COM: Some bizarre coincidences . . .
75-year-old mystery: 2 fetuses wrapped in 1930s California newspapers found in doctor bags
By NARDINE SAAD, The Associated Press, LOS ANGELES
Yiming Xing peeled back the tattered Los Angeles Times pages from the first of two small bundles, hoping to find antiques beneath the 1930s newsprint. Then came the stunning realization that she was staring at tiny human remains.
"When I saw it was something like that I kind of freaked a little bit, so I just left it on the table and then we called the police," Xing said Wednesday, recalling a feeling that perhaps "we kind of disturbed the spirit."
Authorities opened the second bundle and found a larger, more fully developed fetus.
The bundles had been placed in doctor bags inside a green steamer trunk from the 1920s. They had been there for more than 75 years in the basement of the apartment complex, a four-story brick building in the Westlake district of Los Angeles, a once-elegant neighborhood west of downtown.
The 94-unit Glen-Donald building was home to doctors, lawyers, writers and actors when it opened in 1925. It featured a grand lobby and its basement had once been a ballroom and the site of elaborate galas.
Xing was helping her friend Gloria Gomez, the onsite manager, clean out the basement late Tuesday when she made the discovery.
The trunk was inscribed with the initials JMB and also contained a certificate giving Miss Jean Barrie membership in the Peter Pan Woodland Club mountain resort, which burned down in 1948. In addition, there was a typing manual bearing the signature "Jean M. Barrie," ticket stubs from the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games, wedding photos and other items.
As coroner's officials began investigating, residents were left to speculate about the owner of the trunk; the possibility of secret abortions in an era before the procedure was legal; and an odd fact: Peter Pan was created by Scottish author James M. Barrie, who died in 1937.
"This building is a historic building. It has a lot of stories there, and now it's getting more interesting," said Xing, 35, a six-year resident and genetics researcher.
No one could immediately say whether there was a connection between the mysterious Jean M. Barrie and the fetuses; whether someone else might have hidden the remains in the trunk; and whether the Peter Pan connection was anything more than a coincidence.
"We're trying to piece all of the parts of the puzzle together," coroner's Assistant Chief Ed Winter told news radio station KNX-AM. He described the remains as fetuses and said they were wrapped in newspapers dated 1933 and 1935.
While cleaning, Gomez and Xing had tried several keys on the steamer trunk but finally had to pry it open with a screwdriver. Items found in its full drawers included a pearl necklace, girdle, bowl, toilet figurine, books, photos, documents and a cigar box painted with images of saints.
Then they found the two black leather bags.
Xing opened the first soft bundle and found what looked like a piece of brown, dry, very old wood.
Coroner's investigators unwrapped the second bundle to find the larger set of remains.
Xing said those remains "looked exactly like a baby," with hair on its developed head.
Coroner's investigators took the remains, drawers, medical bags, photos, letters and postcards, Gomez said.
Former building manager John Medford, 68, a 22-year resident, was among those speculating that the fetuses were from abortions.
"In 1936, abortion was illegal," he said, recounting the era of back-alley procedures. "Women were in desperate straits then."
Police were awaiting results from the coroner's office.
"We have many more tools and technology available to us than before, which may allow for identification of the victims and closure to any family members," Police Chief Charlie Beck told the Los Angeles Times.