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In L.A. basement babies case, abortion a possible reason for deaths

August 20, 2010 |  8:51 am

Detectives trying to unravel the mystery of two dead babies found wrapped in newspapers from the 1930s in an L.A. basement are trying to determine whether they were the result of an abortion or used as some type of medical specimens.

Sources with knowledge of the investigation stressed to The Times that they won't know anything conclusively until autopsies on the remains are completed. But they said those are two theories being investigated as officials wait to see whether scientific tests show any evidence of trauma or foul play.

"Back alley" abortions were common during this era -- decades before Roe vs. Wade decision legalized abortion in the United States.

John Medford, a longtime resident at the building and one-time chair of the co-op, said he suspected abortions might play a role in the case.

"It was kept secret for 74 years and my theory is that this rolls back the cover on a cruel, tragic and unjust time in America for women," Medford said. "Ending pregnancies this way would have been commonplace. This was business as usual in all social strata."

The remains were found in a steamer truck in the basement of a Westlake Village apartment earlier this week by two women clearing out the area. They found books, postcards, a beautiful crystal bowl and two leather doctor's satchels. Inside each satchel was the body of a baby. Each was swaddled in a blanket and wrapped in a faded, 1930s-era Los Angeles Times newspaper.

Those forms point in the direction of a woman named Jean M. Barrie, who lived in the area and was born in San Francisco in 1916. Detectives said they found postcards in the trunk addressed to Barrie, from a brother, Thomas, in San Francisco. They also recovered correspondence between Barrie and acquaintances or family in Canada and South Africa.

The sources said detectives are using the items inside the trunk to build a timeline in the case.

-- Andrew Blankstein and Kate Linthicum