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New name emerges in mystery over basement babies

August 20, 2010 |  4:04 pm

A new mystery woman emerged Friday in the search to identify the owner of a steamer trunk that held the mummified remains of two babies.

Janet M. Barrie lived in the same Westlake apartment building where the trunk had been stored for decades, according to voter registration records.

And although her name does not exactly match the name Jean M. Barrie – which police say was engraved on the trunk – there are clues to suggest that Janet M. Barrie could have been its owner.

The trunk, which was opened by two women clearing out the apartment’s basement on Tuesday, contained postcards, clothing, photographs and books – along with two leather doctor’s satchels. Each of the satchels held the body of a baby, swaddled in newspaper from the 1930s.

The photographs and the clothing, including a flapper-style dress, suggest that the woman who owned the trunk was petite, with fair skin and brown hair, detectives said. Some of postcards were sent from San Francisco, and others from Canada.

Janet M. Barrie lived at the Glen-Donald apartment building in 1948, 1950 and 1954, according to voter registration records.

She was born in Scotland in 1901 and immigrated to Canada and then the United States, according to immigration paperwork from the 1940s.

On one immigration form, Barrie wrote that she was 5-foot-1, with fair skin and brown hair. On the form, she said she had lived in Los Angeles and Chicago between 1925 and 1941. U.S. census data says that in 1930, Barrie was living in a boarding house near MacArthur Park and was working as a private nurse.
Her work as a nurse could be significant, because detectives say there was a bundle of blank medical test forms in the trunk.

By the late 1940s, Barrie had returned to Los Angeles. In 1964, she married a doctor, George Knapp, according to records.

Police say they are looking to see whether anything in the trunk suggests that Jean M. Barrie also may have been known as Janet M. Barrie.

Detectives also have identified two other women -- both named Jean M. Barrie -- who may have owned the trunk. One of them lived in the same Westlake neighborhood where the Glen-Donald apartment building is located and may have worked as a nurse. She was born in San Francisco in 1916.

Another woman by that name was a well-known storyteller and performer at the time. This Jean M. Barrie lived in the Midwest and on the East Coast, and was a relative of James M. Barrie, the author of the children's book “Peter Pan.” A copy of “Peter Pan” was found inside the trunk, along with a membership certificate in the Peter Pan Woodland Club, a Big Bear resort.

Meanwhile Friday, coroner’s officials continued their autopsies of the babies to determine how they died. Coroner’s officials hope DNA and other tests will help determine whether the babies were stillborn, aborted, subjected to trauma or died of natural causes.

--Kate Linthicum

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