A partially mummified baby, apparently born in the 1950s and discovered by a woman cleaning out her dead parents' storage unit, had no obvious signs of injury, detectives said as they continued to unravel the mystery.
The unidentified baby boy was found Monday night by the daughter of an elderly couple who rented the storage unit in 1996. The man died several years ago, and the woman, who was in her 70s, died last year, according to Delray Beach police.
According to investigators, the child was wrapped in a newspaper dated Jan. 9, 1957, and stuffed inside a small suitcase that was inside a larger suitcase. The paper was a copy of the New York Daily News, according to the paper's library which compared headlines, advertisements and page numbers from the day in question.
Investigators described the discovery as "gruesome" and said the suitcase and baby had a "musty smell."
"It appeared that all the bones were intact and there were no obvious signs of trauma," Detective Gene Sapino said Thursday while displaying the items.
An autopsy earlier this week could only determine the child's sex. The body will be sent to a forensic anthropologist to determine a cause of death and whether the child was born alive, a process that could take months. Investigators also plan to attempt to compare DNA from the baby to the woman who made the discovery in hopes of determining whether the child belonged to her mother.
‘A gruesome discovery’
The woman had come down from New Jersey with her husband after receiving a letter stating that the contents of the storage unit would be auctioned off because the rent had not been paid for several months.
"I think she's very much traumatized by this," Sapino said. "It's a gruesome discovery, first of all to go through your family's possessions and find the remains of an infant, and then to think that these remains could be one of your siblings."
An umbilical cord appeared to be still attached to the child, which weighed 13 ounces (369 grams) and was about a foot long, Sapino said. It was wrapped in the fetal position and was "very light and very frail," he said.
"You could actually see the location of the eyes, location of the nose and the slot where the mouth would be," he said, noting that the body was fully intact.
"It could have been a still birth, it could have died at birth, we just don't know," he said.
At the scene, artifacts of faith
Police believe the child was born in the 1950s because of the state of decay and the date on the newspaper. Sapino said the woman who rented the storage unit was Catholic and unmarried at that time.
Detectives found rosary beads, a religious "birthday prayer," and a picture of an unidentified 5- or 6-year-old girl inside one of the suitcases that contained the baby.
The woman who found the child recognized the suitcases as belonging to her parents, but did not recognize the child in the picture, Sapino said.
"I think they cared for this infant or why would they put it in there? Obviously it was some kind of religious or symbolic gesture," he said.
Investigators were releasing few other details. Police have not released the names of the couple or the woman who made the discovery. They plan to continue interviewing friends and family to determine if the elder woman was ever pregnant with another child and kept it a secret.