LAPD To Sort Out Discovered Infant Skeletons
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
In the 1930s, a grim event took place in the basement of an apartment building near what's now MacArthur Park in Los Angeles. Someone wrapped two dead infants in newspaper and left them in a trunk. Forgotten for nearly 80 years, the remains were found this week, and now Los Angeles police are hoping to solve the mystery. NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports.
MANDALIT DEL BARCO: It was finally time to clear out the basement of the old Glen-Donald Apartment Building and property manager Gloria Gomez was dealing with decades of assorted junk, things abandoned long ago by past residents. In a corner she came across a large steamer trunk. It was bolted tight, so Gomez pried the lock open with a screwdriver.
Ms. GLORIA GOMEZ (Property Manager): I was so excited, because the first thing that came out, it was a beautiful crystal dish. And I like antique stuff.
DEL BARCO: Gomez also saw some jewelry and a ticket stub to the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. Then she found two leather bags, the kind doctors use to carry on house calls. Inside them were two small bundles wrapped in old newspapers from the 1930s. Gomez handed the first bundle to her friend Yiming Xing, who unwrapped it carefully.
Ms. GOMEZ: It looked like a mummy. It's very dry. She goes, Oh, Gloria, stop it, stop(ph). Oh, no, no. What is it?
DEL BARCO: Then they looked at the other bundle.
Ms. GOMEZ: And the second one is bigger.
Ms. YIMING XING: So big.
Ms. GOMEZ: Yeah. It's a well developed baby. It have a head, even have hair on the head.
DEL BARCO: And that's how Los Angeles Police got called to investigate the coldest of cold cases - two infants, dead for unknown reasons, hidden and forgotten for more than seven decades. Forget DNA. What detectives really need is a time machine.
(Soundbite of song, "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?")
Unidentified Man: (Singing) Brother, can you spare a dime.
DEL BARCO: The country was in the grips of the Great Depression. The neighborhood now known as MacArthur Park was called West Lake. It was a suburb for people working in downtown L.A., also popular with Hollywood extras. Urban anthropologist Eric Lynxwiler says the four-story lavender terracotta building may have been a residence for single women.
Mr. ERIC LYNXWILER (Urban Anthropologist): The design of the building was aimed towards female residents, quite frankly. It does kind of freak me out to think that there were two babies in the bottom of that building for so many decades. But just how do you get rid of a dead body?
DEL BARCO: Alongside the two infants in the trunk there were also photos and postcards of a well-traveled woman. Her name was all over the items - Jean Barrie. Police say she apparently worked as a nurse at a nearby hospital. Were the babies hers or was there some connection to the hospital? It's all still a mystery.
(Soundbite of music)
DEL BARCO: Old vinyl records still play in the building's lobby, but the clues are all downstairs.
(Soundbite of scraping)
DEL BARCO: This was the basement where you found the trunk?
Ms. GOMEZ: Officially known as the ballroom.
DEL BARCO: The property manager shows me one more thing that came from the trunk - a membership book for an upscale mountain resort in Big Bear, outside L.A.
Ms. GOMEZ: See, it says Peter Pan Woodland Club. And inside is the certificate with her name - Jean Barrie.
DEL BARCO: Then we realized the nurse's name was a lot like the author of the Peter Pan story J.M. Barrie. That's caused some to wonder, did the nurse have some Peter Pan fascination? Was Jean Barrie her real name or was she using the author's name as a pseudonym?
Ms. GOMEZ: Ah, the plot thickens.
(Soundbite of laughter)
DEL BARCO: Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.
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