s health department was “putting a rush” on delivering the results, which, curiously, turned out to be inconclusive.
“Unfortunately there were no complete matches,” the health department confirmed in a tweet. Interestingly, they noted, “there was a partial match to a 1947 case centered around 34th street in New York City.”
“Curiously,” the message continued, scientists “found presence DNA matching closely with Rangier tarandus, more commonly known as reindeer,” concluding that while they “aren’t able to definitely confirm or refute the presence of Santa,” they do “agree that something magical may be at play.”
🎅The results are in... pic.twitter.com/0ZakM5ph36
— Rhode Island Department of Health (@RIHEALTH) January 23, 2023
The health department's message, which Benson confirms was not coordinated in collaboration with the Cumberland Police Department, didn't sit well with investigators.
"Their determination was that it was inconclusive," Benson says. "That's not good enough for me."
Benson tells Yahoo Life that on Monday officers brought in a person of interest for questioning who seems to match the suspect: "Older man, red suit, red hat and a white beard."
"We did track that individual down. He was in our station yesterday and we had some questions for him," he says, adding that the suspect was acting in "full cooperation" with the police.
"We have some more evidence we'll be releasing from other neighbors and some more footage in the area," Benson adds. "We got a lot of different angles. We're not satisfied with an inconclusive finding from the state, so we're going to continue forward."
Doumato is also not giving up. In fact, she's now attempting to solve another big mystery, telling Yahoo Life in full confidence: "Me and my friends are trying to figure out what happened to Amelia Earhart."
This investigation is ongoing...
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