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Mystery of mummified baby solved

Businesswoman's daughter: Toronto detective determines girl died in 1985

National Post, by Siri Agrell, Friday, June 27, 2003

The diaper helped police determine when the baby died.: (Photo ran in all editions except Toronto.)

TORONTO - A mummified baby girl found in a storage locker in an upscale Toronto condominium was hidden by her mother in 1985, police concluded yesterday.

The child was found 10 days after Joanne Patterson died of cancer on June 6, 2001.

For two years, deputy chief coroner Jim Cairns and Detective Mike Stoker have worked to unravel the mystery surrounding the baby's identity and the events leading up to her discovery, wrapped in blankets and a green garbage bag and hidden among boxes of Christmas tree decorations and old suitcases.

"It all started with just being curious," Det. Stoker said, adding the baby had been stored in several places as Ms. Patterson moved over the years.

The tiny body, weighing only about half a kilogram, was found in a fifth-floor storage locker of the waterfront building where Ms. Patterson lived before her death.

The child was mummified -- the process whereby dehydration under hot, dry conditions causes vital organs to shrink, leaving only the skull and skeleton unaltered.

Police photographs show the baby lying on her left side, curled in the fetal position. An arrow-shaped fontanelle is visible on the top of her head where the bones had not yet grown together. Her hand is held to her face, as if she were sucking her thumb.

At first, detectives couldn't tell whether the baby was a girl or boy, and an autopsy failed to determine the cause or year of her death.

A number of tests were conducted by the Ontario Centre for Forensic Sciences, but Det. Stoker soon decided the technology needed to solve the mystery was not available in Canada.

He turned to the Internet and tracked down Dr. Arpad Vass, a forensic expert known for his involvement with the infamous "body farm" -- a Tennessee facility dedicated to the study of human decomposition.

But Dr. Vass could only determine, through chemicals leached from the baby's body into the small white T-shirt she was wearing, that she had mummified in about 69 days.

In a report sent to Toronto police in January, 2002, he hypothesized that the baby had been dead for less than one year.

But Det. Stoker was not convinced.

Ms. Patterson had been ill with bladder cancer for many years, and her physicians assured him a pregnancy during that period would not have been missed.

So Det. Stoker concentrated on the only other piece of evidence he had -- a disposable Huggies diaper.

He called a representative of manufacturer Kimberly-Clark, who asked whether the product had "landing pads," the slick patches that stop adhesive strips from tearing the diaper.

It did not, an answer that provided a key piece of information -- the brand had not been manufactured since 1984.

Armed with a tentative timeframe, police interviewed Ms. Patterson's family, who had not been aware of her pregnancy but did remember a boyfriend whom she had seen on and off for several years during the early 1980s.

The Canadian man was tracked down in England, where he now lives, and returned to Toronto last Christmas to deliver presents to his family and a DNA sample to police.

Just a few weeks ago, the results determined he had fathered the mysterious infant. He hadn't slept with Ms. Patterson since 1985.

"He was flabbergasted when he found out," Det. Stoker said.

While the mystery surrounding the child's parentage and the length it was entombed have been solved, the reasoning behind Ms. Patterson's actions remain unknown.

Before her death, she was a respected businesswoman and president of Credit Security Insurance Brokers.

Her friends and family are reportedly aghast that she kept her pregnancy secret and hid the child after her demise, believed to have been a case of crib death.

Making the case even more bizarre is the identity of the person who discovered the mummified child, an individual originally reported only as "a family member."

The person was actually Ms. Patterson's other daughter, 13 at the time, who stumbled on the remains of her sister about whom she had never been told.

Police had a hard time identifying the girl, who is now 15 years old and living with relatives because, officially, she did not exist.

"She wasn't legally a person in the province of Ontario," Det. Stoker said. "She was born at home, and had never been schooled, never gone to the doctor or dentist."

It's unknown why a woman so successful publicly would keep her private life, and the lives of her children, shrouded in such secrecy.

"It's really quite mystifying," Dr. Cairns said. "All we can gather is that she was an incredibly private person."

Ms. Patterson's family members, who do not wish to be identified, have made arrangements for the baby girl to be buried.

Both Dr. Cairns and Det. Stoker still have many questions they would like answered, starting with why an apparently rational woman would go to such lengths to hide the birth, and death, of her first child.

"But we'll never know," said Dr. Cairns. "The reason has gone with her to the grave."

Edmonton Journal logo

Revisiting Canada's infanticide law

The Edmonton Journal
November 12, 2006

A safeguard for women? An insult to women? Canada's infanticide law, like the crime itself, ignites strong emotions on both sides. Just how did the legislation evolve and why do some legal experts want it scrapped?

"You heartless bastards!"

The words rang out in a Wetaskiwin courtroom, Ryan Effert's verbal attack on the eight-woman, four-man jury that had just found his 20-year-old sister, Katrina, guilty of murdering her newborn baby.

Ryan Effert was the first to lash out at the jury, but his angry words have been echoed by many others. Defence lawyers, legal experts, pundits and members of the public have all expressed upset and bewilderment at the decision on Sept. 26.  Read More ..

Calgary Sun

Infanticide law must die

The Calgary Sun
September 25, 2010

For six decades, women who have killed their babies have typically benefited from reduced sentences under our infanticide law because of the belief their minds were disturbed from giving birth.

University of Alberta law professor Sanjeev Anand wonders why only mothers who kill their infants get a break.

Fathers and adoptive parents should have a shot at judicial compassion as well, he argues in a provocative article in the Alberta Law Review.

There is little evidence of a direct connection between the physical effects of childbirth or lactation and the onset of mental disturbances in women, he declares.

Rather, poverty, isolation and other social stresses are more likely causes of the mental illness some women experience after childbirth, Anand argues.

And if mothers are vulnerable to mental breakdowns because of the socio-economic burden of child-rearing, surely fathers and adoptive parents risk the same stress and should also be able to use the defence of infanticide, he says.

"Once the law recognizes biological mothers who kill their children may commit these acts because of the effects of mental disorders caused by social stresses, the law must also acknowledge all parents are susceptible to such influences," Anand writes. Read More ..

Infanticide is justifiable in some cases, says UK ethics professor

One of British medicine's most senior advisers on medical ethics has provoked outrage by claiming that infanticide is "justifiable".

Professor John Harris, a member of the British Medical Association's ethics committee, said that it was not "plausible to think that there is any moral change that occurs during the journey down the birth canal" - suggesting that there was no moral difference between aborting a foetus and killing a baby.  Read More ..