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Mutilated Baby Found in Creek

Indian Ridge colliery, between Lloyd and Centre streets, Shenandoah.

Disclaimer: This blog was created to share some of the more shocking and unusual stories from Pennsylvania's past, and even though we enjoy chilling tales of murder and gruesome stories about accidents and disasters, there are some stories that make even our skins crawl.  The following is one of them.  If you have an aversion toward graphic violence- especially violence which involves innocent children- you may wish to skip this blog post.

In the spring of 1897, a chilling discovery was made by the citizens of Shenandoah.  Inside a shoebox that had been tossed into Shenandoah Creek in the dark of night were found the remains of a mutilated newborn baby.  Witnesses claim that the box had been thrown into the creek near the Indian Ridge colliery by a woman in a black bonnet, who then fled into the night.  Her identity has never been discovered, and the remains of the victim somehow managed to disappear, thus making the incident one of the most disturbing unsolved murders in the history of Schuylkill County.

1883 map showing the collieries of Shenandoah

Here is the version of the story as reported by the Shenandoah Evening Herald, on April 24, 1897:

No little excitement was occasioned in town to-day by a report that a mutilated remains of an infant child had been found in the creek near the Indian Ridge colliery.  Mutilation being coupled with the find led to many expressions of indignation and condemnation.

Dr. C.S. Phillips was the first to be informed of the discovery and he notified Health Officer Conry.  This handling of the information tended to increase the interest which had been aroused and for several hours additional information concerning the matter was eagerly sought.  Later developments gave the report the complexion of a hoax, but there were some very unpleasant facts in connection with it.

This morning Detective Amour and a reporter went to the place at which the discovery was alleged to have been made and could see no remains of a child, or any trace of the paste board shoe box in which the body was alleged to have rested.  When the detective and newspaper man were about to leave the place satisfied that the report was a hoax, they met two well known residents of the locality who vouched for the truth of the story.

One of them stated that shortly after ten o'clock last night he observed a woman walking along the creek suddenly throw a package into the water and then walk hurriedly away.  The suspicions of the informant were aroused by the woman's actions and the part of the creek where the package had been thrown was visited by several men who had been told of the occurrence. With the aid of a miner's lamp the package was inspected and all who gazed upon it that the contents of the paste board shoe box they found were the remains of an apparently new born child which had been terribly mutilated.  None in the party would touch the ghastly find and it was decided to leave it in its resting place until this morning, when the authorities would be notified.

This morning the only trace left was a piece of red twine with which the box had been tied.  What became of the rest of the find no one is able to tell.  Some believe a flush in the water carried it down the creek, while others think the party who threw the unsightly package into the creek returned later and removed it to a more secluded place.

The informant is positive in his recital and says the woman he saw was about 5 feet one 1 inch high, weighs between 150 and 160 pounds, and wore a black sun bonnet and a light wrapper.  She hurried away in a northwesterly direction, towards the Lehigh Valley railroad.  When asked why he didn't try to intercept the woman when his suspicions were aroused, he replied that she was too quick for him, and it was not until after the package had been inspected that he fully realized the conditions.

It is not likely that there will be any more developments in connection with the matter, as the basis of operations would be the possession of the remains, and they appear to have passed into complete oblivion.  The people of the First ward continue much exercised over the matter, however.

(view the original newspaper article here)

Oddly, a similar discovery was made earlier, almost four years to the day, when a baby boy was found dead in an outhouse.  This happened on April 6, 1893.  Most remarkable of all is that fact that this discovery was made on Lloyd Street, not far from the place where the mutilated baby was thrown into Shenandoah Creek in April of 1897.  Since there are several similarities in both stories, it may be possible that the same woman was guilty of both murders.  Since this heinous individual was never identified, we can only hope that fate held her accountable for her crimes, and that some form of cosmic justice had been served.

Here is an account of the other incident, as printed by the Shenandoah Evening Herald on April 7, 1893:

Yesterday afternoon a ghastly discovery was made in an outhouse on one of the West Lloyd Street properties owned by Joseph Rynkawicz.  The discovery was made by Mr. Rynkawicz.  He saw the body of a child floating face down on the surface of the cess pool.  The matter was promptly reported to Deputy Coroner Manley and an investigation was made at once.  

When the body was taken from the cess pool it was it was found to be that of a large, healthy boy.  Coroner Marshal, of Ashland, was sent for but he failed to respond.

Last night Dr. Stein held a post mortem upon request of Deputy Coroner Manley with the following result:  The child was a male, largely developed, and was born at term.  There were no external signs of violence and the autopsy showed the heart, lungs, liver, and other internal organs to be in a healthy condition.  It also revealed the fact that the child lived after being born and the child was evidently put in the outhouse shortly after birth.  Everything pointed to bungling work in bringing about the birth.

The following jury has been empaneled: John Scanlan, M.J.Scanlan, F.J. Brennan, P.J. Cleary, Joseph Manley, and  P.J. Mulholland.  The authorities were engaged in working up the case last night and to-day and an inquest will be held this evening.  

Thus far there seems to be no clue to the guilty party.  The Deputy Coroner took charge of the remains last night.

(view original article here)

It boggles the mind that the murderer of these two newborn children has never been identified.  Surely the police must've conducted an investigation but, unfortunately, the Shenandoah newspaper doesn't appear to have followed up either story.

I believe that these two murders had to have been committed by the same person, who was in all likelihood the mother.  There seems to be a definite pattern in both murders.  In both cases, the child was discarded almost immediately after being born, and both incidents took place in the same part of town.  In the first case, the child was killed without any evidence of injury.  In the second case, the child had been mutilated.  This almost seems to indicate that the first murder was enacted out of impulse, while the second was premeditated.  Also keep in mind that the second child was much smaller than the first.  This could mean that the mother, emboldened by the fact that she got away with it the first time, had already made up her mind to murder the second child before the child was even born.  There almost appears to be an evolution of sorts.  The first case represents an "amateur" murderer, while the second represents a "professional"- someone with experience who had murdered before.

One clue is that fact that, on the morning of April 24, all that remained was the red twine which had been tied around the shoe box.  This rules out the theory that the remains had been swept away by a surge of water.  How could the current be strong enough to sweep away a heavy box but not a lightweight piece of string?  When the locals put down the box, leaving it in its place until morning, surely they must've secured the box with the same piece of twine.  This suggests that the mother returned, opened the box to make sure the "evidence" was still inside, and scurried away with the box while leaving the red twine behind.

Who would murder two newborn children?  Probably a woman who was incapable of caring for them; a woman who didn't want either the responsibility or the financial burden.  This suggests a woman of low social standing, most likely unmarried, who lived in poverty.  A barmaid, a prostitute, and certainly not a Christian woman.  According to the eyewitness, she was short (5'1") and somewhat plump (150-160 pounds).

Shenandoah had a population of around 15,000 at the time.  There couldn't have been more than a few shoe stores in town, and of these, how many do you suppose tied their boxes with red twine?  Surely the store owner must have remembered selling shoes to a pregnant woman, or a woman who was short and fat and who fit the low-class profile. A woman who was rarely seen at church on Sundays.  In a town so small, surely there couldn't have been more than a handful of women who were pregnant at the same time.  Did the police ask around and then make a list of women who appeared to be pregnant during the previous months?  Did they match any of these women with the description given by the witness, or check to see which of these women owned a black sun bonnet?  Which of these women may have rented property on Lloyd Street?  Or rented property from Joseph Rynkawicz?

Who knows. 


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