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Tantalizing new clues in case of dead babies found in L.A. basement

August 19, 2010 |  6:17 pm

Jean barrie

LAPD detectives are trying to figure out the background of Jean M. Barrie, the woman whose steamer trunk stored for decades in the basement of an L.A. apartment building contained the mummified remains of two babies.

As the coroner began an autopsy on the bodies Thursday, detectives were left to sift through a crime scene that is also a time capsule.

Among the more interesting clues found in the large trunk were blank medical test forms from Good Samaritan Hospital, according to John Medford, the former chairman of the apartment co-op. In the 1930s the hospital was located several blocks from the apartment building, and had one of the city’s largest maternity wards, said Barry Mangels, the compliance officer at Good Samaritan.

“It’s logical that the babies were probably born here because we were the No. 1 birthing center in Los Angeles County,” Mangels said.

Police have identified a Los Angeles nurse named Jean M. Barrie as one of the possible owners of the trunk and were looking into whether she had a connection to Good Samaritan.

But they are also considering other leads, including the possibility that the trunk may have belonged to a different woman – also named Jean M. Barrie – who was a well-known storyteller and performer at the time.

This Jean Barrie apparently 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."

Several clues point in her direction. There was a copy of Peter Pan found inside the trunk Tuesday along with a membership certificate for the Peter Pan Woodland Club, a Big Bear resort.

But it’s unclear whether Barrie ever lived in Los Angeles. An ad in the 1918 edition of Lyceum Magazine shows a stern-faced Barrie in a decorative lace and velvet dress. The ad hails her as a “Reader of Plays and Miscellaneous Programs.”

-- Kate Linthicum and Andrew Blankstein

Images: Lyceum Magazine; L.A. Times advertisement of apartment house.