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No signs of trauma on dead babies found in L.A. basement

August 23, 2010 |  1:30 pm

A preliminary autopsy on the remains of two babies found wrapped in newspapers from the 1930s and stuffed into a steamer trunk in the basement of a Los Angeles apartment found no apparent signs of trauma and is so far classifying the cause of their deaths as "undetermined," authorities said Monday.

The L.A. County coroner's office and the Los Angeles Police Department said the next step in their investigation is to use laboratory techniques including toxicology and DNA testing to shed light on questions such has how the babies died, whether they are related and ultimately, to whom did they may belong.

Det. Hector Madrigal of the LAPD's Abused Child Section said that once coroner's officials identify the babies through DNA, they hope to get in contact with someone in their extended family.

"There's no apparent trauma to the infants," Madrigal said. "We are working closely with Los Angeles County coroner's investigator Dense Bertone to locate the next of kin."

Madrigal also said authorities may use "familial DNA" to help identify the infants, one of which appeared to be premature and could have been miscarried or aborted.

In the most high-profile use so far of "familial DNA," the technique was used to identify accused serial killer Lonnie Franklin Jr., who is charged with killing 10 women in South Los Angeles, through DNA taken from an imprisoned relative. 

Madrigal stressed that there are no indications thus far of any criminal wrongdoing and that use of familial DNA in this case would be voluntary.

Authorities began their case last week with few solid leads but intriguing clues including a ticket stub from the closing ceremonies of the 1932 Olympics at the L.A. Coliseum.

Officials with knowledge of the case said one of the babies appeared to be premature — and might have been miscarried or aborted. The other baby appeared to be a newborn.

The trunk appears to have belonged to a woman named Jean M. Barrie. 

The trunk contained postcards sent to her from far-flung locales such as Korea and South America and a pile of black-and-white photographs that showed a beautiful, fair-haired woman — who may have been Barrie — on vacation and in a wedding gown. 

Among Barrie's possessions was a membership certificate for the Peter Pan Woodland Club, an upscale resort in Big Bear that offered guests swimming pools, skating ponds and hunting preserves. The trunk also contained the book "Peter Pan," which piqued the interest of detectives because she shared the last name and initials with the book's author, James Matthew Barrie, who died in 1937. 

But records also show a Jean M. Barrie who lived at the same Westlake apartment building where the trunk had been stored for decades. Janet M. Barrie lived at the Glen-Donald apartment building in the 1940s and 1950s, according to voter registration records.

Jean M. Barrie 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.

Madrigal and his partner, Det. Javier Sanchez, said investigators very much appreciate the outpouring of tips and suggestions in the case, which has given many solid leads.

"We could have been chasing a lot of red herrings," Madrigal said. "But people have been instrumental in helping us come closer to the facts in this case."

-- Andrew Blankstein

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