She was a teen rebel who liked to cause outrage. But her bad girl ways soon caught up with her in the most shocking of ways...
Back in 1954 Carolyn Wasilewski was blonde, beautiful, and a total badass! A member of the ‘Drapes’ gang, she loved nothing more than hanging out with rockabilly bad boys, wearing scandalous fashions, and generally outraging the citizens of Baltimore, Maryland, USA.
Don’t think she looks that shocking? Well look at her picture again. How old do you think she is – late 20s maybe…early 30s at a push? Think again. Carolyn was just 14-years-old when that picture was taken, and in a matter of weeks she’d be found half naked, brutally murdered, and with a cryptic message written on her thigh.
The question is, just who killed this rockabilly rebel?
Carolyn Loretta Wasilewski was born on 12 June 1940, in Baltimore, Maryland, in America’s north east. The eldest of seven children, by the time Carolyn was 14 she had a reputation, and was known to run with an edgy gang called the ‘Drapes’. Known in those days as ‘juvenile delinquents’, teen gangs like the Drapes were known to commit petty crime such as stealing cars, or holding hot rod races like the one seen in the film Grease. Not the kind of thing a respectable teenage girl should be involved in. But Carolyn was feisty, knew her own mind, and she was looking for excitement. Who cared what anyone thought, after all, they were just squares!
At 6.15pm on 8 November 1954, Carolyn told her family she was going to meet a girlfriend, 16-year-old Peggy Lamana, to register for a course of dance lessons at the nearby elementary school.
Strange. In her tight pink top, black skirt with pink and blue arrows, and a black denim jacket, Carolyn looked a bit dressy for a Monday night trip to school. As for her bleached blonde hair, that was in curlers and covered in a bright green scarf. And there was a chic black scarf tied jauntily around her neck. So what was with the curlers? Back in those days, getting your hair set suggested a night out was on the cards. Where on earth could she be going?
Not to Peggy’s house that’s for sure. She failed to turn up at Peggy’s trailer park home in nearby Washington Boulevard, and she didn’t show at school to register for the dance lessons either. After leaving her home on Mardel Avenue, Carolyn had simply vanished.
When Carolyn didn’t return home that evening her parents were worried. Yes, Carolyn ran with a fast crowd, but it wasn’t like her to stay out so late on a school night. Worried, the Wasilewski’s scoured the streets looking for their daughter, but they couldn’t find her anywhere.
A dirty stop-out or something more sinister?
At 7am the next morning, while Carolyn’s parents were frantically waiting for news, an engineer on an express train bound from Harrisburg to Baltimore spotted something odd on the tracks near the Belvedere Bridge. Something that looked suspiciously like a body. Tragically, it was the partially naked body of Carolyn. Her shoes and skirt were missing, and written on her right thigh in lipstick was a name – Paul.
The murder became massive news locally. Journalist Bill Stump was actually a passenger on the train that had to stop after Carolyn’s body was spotted on the tracks.
‘The train slowed down, and no one knew what the hell was going on,’ he told The Sunday Sun Magazine, back in 1954. ‘We were diverted to another track and as we passed we saw people milling around and Wasilewski’s body covered by canvas.’
A post mortem was carried out, and revealed the cause of death as a skull fracture. Yet despite the missing skirt and mysterious lipstick message, there was ‘no evidence of violent sexual attack,’ according to the medical examiner. He placed the time of death at 11pm – just half an hour after the last train had passed under the Belvedere Bridge.
Evidence suggested however, Carolyn hadn’t been murdered by the train track, but had been killed somewhere else, then thrown from bridge, or dragged down the bank onto the tracks.
It didn’t take long for the police to identify the murder site. Several of Carolyn’s personal items were found in a parking lot near her home – eight miles away from the Belvedere Bridge. They were heavily bloodstained.
Over the next months, scores of people were brought in for questioning, including several of Carolyn’s ‘Drape’ friends.
Later that week, a 45-year-old man called Ralph Garrett, who lived near the murder scene and was said to have been seen talking to Carolyn, was found hanging at a rail yard, right opposite the parking lot where the murder had taken place. The police weren’t convinced, ruling Garrett’s death was simply a coincidental suicide.
A few days later, as the body of Carolyn Wasilewski lay in the Charlse W. Kachauskas Funeral Home, crowds of curious rubber-neckers lined up to gawp. It was sickening, but the case had been all over the local papers, and the police still had no leads. People were keen to see this ‘Drape’ girl who looked 30, but was only 14.
A community shocked
The local paper reported, ‘The burial dress of the blonde high school student was a flowing blue negligee, which completely covered evidence of the brutal treatment which resulted in her death. A simple carnation corsage rested on her left shoulder over a sheer lace jacket, and a cameo pendant hung at her neck, in her hands a shiny rosary reflected the gentle gleam of flickering candles.’
Her funeral was equally popular, with Carolyn interred close to the grave of her grandfather.
‘Although Carolyn had gained a reputation for living beyond her tender years,’ the local paper reported after her funeral. ‘The last rites were those for a little girl.’
A little girl who, to this day, police don’t know who killed her.
But interest in the case has never waned. Cult film director and Baltimore native, John Waters – famous for his film Hairspray starring the late drag queen Divine – was just 8-years-old when Carolyn went missing. The case had huge impact on the young boy.
Waters became obsessed with the Drape subculture, and grew up fascinated by the outsiders he saw around him in Baltimore. And he never forgot Carolyn. In 1990, Waters released his film Cry Baby, starring Johnny Depp as the leader of a delinquent gang also called the Drapes. Though the film is a comedy musical, Waters is on record as saying the Carolyn Wasilewski case was one of the inspirations behind it.
Though more than 60 years have passed since Carolyn’s tragic murder, the case still remains open. And on the anniversary of her death each year, interest is sparked once again. It’s unlikely we’ll ever know who the mysterious ‘Paul’ was, or who took this rebellious little girl’s life so violently. But clearly Carolyn’s legend lived on longer than the mere 14 years she was alive.