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Woman who found infants' remains: 'It seemed like a dried-out body'

August 18, 2010 | 11:51 am

The two women who found the remains of two infants in a MacArthur Park apartment building said they were so scared after opening the first bundle inside an old steamer trunk that they called police before opening the second.

Building manager Gloria Gomez and tenant Yiming Xing were checking out the contents of three trunks in the storage room, which used to be a ballroom, in the basement of the elegant 1923 structure Tuesday in the 800 block of Lake Street.

The trunks had been given to Gomez by the building's owner after no one claimed them. Gomez and Xing said they opened the first two trunks, but they were empty. The third was locked and after a considerable struggle were finally able to break the lock with a screwdriver.

"We got all excited because the first thing we found was a crystal dish,” Gomez said.

They also found clothing, aged photographs, old postcards and books. Both Gomez and Xing thought the items may have belonged to a very wealthy woman. On some of the documents was the name Jean M. Barrie.

At the bottom of the trunk were two black leather satchels that looked like doctor's bags. Gomez opened one and found a small parcel wrapped in newspaper, which she handed to Xing to open.

Xing took off the pages of a 1935 Los Angeles Times and found a white sheet, which she unwrapped.

“I saw something not very pleasant and very unusual,” she said. “It didn’t have any shape to it. But it seemed like a dried-out body.”

“The first thing I thought was the spirits," she added. "Maybe we disturbed the spirits.”

Xing, 35, a geneticist at USC, said she thought it may have been the remains of a miscarried baby.

“She said, 'Can we bury it?,'" Gomez said. "And I said, ‘No, we call the police.'”

Scared to open the second bundle, they called the police. When LAPD officers arrived, they opened the second satchel and made a similar discovery. The skeletal remains inside the second bundle were larger than the first and wrapped in the pages of a 1932 Los Angeles Times.

Xing described the second one as dried like a mummy with brown hair and a full skeleton. She said it looked like it was an infant that had been carried to term.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck promised a vigorous investigation into the infants' deaths, believed to have occurred 70 years ago.

"We'll put detectives on this case for the long term," Beck told The Times. "We'll try to reconstruct the circumstances based on what the coroner tells us, based on the history of the residence and based on science. We have many more tools and technology available to us than before, which may allow for identification of the victims and closure to any family members."

Authorities said they are classifying the discovery as a "death investigation" because it's unclear how and under what circumstances the babies got to the location. Sources stressed it's far too early to tell whether this is a homicide case.

Investigators with the LAPD's juvenile division have gathered evidence from the scene as they try to reconstruct the scene and build a historical record to help solve the mystery.

Ed Winter, assistant chief of the Los Angeles County coroner's office, said Wednesday that medical examiners also were trying "to connect the dots."

"We'll be going step by step on this," Winter said. "This is a case of where did they come from, why were they there?"

-- Kate Linthicum and Andrew Blankstein

Video from KTLA News on the story here.

Photo: Building manager Gloria Gomez, left, and tenant Yiming Xing were checking out the contents of three trunks in the storage room of a MacArthur Park apartment building when they found the remains of two infants. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times