Who was the mummified child found wrapped in an 80-year-old newspaper?
It was a humid summer’s evening in 2007, and Bob Kinghorn, 37, was about to drill a hole in a ceiling joist at an empty house he was helping to renovate.
Suddenly, between the attic floorboards and the second-floor ceiling, he noticed a bundle he thought might be insulation.
But when he opened it, he got the shock of his life. It turned out to be a mummified baby wrapped in a comforter and a newspaper dated 12 September 1925.
‘You always hope to find something in walls – coins, antiques – but never a baby,’ he said later, as he stood in front of the home in Kintyre Avenue, Toronto, Canada.
The infant, which Bob said looked about the same size as his own 4-month-old child, was in a foetal position, and he could see its tiny toes sticking out.
‘It’s so sad. But it’s a good thing the baby can be put to rest,’ Bob said.
The local coroner’s office established the mummified baby was a boy, and was about 80 years old. That fitted with the date of the newspaper it’d been wrapped in.
The first examination found the infant had reached full term, and there was no sign of injuries or stab marks. It seemed likely he’d been born alive, but had died shortly afterwards.
The coroner didn’t see the need for a police investigation. Anyone connected to the baby would be long since dead.
But it still left the question, how did Baby Kintyre, as the infant became known, end up under the attic floorboards?
Was he the child of an unmarried mother? Had he been hidden to save a marriage, or was he put there by someone who couldn’t afford to raise – or bury – him?
The mystery deepens
The story made the headlines, and the public’s imagination ran wild over the mystery of how and why the baby got there.
Early research suggested he could have been the child of Delia and Wesley Russell, who owned the house from 1919 until 1941. Della eventually ended up a in a psychiatric hospital and they had no known children, but shared the house every so often with Charles, Delia’s brother.
At this point most reporters gave up the search for relatives, but a CBC investigative reporter called John Nicol managed to track down Rita Rich, then in her 90s.
Her mother had died in 1918, when Rita was 3, during the Spanish flu epidemic. That’s why she’d ended up living as a young girl with her father Charles, her aunt and uncle and a boarder called George Turner in the Kintyre house in the mid-1920s.
Rita didn’t think of any them could be responsible for the baby and was as mystified as anyone by where it had come from.
It seemed the infant was probably put in the floorboards around the time of Rita’s 10th birthday and had been hidden right under the brightly painted yellow and blue room where she’d slept.
Rita said she was sure Della couldn’t have been the mother. For one thing, Della was certain she could never become pregnant as a result of a childhood fall from a horse. If she had, she would have had no reason to hide the baby and Rita would certainly have noticed the signs of any pregnancy.
A glamorous divorcee
After trawling back through her memories, Rita thought it was most likely the baby had belonged to Della’s much younger sister, Alla Mae, a glamorous blonde who would have been in her early 30s in 1925.
Mae’s first, early marriage had ended in divorce. She lived in New York City, and when she was not doing embroidery for department stores, she enjoyed the nightlife and hung out with some of the well-known bandleaders of the time.
She also often visited her Toronto relatives, and Rita remembers on one visit Della telling Mae off for moving furniture because she was pregnant.
‘I don’t know how authentic that is,’ said Rita. ‘I would like to think it was so, then I would know she was the mother, but I don’t know, it was so vague.’
Whatever the truth, on 12 October 2007, eight decades after his death, Baby Kintyre was finally laid to rest in a tiny white coffin with a funeral service and burial at the Elgin Mills Cemetery.
The job of pallbearer was taken by Bob Kinghorn, who said he’d become very attached to Baby Kintyre.
‘I’m glad this is being done right,’ he said. ‘It really helps.’
Since then, the case has continued to fascinate people, and in 2009 it was even turned into a radio opera in six parts.
Poor Baby Kintyre may have never had a chance at life, but his story lives on.