VANCOUVER — DNA testing has solved one of the mysteries around the mummified remains of two babies found in a steamer trunk in the storage room of a Los Angeles apartment building, but the questions surrounding the Vancouver woman who gave birth to them will probably never be answered.
The L.A. County Coroner’s office has announced that DNA samples from a niece in Alberta confirmed that Janet Barrie, who died in Vancouver in 1994, was the mother of the children found in the trunk.
Police said the coroner was unable to determine the cause of death, and likely never will, but a police statement noted there were no obvious signs of trauma on the brother and sister. Toxicology reports were also inconclusive.
“One was a fetus, while the other appeared to be a full-term baby,” the Los Angeles Police Department said in a news release. “The entire story will probably never be known.”
Two women found the antique trunk while cleaning out a storage room in an L.A. apartment building in August, making the gruesome discovery when they broke open the lock. Inside, wrapped in the pages of the LA Times newspaper from the 1930s and tucked inside two physician’s bags, were the mummified remains of the babies.
The case made headlines and despite the decades gone by, police began a search for the mother.
Investigators found the trunk had belonged to Barrie, which led them north to Canada in a search of female relatives who might provide a DNA link. They found Barrie’s niece in Alberta and her nephew John Holmes in Metro Vancouver.
The LAPD said Barrie’s niece provided the sample that confirmed she was the mother.
Barrie, a Scottish immigrant, was a nurse in Los Angeles in the 1930s and later moved to Vancouver to join her family.
She died 16 years ago and her nephew, Holmes, said Tuesday the entire circumstances around the infants’ deaths will likely never be known.
“It’s a mystery to me, it will always remain a mystery,” he said in an interview from his Surrey, B.C., home.
Holmes, 67, didn’t know his aunt until he helped her and his mother move back from California in the 1970s.
“She was quite independent, she was a private nurse, she rode horses and always drove a Dodge,” he recalled.
Barrie, who was born in 1897, died without saying a word to him about ever having children, Holmes said. As far as he knew, she had never been a mother.
She was unmarried in the 1930s, when she was a private, live-in nurse for Mary Knapp, the wife of dentist George Knapp. After Mary died of breast cancer in 1964, Barrie married George Napp, who died four years later.
Holmes said it was only after Napp died and she came to Vancouver that he got to know her.
“It was another family secret, who knows what happened?” Holmes said, laughing as he recounted the story of an elderly uncle who died and left behind two unsuspecting wives.
– With files from the Associated Press