A complex and sensitive story next, that links back to Blantyre.
On 17th August 2010, a grisly discovery was made in the basement of a house in California, USA when new house owners found the mummified bodies of two infant children! The two children were found inside 2 doctors bags, each with the initials “JMB” and wrapped in newspapers from the 1930’s. With them were letters and cards addressed to a J. M Barrie as well as ‘Peter Pan‘ paraphernalia and a copy of the famous book itself.
The babies were found in the basement of the four-storey Glen-Donald building which used to house actors, doctors and lawyers in the Twenties and Thirties. Detectives immediately realised that JM Barrie wrote ‘Peter Pan’ but had died in 1937, prompting suggestions of exhuming his grave at Kirriemuir, Angus, Scotland for DNA testing. However, this was never needed.
However, within days of the discovery, police revealed they were also interested in a woman called Janet M Barrie after clues emerged she may have owned the trunk. A Scottish-born private nurse by the same name had lived in the Glen-Donald building in the past and it was understood items within the luggage suggested a “strong link” to her, rather than the famous author. Detectives were convinced they were looking for a nurse or other medical professional after discovering a bundle of blank hospital test forms inside a nearby trunk.
Forensic analysis showed that Murder was ruled out as a cause of death. However, there was still the mystery of their death. Infants might have been aborted – illegal in California until the Sixties – or even kept for medical research? A few days later Coroners said there was no signs of trauma or that they were aborted. One had apparently reached full term while the other was much smaller and could have been a foetus or born prematurely.
After examining immigration forms in the trunk and checking census forms, investigators tracked down Miss Barrie’s nieces and nephews in Canada. Some agreed to submit DNA samples to see if they were related to the babies. Los Angeles authorities now concluded that the two infants belonged to nurse Janet M. Barrie. But the identity of the children’s father and why their bodies were kept for decades in a steamer trunk remain as mysteries.
The Blantyre Connection
So now we come to the Blantyre part of this sensitive mystery.
Janet M Barrie was born on 15th January 1897 in Blantyre A coal miner’s daughter, she was one of 13 brothers and sisters. In 1911, when she was 14, the family immigrated to Diamond City, Alberta after her father saw an advertisement that said in Canada the streets were paved in gold. They were poor but had big dreams. Despite her family’s misgivings, she moved to Winnipeg and went to nursing school.
Becoming qualified, she moved to America in the 1920’s.
The building where the trunk was found was the home of a dentist, George Knapp. Miss Barrie worked for him in the 1930’s, caring for his sick wife, Mary. When she died of breast cancer in 1964, Miss Barrie married Mr Knapp and stayed with him until his death four years later before moving to Vancouver in 1985.
She was an independent woman, especially for her time. She drove a boxy Dodge roadster, used to frequent the horse races, and belonged to the Ebell Club, a progressive women’s social group.
Among the theories being examined by police is that Miss Barrie had children with Mr Knapp but that they did not survive or were aborted. Another possibility, said officers, is that they were babies she helped deliver in the apartment building who later died. It was possible that Barrie had the children with another man. The social stigma of having a child out of wedlock was different than it is today. Maybe she just couldn’t let go of the children. Maybe there was an attachment.
Janet died in the mid 1990’s and had no family connection to the Peter Pan Author. We may never know the answer to this Blantyre lady’s mystery. They were her babies, we know that…..but the information surrounding them, she has likely taken to her grave.
Featuring Blantyre Project Social Media with permission. Strictly not for use by others on or offline, our visitors said:
Jacqueline Cherrie Hunter Great story , interesting reading
Tracy Stirling Great story
Anthony Smith Scots are certainly all over the world
Moira Macfarlane What a fantastic story, Blantyre never ceases to amaze me, there’s always something you never knew, thankyou Paul for another piece of history,,
Nichola Rodwell I loved reading this
Mary Wishart So interesting but also very sad
Joy McLennan Her eyes, later in life…..tell a story….As a young woman from a trying background, she , indeed, was a brilliant girl, who fell into despair….imo
Marian Maguire Such an intriguing story and a sad one
Donna Mae Brown Skutt Very interesting! I agree with the comment about writing a mystery based on these facts. Your first novel?
Claire Conner I know it says they ruled out foul play but if the babies were still born would there not have been a midwife who would have taken them away? Or maybe born in secret cause the mother did not want them to be taken away? Do we know if she lost other babies at birth that were taken away? If that’s the case then poor woman! Heart breaking story.
Yvonne Holmes Very interesting very sad but fantastic story