Does mummified baby have living cousin?

Rita Rich, 92, was 10 when a body was hidden in her home. She has her theories about who he was

Sep 24, 2007 04:30 AM

Feature Writer

Rita Rich, centre, and her aunt and uncle, Della and Wesley Russell, lived a 29 Kintrye Ave. in Toronto in the 1920s when a baby’s body was hidden under floor boards in the home. The baby was discovered by a renovator in July. Rita is now 92 and has her theories as to the baby’s parentage.



Rita Rich was 10 years old in 1925 when someone buried a newborn baby beneath the floorboards of the house where she lived with her father and her aunt and uncle, at 29 Kintyre Ave. in Toronto.

She was as shocked as anyone to learn, 82 years after the fact, that she had lived for years with the remains of an infant boy beneath her feet. His mummified corpse was discovered by a renovator working on the house in July. The baby was curled in the fetal position and wrapped in a comforter and a Mail and Empire newspaper dated Sept. 15, 1925.

"It just struck me as something out of this world," says Rich, now 92 and living in Medina, an Erie Canal village in Western New York state. "I wondered how it could happen and I wouldn't know it."

An autopsy concluded the infant had no broken bones or evidence of other injuries. Testing on the air sacs in his lungs revealed that he was likely born alive, although the findings were not conclusive, according to Toronto Deputy Chief Coroner Dr. Jim Cairns. No cause of death could be established.

Two possible distant relatives, including Rich, volunteered to provide DNA samples if it would help identify the baby, but they were too far removed for their DNA to determine parentage, said Cairns.

"The answer is, we'll never know," said Cairns.

Rich is sure she knows whose baby it wasn't. And she has a theory about who the mother may have been.

Her aunt and uncle, Della and Wesley Russell, a postal clerk, owned the house on Kintyre. But Rich is sure Della could not have been the mother.

For one thing, Della was certain she could never become pregnant. If she had by some miracle become pregnant, she would have had no reason to hide the baby, says Rich.

Besides, Rich adds, except for a few weeks in summer when she went to visit relatives in the U.S., Rich was always with Della.

It would have been impossible for Della to carry a baby to term without Rich noticing.

The boarder, George Turner, worked at the telegraph office. He lived in the house for nearly 10 years until he married.

He was a perfect gentleman, and if he had gotten a girl pregnant, would have married her, says Rich.

Her father Charles never dated anyone after his wife died.

He was so devoted to her that every year on Rich's birthday, he would open a trunk he kept, filled with her mother's things, and present her with a gift that he said was from her.

Rich thinks it's possible the baby may have belonged to Della's much younger sister, Alla Mae, a beautiful, blue-eyed 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, but often visited her Toronto relatives.

Rich thought Mae was glamorous. She wore black satin and dated bandleaders. She carried around a toy poodle she called "Teddy." She could strike up a conversation with anyone.

Rich remembers on one visit Della admonishing Mae for moving furniture because she was pregnant.

"I don't know how authentic that is," says Rich. "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."

Life seemed happy in the Russell household.

Della and Wesley were loving, friendly people, good neighbours, although they weren't overly sociable.

Wesley liked home brew, but Rich never remembers seeing him drunk.

Everything changed when Rich was a teenager and Della learned that her husband of 30 years was having an affair with a younger woman.

Della suffered a mental breakdown and Wesley had her committed to a mental institution. His lover moved into the house, and Rich no longer felt comfortable living there.

When the American boy she'd been dating announced he'd found a job as an assistant manager at a Loblaw's, she married him in Medina.

They were married for more than 60 years.

Rich's father also left the house. Rich heard that the woman Wesley had the affair with turned it into a boarding house after he died in 1939.

Della outlived her husband and his lover, but never left the mental institution.

Her brother Charles visited her every day.

Rich went three times but said Della never spoke to her.

Rich and her husband made their lives in Medina, running a florist shop.

They raised one boy and had two grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Her husband died 10 years ago. Rich still lives on her own.

Baby Kintyre, as he has come to be known, will be honoured at a ceremony organized by the Canadian Centre for Abuse Awareness on Friday, October, 12, and buried at Elgin Mills Cemetery.

"If I'm able to go, I feel that if that baby is related to me, I certainly owe it to him," said Rich.

"I just keep wondering if he's a part of me."


Who lived there

The house on Kintyre contained a curious mix of people in 1925. Among them: A childless couple in their 40s, their motherless 10-year-old niece and her father, and a boarder who was offered a room one night because he had nowhere else to go – and ended up staying nine years. Della and Wesley Russell, a postal clerk, owned the house. They were from farms in Prince Edward County and were married Oct. 12, 1898, in Belleville. Della Rutter was 18 at the time and Wesley was 19, according to their marriage certificate.

They wanted children, but Della said she had fallen from a horse as a girl and could not have children.

Over the years, Della's younger brother, Charles Rutter, a barber, lived in the house as well. In 1918, Charles's wife died in the Spanish flu epidemic, when his daughter, Rita, now 82, was 3 years old.

Not long afterward, she and her father moved in with the Russells on Kintyre. They stayed for 15 years.

The boarder, George Turner, worked at the telegraph office.