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Janet M. Barrie

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Janet M. Barrie
Janet M. Barrie

Janet Mann Barrie was a woman who lived in Los Angeles in the 1930s, whose steamer trunk from that time period was discovered in 2010, containing the remains of a late-term fetus and an infant. Although she was born in Scotland, and owned a copy of Peter and Wendy, no relationship to J. M. Barrie is known.



On August 17, 2010 a steamer truck bearing the initials JMB was discovered during renovations in the basement of the Glen-Donald apartment building, located in the MacArthur Park area of the Westlake neighborhood of Los Angeles. Inside were two mummified human remains, the less mature one wrapped in a paper from 1932, the more mature one in a paper from 1934 or 1935 (reports conflict). It was not immediately clear how they died, but there were no signs of trauma. The younger one appeared premature for birth, likely either a miscarriage or stillborn, perhaps a risky late-term abortion. The other appeared to be a newborn girl with dark hair.

Although the initial headlines – mentioning "JMB", "Peter Pan", and "dead babies" – set many imaginations running, there is no direct connection between this incident and J. M. Barrie himself, who was in advanced age at the time, apparently never even visited California, and died in 1937. There was never any serious speculation that it was his trunk.

The police tracked down Janet's niece Marlene Brown of Alberta, Canada, and compared her DNA with that of the two bodies, and concluded that both of them were Janet's children. They were unable to track down relatives of George Knapp, Janet's husband (and possibly lover before that), making him the suspected father.


According to immigration records, Janet Barrie was born in Blantyre, Lanarkshire, Scotland in 1897, and in the 1920s immigrated to the US via Canada, living in both Chicago and Los Angeles. A 1929 city directory has her at an address in the same neighborhood as the Glen-Donald, under the name "Jean", which she evidently used as a nickname (not unlike James' sister Jean Ann, who was called "Jane"). Records for the 1930 census show "Jean" living at that same address. Voter registration records identified "Janet M. Barrie" as living in the Glen-Donald apartments as early as 1948.

A private nurse, she provided in-home care for Mary Downs Knapp, the wife of LA dentist George Knapp. When Mrs. Knapp died in 1964 of breast cancer, Janet married George, who died four years later. She moved to Vancouver in 1985, where she lived until 1995, during surgery for a hernia. She was buried back in Los Angeles, alongside George and Mary Knapp.

Her nephew John Holmes described her in 2010 as "an independent woman, especially for her time." She drove a Dodge roadster, went to the horse races, and was a member of the Ebell Club, a progressive women's social group.

Steamer Trunk

the trunk in which the remains were found
the trunk in which the remains were found

When re-opened after decades in storage, her trunk contained a copy of the book Peter and Wendy and a membership card for the Peter Pan Woodland Club (a somewhat posh resort in Big Bear City, California, since burned down); both of these suggested that the trunk's owner was more closely connected to the famous author than just a shared nationality and surname (and possibly relatives in Scotland), but apparently not.

Other items found in the trunk include a ticket stub to the closing ceremonies of the 1932 Olympics in LA, postcards from places such as Korea and South America, postcards from a brother Thomas in San Francisco, photos of Janet on vacation and in a wedding dress, a fox-fur wrap, a flapper dress, a typing manual with the name "Jean M. Barrie" written on it, a beaded purse, a pearl necklace, an iron with a thick electrical cord, a girdle, and a cigar box featuring depictions of saints.

Other candidates

Blank medical forms found in the trunk initially pointed to a Jean M. Barrie who was believed to have been born in 1916 in San Francisco, and who worked as a nurse in the area. The brother in San Francisco supported this hypothesis. The 94-unit apartment building was home to a large number of single women in the 1930s, including professionals such as nurses.

business advertisement of one Jean M. Barrie
business advertisement of one Jean M. Barrie

There was also a Jean M. Barrie who lived in the Midwest and East Coast, and was said to be "a close relative" of James M. Barrie. (James had no children of his own, and his siblings had no daughters by that name, so the closest this woman could have been is a cousin or great-niece. She was a generation younger than he.) She was a "reader of plays and miscellaneous programs", according to promotional materials published in 1918. Although she had no known ties to LA, the Peter-Pan-related items in the trunk suggested that she might have been the "Jean Barrie" in question.

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