updated 8/18/2010 5:31:44 PM ET 2010-08-18T21:31:44

Two infant skeletons wrapped in 1930s newspapers and placed in doctor's bags were found inside an unclaimed steamer trunk by a woman cleaning out the basement of a 1924 building that's being converted to condominiums, authorities said.

The skeletons, believed to be decades-old remains of fetuses or infants, were discovered late Tuesday in the 4-foot (1.2-meter) -tall green trunk inscribed with the initials JMB.

Other things found in the trunk included cigarettes, a green bowl, black and white photos, letters, a book club membership certificate inscribed Jean M. Barrie and ticket stubs from the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games.

The remains were found in the four-story brick building near MacArthur Park, just a few miles west of downtown Los Angeles. The larger skeleton, the size of a newborn, was wrapped in a Los Angeles Times newspaper dated 1934.

A smaller skeleton was wrapped in newspaper dated 1932, said Gloria Gomez, property manager of the co-op for the last 10 years. She and friend Yiming Xing, 35, who has lived there for six years, had to force open the trunk with a screwdriver, she said.

Coroner's officials will try to determine how the babies died, check missing children reports and try to find relatives and neighbors who might know what happened.

It was Gomez's job to clean out the basement. Everyone in the building was given until Aug. 14 to get their things out. The condo board told Gomez she could have anything that wasn't claimed.

On Tuesday night, Gomez and Xing checked two unclaimed trunks and they were empty. They tried several keys on the last one, but finally had to pry it open. They found the drawers full and pulled out several antiques, the bowl, a toilet figurine, books, photos and documents.

Then they found the two black leather doctor bags.

Xing opened the first soft bundle. They found what looked like a piece of brown, dry, very old looking wood, Gomez said, and Xing said it appeared to be an embryo. They called police and waited.

When the coroner arrived, investigators unwrapped the second bundle to find the larger skeleton. This one was more childlike, wrapped in an extra blanket, the sheet and newspaper. You could see the child's hair, Gomez said.

Both had been wrapped up like mummies but both were skeletons, Gomez said.

Another paper in the trunk was dated Sept. 17, 1937.

The women found a certificate indicating Barrie belonged to "The Peter Pan Woodlands Club," Gomez said. That said to them that the owner of the trunk might be wealthy, she said.

Oddly, Peter Pan was created by Scottish author James M. Barrie.

Coroner's investigators took the bodies, drawers, medical bags, photos and some of the documents, Gomez said, but they left her the trunk, the book, the bowl, the cigarettes, a typewriter manual, the ticket stubs and clothing.

Police are awaiting results from the coroner's office and have promised their own investigation.

"We'll put detectives on this case for the long term," police Chief Charlie Beck told the Los Angeles Times. "We'll try to reconstruct the circumstances based on what the coroner tells us, based on the history of the residence and based on science. 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."

According to the property manager's website, the Glen-Donald building has been used in a national DirecTV commercial, for the television show "Quarter Life" and a small, independent film project.

The building's interior has solid mahogany woodwork throughout, a grand style lobby and two period elevators that serve the building, another website said.

The building is being converted from a co-op building to one with condos. There were 94 units when it was a co-op.

Gomez said it was home to doctors, lawyers, writers and actors when it opened in what was then the tony Westlake district.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Fetuses, artifacts found in old trunk

  1. Closed captioning of: Fetuses, artifacts found in old trunk

    >>> now the latest on a mystery we have been following very closely for you during our 3:00 eastern time hour. the owner of the steamer trunk , that stored the mummified remains of two babies since the 1930s is under investigation today. the l.a. times says investigators are piecing together information about this woman, jean m.barrie, based on items found inside the trunk. a stack of blank medical test forms, address, postcards from a brother in san francisco . what might it all mean? a resident of the building where the babies were found says the bodies may be linked to illegal abortions. forensic professor from the university of new haven henry lee joins me now, he has assisted in more than 6,000 cases over the past 40 years, including jonbenet ramsey and o.j. simpson . it's always good to see you. let me ask you about this, because obviously the first thing is that this case isn't just a cold case , it a 75-year-old old cold case . how does that change your investigation?

    >> well, it's a cold case , but it's not uncommon in past we had a case in the newspaper in upstate new york where there w was -- the first thing you just reported, look at all the associated evidence, postcards, bags, names, tags and any associated information for who owned the building, who stay in that building. second portion is the medical examiner's office will start looking at what kind of, you know, male/female, races, the fetuses of different ages. the third part, what we look at is dna. of course do some mitochondrial dna . then we do chromosomes to see whether or not it could be same father. that both babies are from the same parents, nthen we know may be involved a family of illegal abortion that's different than maybe some of a midwife or some other people that did some illegal abortion. in addition, we should look at any possible fingerprints, check the newspaper, any writing on it. so a lot of clues that are buried in evidence.

    >> wouldn't there for example still be evidence of a fingerprint on the newspaper?

    >> oh, yes. we have cases of 60 years old, we still found fingerprints. this case, because obviously because of the dates on the newspapers, one is from the 1920s , the other one from the 1930s , if that's the fact which meets these two cases, maybe ten years apart. so maybe you have some fingerprinting. if it's the same person's fingerprint found on both newspapers, then at least you have something to follow.

    >> and the other question is, are they both fetuses, is there a chance one of these might have been a baby? if that's the case, if it was a child that was actually born, would you have any success, do you think trying to find out a cause of death at this stage?

    >> very good point, very good point. you know, that's why medical examiners would assist us and look at if those fetuses were stillborn or after born, how old is the baby and try to make


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