Police release new details on mummified infants found in MacArthur Park

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Frank Stoltze/KPCC

Janet M. Barrie, pictured here in 1928 or 1929, the focus of a police investigation into the discovery of the mummified remains of two infants in a trunk in the basement of a MacArthur Park apartment complex. The purse and fox stole she is wearing in the photo were found in the trunk. Barrie died in 1988.

Los Angeles police Thursday said they’re learning more about two mummified infants discovered in a trunk in a MacArthur Park basement last month. Police believe the remains are from the 1930s.

At LAPD headquarters, Detective Fabian Lizarraga stands next to a blown up photo of a pretty woman in her 20s. She is posing alongside a 1928 Dodge roadster, dressed in a stylish hat and a fur stole.

“We believe it was 1928 or 1929 the picture was taken," he said.

Police have identified the woman as Janet M. Barrie. The purse that she is holding and the fox boa that’s around her shoulders were found in a trunk that contained the mummified remains of a new born and a fetus wrapped in 1930s-era newspapers. The trunk was found in the basement of a MacArthur Park apartment complex last month.

Lizarraga said police are confident that Barrie owned the trunk. It was marked with her initials. It contained letters addressed to her.

The veteran detective said police have learned from immigration and other records that Barrie emigrated to the United States from Scotland sometime in the mid-1920s.

In 1941, George Guy Knapp hired her as a homecare nurse to take care of his wife. Police say they don't know much about Knapp, other than that he was a dentist in Los Angeles married to Mary Downs Knapp.

They lived in the same apartment complex where the trunk was found. Police reportedly found the infants’ remains inside a doctor’s satchels in the trunk.

Knapp and Barrie apparently fell in love. “In 1964, after Mrs. Knapp’s death, Miss Barrie and Dr. Knapp were married," Lizarraga said.

Mr. Knapp died in 1968, and Barrie left Los Angeles in the mid-1980s. Barrie died in 1988.

Investigators are comparing the infants’ DNA to determine whether they're related to each other.

Police are in contact with Barrie’s nieces in Canada, with requests out for their DNA to try and answer one of the most burning questions in a case that’s attracted international attention: was Barrie the mother?

"Where did these fetuses come from and who did they belong to?" Coroner’s Office Assistant Chief Ed Winter said.

There's also the question of how the infants died. "There were no visible signs of trauma," Winter said. And there also was no sign the infants had been aborted.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck cautioned against jumping to conclusions about the way they died. “I think you have to listen carefully to what the coroner says. It’s an undetermined death. So the investigation continues.”

Beck responded to reporters' questions about the LAPD's expending resources on a case that's unlikely to end in an arrest. “Ya know, I think it’s important to remember that justice, even when it’s delayed, is still justice. These are human beings."

The chief conceded that it may take considerable effort to figure out the facts in a case in which everyone directly involved is probably dead.

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