Dead Babies In A Suitcase

It’s good to have mysteries. It reminds us that there’s more to the world than just making do and having a bit of fun.- Charles De Lint

Good morning Muse Trackers!

I’ve thought quite a bit about The Artists Way especially since our Link Of The Week brought you to a wonderful tool based on one of the exercises found in that book. The premise is that you are to write three pages (preferably handwritten) every morning. The tool that I found creates a platform for you to do it electronically and store your pages to be retrieved when you need them. I was excited that many of you chose to comment and share your own spin on Morning Pages. Based on that, I thought you might like a spark. Give it a try, who knows what might happen


Today I would like to share a story with you. It’s so intriguing and has the bones of a fantastic novel, but it’s real life. Someone once told me that you just can’t make this s*** up- and I believe they’re right. This proves the old saying that truth is stranger than fiction.

Two women made a shocking discovery when they began to clean out their apartment building’s basement. It was full of items left from tenants long gone and forgotten. As they made their way through the piles of stuff, they came across three suitcases obviously left there for decades. The women brushed away years of dust and mildew and flipped the latch on the top two cases. They were empty. Disappointed, they went for the last case on the bottom. No one could have prepared them for what they would find hiding inside the leather luggage.

Stacks of books were neatly set on the left side and on the right side were two doctor’s satchels tightly wedged into the small space. You can imagine their excitement when the books proved to be copies from the 1920s and 30s. Surely, they had found a time capsule from a long ago era. The ladies carefully pulled out both satchels and opened them up. They seemed to be stuffed with newspaper also from that time period. They each took a bundle from the bags and unrolled the ball of paper. One discovered a mummified infant and the other unrolled a fetus about 20 weeks along.

Investigators determined the luggage belonged to Janet M. Barrie who had emigrated to the U.S. from Scotland in the 1920s. She was the home nurse for a Los Angeles dentist and died in 1992. Her belongings had been packed up and stored in the basement- apparently forgotten until these two decided they wanted to clean things up. The cause of death for the babies has not been determined. (I don’t know if the cause of death has ever been determined or not.)

The rest of her belongings did give a slight picture of the women who harbored this grisly secret for so many years. Janet Barrie appeared to have an interest in J.M. Barrie who wrote Peter Pan. There was a copy of the book as well as a membership certificate for the Peter Pan Woodland Club, an upscale resort. They surmise it’s because he was also from Scotland and carried the same initials. They also found postcards from exotic places like Korea and South America sent to Janet bundled together in the case. The mystery deepened when they pulled up a ticket stub from the closing ceremonies of the 1932 Olympics at the L.A. Coliseum

At the time when this article was written, the authorities had tracked down some of Janet Barrie’s relatives living in Canada and were DNA testing the remains of the babies.


If this doesn’t get the writer juices going, I don’t know what would! Why did she keep those bodies all those years? Who are those post cards from? Did she meet someone at the Olympics? Is there more of a connection to the author Barrie? Was she a killer? Did she hide them for the dentist? Are they her babies? Why didn’t any of her relatives claim her belongings? Why? Why? Why?


What is your take on this story? Who is Janet Barrie?


Keep on writing!

18 Responses to Dead Babies In A Suitcase

  1. Wow. I can’t imagine coming across something like that and walking away without scars! Definitely has my morbid imagination turning!


  2. There are so many possibilities! I know there’s a novel here waiting to happen…maybe even a Lifetime movie!! Ha!


  3. girldrinkdrunk says:

    Janet Barrie read too much Oscar Wilde.

    And yes, I realize that was in really poor taste. 🙂


  4. Ha! We love things in poor taste. 🙂
    Thanks for stopping by today.


  5. jeff7salter says:

    Grisly headline for the column today … but a fascinating story!
    I love this kind of mystery. Are you going to develop it into a novel?


  6. I don’t know- it has sooooo many possibilities! I’m still working on my second novel and there will be a third in the series so it wouldn’t be for a long time. Throw out what you think happened! I want to see how many turns people take this scenario through.


  7. Ruth says:

    Stacey, Stacey why do you do this to me. I’m already working on a new project that was spurred by a call out to writers by Avon about a house people couldn’t stay in, now you throw this at me.- You know I can’t bypass working on something like this. I’ll keep you updated, maybe i can work it into the new project House of Souls.


  8. Oh come on Ruth- throw a couple of ideas out here! I do KNOW how you love stories like this. Of course, now you’ve intrigued me…I’m off to find out more about this House of Souls thing!!


  9. First let me say, ewww and then wow. Now I’m off to catch up with all the ideas floating around in my head. Thanks, Stacey!! LOL


  10. Hi Melissa! Glad I gave you your daily ewwww factor! Hope it sparked some great ideas for you.


  11. Ruth says:

    Okay Stacey, here’s your rough draft of an idea. Wrote this while eating lunch. And The House of Souls is the title of my WIP, in which I might just work this into.

    Janet carefully wrapped the tiny bodies, they were dead, soulless. She’d had to do it, she couldn’t let them survive, but the guilt was already settling in, rolling in stomach and rising up. Why did they choose her? But she didn’t need the question answered, it wasn’t so much that she was chosen, but that this task had been the sole reason for her existence. Always a balance, there is always a balance, light and dark, good and evil. The balance is never waving, so they both had to die, the good and the bad. She could bury them, no, someone might see her. What was she going to do? The satchels, yes they were the answer. If she carefully wrapped them, put books inside with them and a cross and a bible, she could keep them there until she could find a way to bury them. Maybe out in a nice green field, by a stream. No, not a stream, there could be a flood and then the bodies would be discovered. The satchels, she would put them in the satchels and shove them deep into the attic closet.


  12. OOOOOOOOH love this! Are you putting a paranormal spin on the story? Sounds oh so dark and delicious!! You’re the first that paints Janet in this light– keep me posted what comes of these ideas.


  13. jbrayweber says:

    I remember reading this in the paper not too long ago. A mystery, for sure. But somehow, when I read the article, I didn’t get the feeling Janet Barrie was a malicious person, or someone with ulterior motives. I felt she was someone who had met with some unfortunate, heartbreaking misfortune.

    I never did hear what the DNA conclusion was. Hmm…

    As for the fictional side of me, I’d weave a story of a tragic love affair, swept up in the glamor of high society, famous authors, and the exciting fan fair of the Olympics.


  14. It seems you’re not the only one who thought of Janet as a sympathetic character. What was the heartbreaking misfortune? So many questions…..


  15. Holy toledo! Have to kick this one around for a bit. Too *many* possibilities, some of them would get my lynched!


  16. Oh come come- this is no where near too much for the great William Simon (aka Will Graham)!! Give us your best shot as to what happened way back then. Did her lover say goodbye to her forever at that Olympic game? Was she providing an alibi for the dentist who performed abortions on the side? Why were these babies worth keeping?


  17. Thank you for your post, Stacey.

    I’ll go into my Jessica Fletcher act and try to solve this mystery. The babies—or properly, one baby and one fetus—must have been Janet’s. Why else would she keep them?

    There’s no mention here about the age of the baby, so I’ll assume it was a newborn. Quite possibly it was stillborn, or died soon after birth.

    As for the fetus, there are only two possible explanations. She miscarried or she had an abortion.

    A side note: Of course, abortion was illegal during the time frame we’re talking about. But it happened.

    Janet lived in Los Angeles. I know a bit about the movie industry during the Golden Age of Hollywood, and true-crime cases of that place and era. Abortion was a flourishing business.

    When a high-profile woman such as a movie queen had an abortion, it was customarily reported that she’d gone to the hospital for an appendectomy, or some such routine procedure. One famous actress had an appendectomy three times.

    Well, back to main subject. Both the baby and the fetus were conceived out of wedlock. Was the sex consensual or otherwise?

    Scientifically there’s no way to tell. But my gut says it was the former. I can’t imagine Janet or anyone keeping the remains of an infant or fetus conceived as a result of rape.

    So here’s my scenario: Janet was in love with someone. They had an affair. And this being real life rather than a romance novel, it didn’t end happily ever after.

    She got pregnant twice. Janet had to protect her reputation. She couldn’t just dump the baby and the fetus in the trash. They meant a lot to her because their father meant a lot to her.

    So she allowed the remains to dry out, then hid them in a satchel in her basement. They would always be with her. Unlike the man who had fathered them.

    BTW, a DNA test to determine who the mother is can also determine who the father is. Assuming, of course, an investigation into Janet’s life during the relevant period comes up with the names of one or more men who might have been her lover.

    If they have living blood relatives who can be tracked down and persuaded to give DNA samples, both halves of the mystery can be solved. Maybe; as in any investigation, a lot can go wrong.


  18. What a great response!!! I was hoping for a simple description of what might have happened– you gave me research, motivation and “who dun it”! Don’t you think this has the ear-markings of a great book? From your point of view, it’s such a tragedy for the babies and the mother. My heart grieves for the three of them in your poignant set up. Thanks!!


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