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New twists in basement babies case as woman is identified

The woman poses in front of a shining Dodge roadster, squinting into the sun.

She wears a snow-white fur stole around her neck and an uneasy smile on her face, as if she isn’t accustomed to being photographed. Police say she was the owner of the steamer trunk that last month was found to contain the mummified remains of two babies, wrapped in newspaper from the 1930s.

On Thursday, police identified her –- a move that puts them closer to solving a case that has puzzled detectives here and transfixed mystery-lovers across the world.

Janet M. Barrie was a private nurse who worked for a Los Angeles couple from the 1930s to the 1960s. The couple, a dentist and his wife, lived in the same MacArthur Park apartment building where the trunk was discovered.

When the dentist’s wife died in 1964, Barrie married her former employer. It is unclear whether the children belonged to Barrie, the wife of the dentist, or someone else, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said at a news conference Thursday.

“You are able to speculate as well as we can,” Beck said. Detectives working on the case say they have contacted Barrie’s nieces and nephews, who live in Canada, to ask for DNA samples to see whether it matches the DNA of the babies, whose carefully wrapped bodies were stowed in two leathers doctor’s satchels at the bottom of the trunk kept in storage at the Glen-Donald apartment building.

Coroner’s officials have not determined the cause of death of the babies, one of which was a fetus, and the other of which was a newborn. Ed Winter, spokesman for the coroner’s office, said on Thursday that a team of two pathologists and one forensic anthropologist had found no obvious signs of trauma.

Winters said investigators are waiting the results of a toxicology report, which may come back in the next few weeks, and a DNA test, which will determine whether the babies were related to each other. The trunk had been sitting unclaimed in storage at the apartment building for decades, according to the building manager, Gloria Gomez.

Two weeks ago, Gomez and building resident Yeming Xing broke the lock with a screwdriver to see what was inside.

They found books, postcards, a beautiful crystal bowl and the doctor's satchels, which contained the bodies. Pictures, postcards and letters also discovered in the trunk suggest the owner was at one point a “single, independent-type of woman,” according to detectives working on the case. The name Jean M. Barrie was inscribed on the trunk. But several clues suggest that Jean may have been a nickname for Janet M. Barrie, who was born in Scotland in 1901 and immigrated to Canada and then the United States.

A Los Angeles directory from 1929 lists a Jean Barrie living with a woman named Ada LuRoss in an apartment near MacArthur Park. The 1930 census shows a Janet Barrie living with LuRoss. During the 1930s, Janet Barrie worked as a private nurse for Dr. George Knapp and his wife, Mary. Records show the Knapps did not have any children. In 1968, Mary Knapp died.

Later that year, Barrie, then 67, married George Knapp, then 81. He died four years later and was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial-Park in Glendale. Janet Barrie Knapp died in 1992. Police on Thursday said she died in Canada, but records from Forest Lawn indicate she is buried there.

Beck said the department would continue to work on the case. “Justice, even when its delayed, is still justice,” he said. “Even when you have no one to speak for you, we will speak for you.”

--Kate Linthicum

Photo: Al Seib / L.A. Times

Comments () | Archives (63)

I still don't understand why this is front page news.

could it be that Ms. Barrie and the Dr. planned the death of his wife's babies???

There is an old Spanish saying ... "el sangre llama" ... the blood calls ... in this case for justice. RIP ... poor babies.

First the article says: "When the dentist’s wife died in 1964..." But later: "In 1968, Mary Knapp died." I think the article meant she died in 1964 and he died in 1968.

Why are we wasting money, resources, and time trying to figure out how 2 babies died in the 1930's? It makes no sense, no one will be prosecuted, the people involved are all dead. Who cares? Just the stupid police who can say another case solved why they continue to not fight real crime.

So keep wasting more money on this while crime is continuing.

Fascinating story! Sounds like a mystery TV show already in the works. Looking forward to more stories - see what the nieces and nephews in Canada decide about giving up DNA and see the relation of the babies.

spend thousands while public resources are already drained?

What can be done about it now??

Typical government wasting resourses with their hand out for more!!!

Wow, how did Jean hide her pregnancies from the Dentist's wife! What a scandal! I love this story, and I hope you guys continue to show us more pictures of all the cool old stuff you found.

This is evasive reporting and writing. Twice now LAT has published a piece like this, saying "police identified her..." and then in a separate paragraph, telling the story of Jean Barrie.

Get your facts straight, then write the right thing. Here, I'll help you out: "Police identified the owner of the trunk as (insert the name here - the name provided by LAPD)".

Enough of the CYA reporting. This isn't a late-breaking story of critical public interest. Just wait for all the facts then write them.

L.A.NOW is good at censoring comments. Guess theyve never heard of free speech.

My story: Ms. Barrie was a nurse for the wife. The babies were probably stillborn and caused physical and/or mental health problems for the wife. Ms. Barrie took care of the poor woman until she died and then marries DDS. It shouldn't be surprising that in the 1930s there aren't any records, women still had babies at home then. No records because the babies were deceased. The family may have just kept the remains close to them because of the wife's issues. Easy to do back then. Who knows why nothing was done with the remains later on...senility by the surviving parties?

A fur stole ? Alert PETA, they will get to the bottom of this dastardly affair.

I certainly hope the LAPD is working on, you know, CURRENT crimes.

Wow, what a waste of tax dollars. If the family wanted to know this information someone in the family would try to find it. There are so many cases that involve people alive today that continue to go unsolved. More focus needs to be on these not a cold case of people who we know no longer exist. What are the detectives doing trying to make sure the family album is correct? LA has a lot more things to put effort into besides trying to be a part of a hollywood movie.


What a waste of time and money and now the PD is tainting this dead woman's reputation with two dead bodies. Why don't they put the energy into clearing all those backlogged rape kits that they claim there is no staff or funds to process. Maybe they could then put a live rapist in jail before he victimizes another woman. Digging into this old case and trying to get relatives' DNA will only besmirch the reputation of the woman that they 'think' owned the trunk while they have no idea how the bodies got in an abandoned trunk. This jump to judgement happens all the time, though. Just look at poor Paris who was arrested because "someone else's" coke fell out of "someone else's" purse while she was looking for "her" lip gloss so she would look good for the mug shot.

My guess is she had a long running affair with the dentist and both babies were the unwanted results.

Is taxpayer money really going twards this? Crazy. Who the F cares?

And we are spending time, resources and money on this because there are no current relevant cases to be working? LAPD needs to focus on the caseloads they have stacked up which involve living breathing individuals and victims.

Ohhh! This is Juicy. Cant wait for this to be turned into a movie!

The article first indicates the dentist's wife (Mary Knapp?) died in 1964 (Paragraph 5). Later, the article indicates the dentist's wife (Mary Knapp)died in 1967 (paragraph 11). Both times Barrie married the widower. Is this one couple and a housekeeper, two couples and a housekeeper, a "clue", or a typo?

It said the dr and his former wife had no children.

Or maybe she was having an affair with him before his wife died. And those babies were unwanted babies from the result of the affair. This reads like a good book.

So did the dentist’s wife die in 1964 or 1968?

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