LA Coroner: Mummified infants' cause of death unknown

An autopsy failed to determine the cause of death of two infants whose mummified remains were found inside a trunk in a MacArthur Park apartment building, investigators said today,

"It's an undetermined death,'' Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said. "There are no obvious signs of trauma (but) that does not mean that there's no cause of death. We just haven't determined the cause of death yet. So the investigation continues.

Coroner's office Assistant Chief Ed Winter said one set of remains was a full-term baby, but the other was actually a fetus under 20 weeks gestation.

"There were no signs on whether or not either of them were the result of an abortion,'' he said.

He added that DNA tests aimed at determining whether the infants were related have not been completed, nor have toxicology tests.

Capt. Fabian Lizarraga with the LAPD's Juvenile Division said police believe the owner of the trunk was Janet Barrie, who also went by the name Jean. She was born in Scotland, emigrated to the United States in the mid-1920s, and eventually worked as a "home care nurse'' for Mary Downs Knapp for
several years.

When Knapp died in 1964, Barrie married her husband, dentist George Guy Knapp, who died four years later. Barrie left Los Angeles sometime in the mid-1980s and moved to Canada, where she died several years later.

Investigators were trying to determine whether the babies belonged to Barrie or Knapp. Police said they were contacting Barrie's relatives in Canada, and were trying to get DNA samples.

"We have been in contact with blood relatives of Ms. Barrie that we are hopeful we'll be able to get DNA from, and see if it matches any of the remains,'' Lizarraga said. "We're talking to nieces and nephews in Canada.

"We're trying to get background on Mr. Knapp as well, but so far we have not been successful,'' he added.

The remains were discovered wrapped in 1930s newspapers inside the Glen-Donald Apartments on the 800 block of South Lake Street.

Two women were cleaning out the basement area when they discovered the steamer trunk bearing the remains.

Other items in the trunk included a ticket stub to the 1932 Summer Olympics closing ceremonies at the Los Angeles Coliseum, an old edition of the children's fantasy "Peter Pan,'' and a certificate of
membership to the iconic Peter Pan Woodland Club, a resort that predated Big Bear City in the San Bernardino Mountains and burned down in the 1940s.

The Glen-Donald Apartments were built in the 1920s and were once home to single women, doctors, lawyers, writers and actors.

Beck said police were committed to finding answers in the case.

"I think it's important to remember that justice -- even when delayed -- is still justice,'' he said. "These are human beings, these are people who deserve the efforts of the Los Angeles Police Department. I think that what we're doing is fulfilling the trust that people put in the police department,
that even when you have no one to speak for you, we will speak for you.''

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