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Infant skeletons found wrapped in 1930s newspapers

A property manager who found two infant skeletons in a Los Angeles apartment basement says she was panicked after unwrapping a bundle of old newspapers and finding the remains inside.
/ Source: The Associated Press

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.