In the Walls
by Lyz Lenz
In 2007, contractor Bob Kinghorn pulled a mummified baby from the floorboards of a home in East Toronto. The baby was wrapped in newsprint dated September 12, 1925, and when Kinghorn unwittingly unswaddled the baby, he was furious. “No! No! No! I got mad, threw off my headgear, kicked something and bounced out of the house,” Kinghorn told CBC news. “My first thought was murder. I thought: How could you do that? You sons of bitches!” Five years later, the police are still unable to determine the so-called Baby Kyntre’s cause of death.
Also in 2007, a woman in Florida discovered a mummified child in an old suitcase in her parents’ long-forgotten storage locker. The baby was wrapped in newspaper from January 9, 1957, and in a pair of black nylon pants. According to the police, the baby boy still had his hair and umbilical cord. Next to the child were a black-and-white picture of a not-quite-10-year-old girl and a tiny box holding a rosary and religious cards. University of Florida forensic anthropologist Anthony Falsetti told CNN, “And for whatever reason, [the parents] could not part with the individual.”
Mummified children collect dust in corners filled with lathe and plaster, in attic boxes, in suitcases, and, although I know it sounds fantastic, in and mothers’ wombs. Here are five such cases.
Birthing modern forensic entomology. In 1850, a mummified baby tumbled out from between the walls of a Parisian apartment. The couple who discovered it had been doing renovations and were immediately suspected in the infant’s death. Dr. Marcel Bereget, who studied the changes in corpses after burial, used flies to determine the time of death and exonerated the couple. (This was before HMOs, so doctors had time to do that sort of thing.) This was the first case in France involving forensic entomology. Which alone wouldn’t be strange, but, 28 years later, the second case of French forensic entomology would also involve the mummified remains of a baby girl. That case was investigated by Edmond Perrier Megnin, a pathologist who worked at the Natural History Museum. His hobby was recording the distinct stages of necrophilious insect infestations. He used mites to determine that the mummified infant had died seven months prior to its discovery. (Although a paper published in 2009 in Experimental and Applied Acarology suggests that Megnin’s timeline was faulty, and that the child actually died eight months prior to its discovery.)
Baby John. For decades a family in Concord, New Hampshire, has passed down a haunting heirloom, the mummified remains of Baby John. Charles Peavey, the infant’s owner, if infants can be said to have such things, fought for a year to reclaim Baby John, but gave up in 2007 after declaring that the $1,000 DNA test required to prove he was indeed the infant’s relative was too much to raise. The police took custody of Baby John when a photo surfaced of the dead infant in a cradle next to Peavey’s great-nephew. The police sought to determine a cause of death and would only release the infant to a relative after ruling out foul play. A New Hampshire news outlet reported that the baby was kept on a dresser, and that many of Peavey’s relatives had been photographed next to the mummy — a family joke, of sorts. The legend holds that the child was the illegitimate son of Peavey’s great-great uncle. But that mystery may never be solved; after being buried in 2008, in 2010 Baby John was stolen from his grave and remains missing.
Stone child. While she was in labor with her first child, Zahra Aboutalib was told she had to have a cesarean section. It was 1955 in a small village outside of Casablanca, Morocco, and when Zahra heard the news, she fled from the hospital in terror. A few days later, her labor pains subsided and Zahra believed that her child had become a “sleeping baby.” In Moroccan culture, a “sleeping baby” lives inside its mother, protecting her from harm. And, for 46 years, Zahra’s child “slept,” until one day she began to have severe stomach pains. An X-ray revealed that her child had mummified within her womb. Stone children, or Lithopedion babies, are a rare but medically documented occurrence. Ambrose Pare, a medieval doctor and the author of Monsters and Marvels, attributed this phenomena to a narrow womb or when the womb is “ample enough,” as a result of the mother crossing her legs too much during pregnancy.
The Lost Girls. While rifling through an ancient trunk abandoned in the Glen-Donald apartment building in Los Angeles, Gloria Gomez discovered a crystal bowl, a copy of Peter Pan, and the mummified bodies of two infant girls. The trunk belonged to a woman named Janet M. Barrie, who’d emigrated from Scotland to Canada when she was only four. Among Barrie’s possessions, police discovered a membership to the Peter Pan Woodland Club, a resort in Big Bear, California. Despite the fact that Barrie shared a last name and first initials with Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie, the police ruled out a direct link with the author. Barrie, the author, died in 1937, when Janet, the presumed mother, was 40. His play about a little boy who refused to grow up was first staged in 1904.
In the walls, again. As Deena Roberts showed an electrician around her house, she noticed something she had never seen before: a small door behind a crawl space in the attic. She opened the door and saw a plastic bag, which contained the bodies of three children wrapped tightly in old sheets and towels. The babies’ remains were determined to be between 30–40 years old at the time of discovery, and DNA evidence shows that they were the children of the original owners of the home, James and Doris Bowling. The Bowlings had three surviving children — two daughters, who claim they had never heard of their lost siblings — and a brother, whom the police still have yet to locate. Until they can find him, the case of these three babies buried in the walls remains a cold case.