The Kidnapping of Corrine Modell, Philadelphia, 1924
Original Story: “The Blonde, The Doll and the Missing Baby,” by A.J. Foglietta, True Detective Mysteries, Oct. 1930.
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It was a happy mother who wheeled Baby Corinne Modell’s perambulator (baby carriage) to the front of the Modell’s Upholstery Store at 116 South Sixtieth Street, Philadelphia, the afternoon of May 5th, 1924.
Corinne, ten weeks old had easily won the blue ribbon at a neighborhood baby contest. Admiring neighbors gathered to pay tribute to the chubby little Miss who had been proclaimed queen of her neighborhood’s babyland. They laughed in delight as she gurgled approval of their caresses.
Honors rest lightly upon babies, however, as Corinne soon demonstrated.
For while a few neighbors still lingered, she closed her eye and was soon off to that land of slumber known only to babies.
“Mama,” Corinne’s father said to his wife, Eva, “It is such a nice warm day that I think we should let baby sleep out here. It will do her good. [In other words, they left her unattended in front of the store in the baby carriage.]”
Mr. and Mrs. Modell entered their store. It was then about 1:30 P.M.
A half hour later, Mrs. Modell emerged. She went to the baby carriage and peered under its hood to see if the child was still sleeping.
She gasped in horror at what she beheld. Then, realizing what had occurred, she screamed.
The baby was missing! She had vanished as though some evil spirit, jealous of the honors bestowed upon her, had spirited her away.
In the place where she had been resting lay a lifeless, was doll.
Soon the cry—”Baby Corinne has been kidnapped! “—resounded throughout the neighborhood.
The mother collapsed and was carried into her husband’s store. The husband was too shocked to take prompt action. Neighbors rushed in to console the grief-stricken parents.
Someone summoned police of the Fifty-fifth and Pine Streets Station. Lieutenant Charles Bauswine, District Commander, and two plainclothes men hurried to the scene. They made a preliminary investigation; sent in a flash to detective headquarters at City Hall, and notified surrounding police districts. A cordon of police was placed about the West Philadelphia section. All railroad stations and main highways were closely guarded.
General Smedley Darlington Butler, United States Marines, then Philadelphia’s Director of Public Safety, was present at detective headquarters when the report was made.
Displaying that characteristic which has made him a ranking officer in the United States Marine Corps, General Butler quickly dispatched every available detective in the bureau to the scene. He himself led a detail of “blue coats” to the West Philadelphia section and combed the district thoroughly for any trace of the abductor.
The city was thrown into feverish excitement when news of the kidnapping broke. Citizens formed posses. Newspapers emblazoned the story in streamers across front pages.
Mayor W. Freeland Kendrick publicly announced he would pay a reward of $1,000 to the person furnishing police with information leading to the capture of the kidnapper and the recovery of the baby. This offer was matched by the West Philadelphia Business Men’s Association and the Mutual Trust Company.
Many individual posses, the $3,000 total rewards acting as an incentive, sallied forth to capture the abductor dead or alive.
I was assigned to the case by my own superior officer. Major Samuel 0. Wynne, Chief of Philadelphia County Detectives. Little did I realize the amazing story I was destined to find at the end of the trail. Little did I dream that within the domains of “sleepy, old Philadelphia” I would uncover a tale which would defy conception in even the most vivid imaginations of the wildest fiction or movie scenario writers.
Three questions were paramount in my mind as I drove to the scene of the crime. They went:
1. Was the kidnapping committed by one person?
2. If so, what was the kidnapper’s sex?
3. What was the motive?
The street on which the Modell store and home are located is one of West Philadelphia’s principal business thoroughfares. I reasoned it was impossible that the kidnapping had not been witnessed by someone. I felt confident therefore, I would be able to ascertain the answers to the first two questions by interviewing residents of the section and pedestrians.
With these solved, I concluded I would be able to at least form a motive theory. If the kidnapper was a man, or more than one person, the act was doubtless prompted by a mercenary reason, such as obtaining a ransom.
If it was but one man, the crime could be attributed to anyone of three things. The man was a diabolical fiend: ransom; or he saw in the child an opportunity to settle an old grievance with the Modell family.
If, however, the kidnapper was a woman and providing she was not in league with another person, then I thought the crime was not prompted by any of these motives. For I had learned from experience that women, especially those not having children of their own, invariably commit such a crime merely to appease their longing for a child.
THE reader cannot understand how far wrong my first impressions and deductions were until he has read the story. When I arrived at the scene of the crime, I found approximately 5,000 persons milling about in the streets. I left my cab and pushed through the crowd. Feeling was running high. Here and there l heard persons exclaim that if the kidnapper was found the mob would string the guilty one up. Arriving at the edge of the mob, I could see the perambulator. I noticed it was the type used by children in pushing baby dolls about—in front of the store. Uniformed police stood guard to protect it from the curious. Recognized by them, I passed through the line and examined it.
I could see the doll, covered with a rumpled silk blanket in the spot which had been occupied by the prize baby. I removed the blanket and took out the doll.
Then I entered the store and questioned Modell. He first told me of the show. The baby had been entered as a doll, she was so tiny, thus explaining why a doll’s perambulator had been used.
In answer to my questions he said he did not know of anyone he considered an enemy. He did believe, however, that ransom may have been the motive, explaining that anyone knowing he was in business for himself would think he was wealthy.
I then obtained a description of the clothing the child was clad in and left the store. The clothing consisted of the usual baby white under-things, little white kitted booties, and a long white silk dress and bonnet.
My first move after leaving the Modell store was to conduct a one-man house-to-house canvass of the homes and stores on Sixtieth Street in hopes of finding someone who had witnessed the kidnapping, and to settle in my mind whether or not more than one person was implicated in the crime.
For many hours, while police of the large eastern cities were in the throes of an extensive manhunt, and while other detectives were running down countless reports, I walked through the neighborhood questioning residents and pedestrians.
I failed to obtain a single clue. No one in the section had been an eye-witness, as far as I could find out.
Next I directed my search to finding the store in which the doll, substituted in place of the baby by the kidnapper, had been purchased. It was a new one and had obviously been bought within the past few days. I located the store. It was situated a few blocks away from the Modell home and was the only one in the section selling that particular type of doll. The store superintendent informed me it would be impossible to trace the purchaser. His firm, he said, carried hundreds of such doll in stock and he produced sales slips to how that more than a hundred had been sold within the last few weeks. To search any further for the purchaser, I decided, would be like looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack. I reluctantly discarded the doll clue and started back for the Modell store.
When I arrived at the corner of Sixtieth and Market Streets, I stopped under the elevated structure, running along Market Street, to await a traffic signal before crossing the street. I was meditating upon my next move, when a woman’s voice at my side startled me.
“Say mister,” I remember how she saluted me, “you’re a ‘detective,’ aren’t you?”
I started to speak to her but she interrupted me.
“Move back into the shadow of that ‘L’ pillar, big boy,” she said.
As I did so, I took a good look at her and saw she was obviously a woman of the streets, one of those poor creatures just on the edge of decline. After I had backed into the shadow of the pillar, she spoke.
“Listen fellow, I spots you for a cop the first I sees you this afternoon, and I lays for you since. Say how’d you like some dope on that kidnapping around here today?”
“What!” I ejaculated [poor choice of words when talking about a prostitute], “why, what do you know about it?”
“Just as I thought,” she exclaimed, “I know’d you was a cop. Well, this afternoon I walks right by that store where the kid’s taken from, see. I sees a woman standing there looking the kid over. Course I don’t give it a play until news gets around that the kid’s been stolen. Then I figures maybe that blonde dame I sees has something to do with it. I thinks of going to the coppers with the dope, but well, you know how it is, coppers and me ain’t just the best of friends. So I lays around thinking I’d see one of you detectives who looks right to me and spill him the ‘info.’ So I picks you out and waits.”
I asked her what sort of a looking woman she had seen. ”
“Well,” she replied, “she’s a tall, heavy set, blonde. Might have been a good looking dame in her times, but she looks to me like the old crows nests are growing under her eyes. As I remember her, she had on a red hat and a black coat. I could tell she’s a blonde because her hair stuck out the sides of her hat.”
“Say,” I asked after she had told me this, “what’s your idea in telling me all this? Did you see about the rewards and figure to cut in on it?”
“Naw,” she responded. I thought I saw a little wistful look spread across that otherwise hard countenance before me. “You see,” she continued, “It’s like this. I ain’t always been pounding the sidewalks. Once I had a good home and a good man. And-there was a kid once. Good looking kid. Thought the world of him. He died, and well-me and the old man splits.
“He finds a dame he likes better and I gets the air. So you see, I knows what it is to have been a mother and lose a kid. So when I sees about this kidnapping today, it kinda gets me thinking of my poor kid and the kind of life I might have had if he lived. The more I thinks of it, the more I thinks of that poor mother whose kid’s been stolen. So I thinks I’d better tell some coppers about it.”
I remember I was somewhat touched by the woman’s story and thought her information was sincere. I asked her if she had seen the woman as she left the vicinity of the Modell store.
“Course now,” she responded, “I ain’t saying the woman take the kid, see. I ain’t sure. But when I sees her again after I walks by her, I notices she has a bundle with her. Soon after I hears about the kidnapping and ducks, because you know when you cops starts out on these things you picks on dames like me just on general looks.”
“Did you notice whether this woman met anyone?” I asked.
“Naw,” she replied, “she’s alone the whole time I sees her.”
I felt the woman’s tip was good, but didn’t know how to repay her. I thought of the reward. Maybe, if her information proved to be valuable to me in solving the mystery, she would be able to share in it. I so informed her and was astonished by her reply.
“Nix! Nothing doing! Guess I been soft enough. But to get in on that reward? Say that sure is a laugh. If any of the mob hears I been talking to cops what’s they gonna think of this bimbo? Why I’d stand about as much chance as a snowball in hell. Naw. Guess I’ll just go along pounding these bricks. Well—guess that’s all. Look for the blonde in the red hat and black coat. Hopes for the mother’s sakes you finds the kid. So long and good luck, big boy.”
I scratched my head and looked after the unfortunate woman as she drifted off into the Market Street crowd.
Funny how some of those dames are, I thought. Here is a woman living in the dusk of our world, selling her soul for a few paltry dollars. Yet when it comes to possibly sharing in a big reward, she is afraid of that element which drifts about in the twilight of the underworld—her world.
I watched the woman until she was out of sight. Then I retraced my steps and walked in the direction she indicated the blonde had taken.
When I arrived at Sixtieth and Sansom Streets, approximately two squares away front the actual scene of the kidnapping, I met an old acquaintance, one John Allen.
He had heard of the crime and asked if I was assigned to the investigation. I told him I was and then informed him of my talk with the strange woman.
His interest was immediately aroused. When I told him of the direction in which the woman had walked at the time the informant had seen her, he exclaimed: “Why, Jim I saw that very woman this afternoon. She had on a black coat, red hat, and she had a baby in her arms! She ran through an alley on the south side of this street (Sansom) and I think she went clear through to Walnut, although I am not sure. She seemed to be excited about something.”
This certainly was welcome news to me. It was the second part of the first definite tip which had come to me throughout the entire day. I left Allen and went through the alley he said he had seen the woman run through.
At the Walnut Street end I spoke to two boys who said they had seen the woman come through the alley earlier in the day. They agreed she had on a red hat, black coat, was carrying a baby, and that she had continued across Walnut Street and entered a court leading to Locust Street, one square south.
I kept trailing the woman for several hours on the night of May 5th, until I had traced her to Fifty-sixth and Pine Streets. I was convinced that the scarlet woman had put me on the right track, and that the blonde, if she was the kidnapper, had committed the crime. That she had acted alone was obvious to me because not one person who had seen her after she left the Modell store site said she had met anyone.
The suspect, I learned from persons living on Pine Street, had been seen half running and half walking, east on that street. They said she kept to the south side of the street until she neared Fifty-fifth, when she crossed to the north side.
I deduced she had purposely crossed to avoid walking in front of the very doors or the Fifty-fifth and Pine streets police station with the kidnapped baby. The station house, to clear the minds of the readers, is located at the southeast corner of the street.
A fire house is adjacent to the station house. I knew that firemen, while awaiting alarms, were accustomed to sit on benches in front of their house, and decided to question men who were on duty that afternoon.
I spoke to Firemen William Simpson, John Gray and Charles Potts. Each said he had seen the woman. Simpson explained that the manner in which she acted led him to believe that the baby she was carrying was either sick or injured and that the woman was looking for a doctor. He said when he arose to assist her, she crossed the street and kept running.
Late that night the blonde’s trail carried me into Black Oak Park, located near Fifty-third and Pine Streets.
The park, so named because of its great black oak trees, is unlighted at nights save for a few arc lights on its outer edges.
I tramped through it for an hour using my flashlight to find my way about. I thought that the woman, if she were really the kidnapper, might have taken refuge in the darkness of the park and remained there until the streets were deserted rather than chance detection in broad daylight. Although I searched through the entire park, I failed to find a thing.
Coming out of the park I met a Mrs. Birdy Quinn. I informed her of my quest. She asked me to give her a description of the woman. After I had done so, she said:
“I saw that woman come out of this park by the Fifty-second Street gate about 4:30 this afternoon. I didn’t pay much attention to her except to notice that her face was red as though she might have been running.”
Leaving Mrs. Quinn, I went to a nearby drug store and summoned County Detective Frank Rogers who was on duty at City Hall Headquarters. I instructed him to meet me at the 52nd Street gate of the park. When he arrived, we entered. For many hours we searched. Finally we separated. Rogers took one direction and I took the other. About 2 A. M., I heard Rogers call me. I could see his flash circling in a signal to guide me to the spot where he was standing.
“I’ve found something, Jim!” he exclaimed when I reached him. “Look at that.”
He pointed his light in the direction of the base of one of the huge black oaks. Resting against the trunk of the tree was a white, knitted bootie.
After this discovery we left the park and summoned a cab. We drove direct to the Modell home and were met at the door by Mr. Modell. I asked him to identify the bootie and then asked him not to reveal our discovery for fear that if the kidnapper learned we had obtained a clue the child would be killed to get her out of the way.
This find conclusively proved in my mind that the blonde was the kidnapper. But who was she?
Where had she taken the child after she left Black Oak Park?
Was she still in the city or had she fled?
What was the motive?
These were the questions which confronted us when at daybreak of May 6th we went back to the vicinity of the park to question residents of the streets nearby.
Throughout all of that morning we continued our interviews. All our efforts, however, were in vain. It seemed as though the woman and child had completely vanished, leaving nothing but a little white knitted baby bootie behind as the only clue. Her trail had come to an abrupt end.
We went back to headquarters. Here we were besieged by a corps of newspapermen. Many leading newspapers, including those in New York City, Chicago, Baltimore and other cities in the East had sent reporters to cover the story.
Throughout the rest of the day we were deluged with crank letters. Many wild rumors emanated from various States throughout the East. Reports were circulated that the mutilated body of an infant had been found on the outskirts of Albany, New York. A check with police of that city, however, proved the child was not the Modell baby.
Another report caused us to send detectives to the Delaware Water Gap and the Pocono Mountain regions in Pennsylvania. These sleuths failed to uncover anything. These rumors tended to further deepen the mystery.
I reconstructed the crime in my mind and went over the trail taken by the woman in her flight. Because of the fact that I had decided the woman was the abductor, and had apparently worked alone, I formed the theory she was hiding in the very neighborhood where the crime had been committed.
I reasoned that all railroad stations, main highways, trolley cars, taxicabs, and bus routes had been thoroughly guarded and checked up on within a few hours after the crime. This, in my mind, made it almost impossible for the women to have fled the city.
I left my office at 7 P. M. and went out to confer with Lieutenant Bauswine at the Fifty-fifth and Pine Streets Station. I informed him of my theory.
He disagreed with me on the theory that the woman was in hiding in the West Philadelphia area, pointing out that although his men, cooperating with city detectives, had searched every nook and corner of the various districts, they had failed to obtain a clue.
While we were talking the phone on his desk rang. He answered and in a few seconds turned to me and said a woman was calling for me.
The woman refused to give me her name. She said she had called my office in City Hall and had been informed to call me at the station house. She asked me to meet her at the corner of Fifty-second and Lancaster Avenue. I made the appointment with her.
Once again I summoned Detective Rogers. He arrived as I prepared to leave. I informed him of the telephone conversation adding that I thought we might be able to get some information out of the woman because she had said she had a “red hot” tip on the kidnapping.
At the appointed time Rogers and I arrived at the corner. I recognized the woman who met us. She was a Mrs. Lena Churchville, widow of a former city policeman, who lived at 5146 Kershaw Street.
She explained that on the afternoon of the kidnapping she was walking by Black Oak Park when she saw a woman, whom she recognized as living near her, come out. She was carrying a baby.
“Now, Mr. MGettigan,” Mrs. Churchville’s statement to me was, “another woman in the neighborhood told me that this same party just had a child yesterday. It’s beyond me how a woman could be walking through city parks so soon after a birth. Don’t you think it sounds unusual?”
Mrs. Churchville said she knew the woman’s name, but did not know her exact address although she lived on Warren Street between Fifty-first and Fifty-second Streets. The woman’s name, she said, was Mrs. Mary De Marco.
She agreed to walk by the woman’s home, saying she knew the house when she saw it, and drop an empty cigarette box in front of it. Rogers, in the meantime, was to station himself at the Fifty-second Street corner, while I waited at Fifty-first. Mrs. Churchville walked by the DeMarco home, dropped the box, and continued up the street and disappeared around the corner. I followed her, noticed the number of the house as I stooped to retrieve the cigarette box—it was 5136—and then joined Rogers.
I instructed him to summon City Detectives James Mulgrew and George Niedenthal. When they came, I told them of our find. They wanted to crash into the house immediately, but I restrained them.
“Mrs. Churchville may be wrong,” I said. “Maybe the woman did have a child and we would be in a fine mess crashing into that home and probably frightening her to death.”
I then thought of a plan and explained it to them.
“Suppose,” I said, “we pretend there has been a holdup in the neighborhood. We’ll run into the house and say we saw one of the holdup men enter it. Then while we are searching for him, we can look around. If we are wrong, all good and well. If we are right, all the better.”
They agreed. Fortunately for us, we found the door had been left unlocked. We entered. Rogers and I dashed up the stairs to the second floor, while Mulgrew and Niedenthal ran into the dining room.
When we arrived at the second floor, we heard voices in a front bedroom and entered. A woman with blonde hair lay in bed. Nestled in her arms was an infant. The woman was wearing an ordinary, plain white nightgown and a white boudoir cap. The child was lying with its face down upon the woman’s breast, as though being nursed.
Two elderly women were also in the room making tea over an electric heater.
This is the scene which was enacted in that room. The blonde cowered in bed and hurled a tirade of words at me, in which she was joined by the other women.
“What is the meaning of all this?” she demanded. “What do you mean by breaking into my bedroom at this hour?” (It was then about 10:30 P. M.)
“Lady,” I explained, “there has been a holdup in the street. I’m a police officer and thought I saw one of the bandits run into this house.”
“No man has entered here,” she responded. “But I do expect my husband home any minute. You’ve upset me terribly. Can’t you see I’ve just had a baby?”
I apologized and looked under the bed as though really searching for a man, and at the same time attempting while arising to get a good look at the baby. The woman apparently surmised my objective and kept the child’s face turned towards her chest.
“It’s an outrage,” she screamed. “If anything happens to me you’ll be responsible. You’d better get out.”
I was actually fooled by her. I thought Mrs. Churchville might have been mistaken, and tried to soothe her. As I was doing so her husband pushed past Rogers and entered the room.
He was a short, stocky-built Italian, barely able to speak English. In broken English he hurled a verbal barrage at me. He threatened me with all sorts of retaliations, saying he was a politician in his ward and that he would go down and see “Generale Bootleer.”
I asked him his name. He responded:
“Me Antonio De Marco. Dese lady me my wife. She joosta hada a bambina. You makea her sick. Go way, pleeze.”
A thought entered my mind. Turning to Mrs. Dc Marco I said:
“I’m awfully sorry for having upset you. If you need your doctor I’ll call him from the corner drug store. What is his name?”
She hesitated and responded: “His name is Doctor Thrush.” Then she hastily added—”but you needn’t call him. I suppose I’ll be all right after I quiet down.”
“By the way,” I next inquired, “when was the baby born?”
“Yesterday afternoon,” she replied.
Again apologizing, I first motioned Rogers to go downstairs and I followed. Joining the other detectives, we left. Mulgrew and Rogers explained they had not attempted to stop De Marco from coming upstairs because they knew that Rogers would keep him covered in the event he started any trouble.
As we walked towards the corner of Fifty-second and Warren Streets, I chanced to look back, and saw De Marco emerge from his home. He walked to a house a few doors away. Telling the other detectives to go around the corner, I ducked back into the shadow of a building and waited for him to come out.
Within a few minutes he came out, and walked to his own home. He was carrying a shotgun with him.
Joining the other detectives, I instructed them to keep the DeMarco home under guard, while I made an attempt to locate the Doctor Thrush, whom Mrs. De Marco had said attended her. I went through and found but one doctor under that name listed. He was Doctor Melton C. Thrush, 3507 Spring Garden Street. I called his home and office, but could not get a response.
Returning to Fifty-second Street, I met Mulgrew. He said Rogers was guarding the back of the house while he and Niedenthal were keeping guard at the Fifty-first and Fifty-second Street corners. I told him I was going to Doctor Thrush’s home in the hopes of finding him there and instructed him to inform the other detectives to arrest the woman on suspicion if she emerged from the house carrying a baby.
I arrived at Doctor Thrush’s home at about 3 A. M. of the morning of May 7th. He was in bed but arose when I informed him of the nature of my call. I asked him if he had delivered a baby for Mrs. De Marco the afternoon of May 5th. He responded that he knew the woman well, having attended her for years, but that he could take an oath that she had not given birth to a child within the past few years.
I explained to him that I suspected Mrs. De Marco was the kidnapper of the Modell baby and asked him to accompany me to her home. He agreed.
We drove to the neighborhood and joined Detective Mulgrew. He summoned Rogers and Niedenthal. We agreed that we would crash into the house on Warren Street at precisely 7 A. M.
At the designated time, we chopped down the front door. With drawn revolvers we entered.
De Marco aroused by the noise we had made in chopping down the door, was prepared for us. He stood on the second floor landing with the shotgun in his hands. He ordered us to leave. I knew we were in for some shooting and tried to worm around to get in a position to shoot at him.
As I did so he placed his shotgun to his shoulder. We all ducked behind a partition just in time. He fired. The walls directly over us were peppered with the shot.
I leaned out of my hiding place and fired one shot at him. It missed. I later found the bullet imbedded in the wall directly over the spot where he had been standing.
In a few seconds we heard something clatter down the steps. Rogers peered out and noticed that in some manner De Marco had dropped the gun. The young detective bounded up the steps and reached De Marco as he attempted to dash into his wife’s bedroom. He placed his revolver against the man’s head and commanded him to stand still.
We could hear Mrs. De Marco screaming and an infant crying as we dashed up the steps after Rogers.
I entered the bedroom alone, while Doctor Thrush, Mulgrew and Niedenthal remained in the hallway.
Mrs. De Marco was sitting up in bed. “Come on, Mrs. De Marco,” I ordered as I pulled the bed covers off, “get out. It’s all up now. I’ve got you right.” She started to scream. I reached over and snatched the baby away from her. “You’ll pay for this!” she shouted. “I’ll get you give me back my baby. Cal Doctor Thrush; tell him I want him. He’ll tell you its my baby!”
At that very minute Doctor Thrush entered.
Mrs. De Marco cowered when she saw him. Then she pleaded:
“Tell him Doctor, didn’t you deliver this baby for me the afternoon of May 5th?”
The doctor patted her sympathetically on the back.
“Now, now,” he said. “Mrs. Dc Marco, I want you to tell this man the truth. You know that baby is not yours. Why, that child is more than two days old. You know I didn’t deliver a baby for you.”
I knew when I heard this that I had reached the end of the trail.
We arrested both Mrs. De Marco and her husband, and took them to the Fifty-fifth and Pine Streets Station. We placed Mrs. Dc Marco in charge of a police matron, while we questioned her husband.
He told us he actually believed the child was his and that his wife had fooled him. He said he shot at us because he believed we intended to harm his wife and baby. After this we told the matron to bring Mrs. De Marco into Lieutenant Bauswine’s office.
Following a brief questioning, she gave us the confession which created a great sensation at the time. It has since appeared in every leading newspaper in the country as well as several in European countries. It was the mast astonishing and amazing account of a crime I have ever heard in all my police experience, one worthy of the imagination of the greatest of fiction writers. Her confession absolutely cleared her husband of implication and brought the Modell case to a fitting climax.
The confession, as dictated to a stenographer and signed by Mrs. De Marco, reads as follows:
Some time ago, when I was a young girl I had a false love affair with a prominent man who lives on the Maine Line. (This is Philadelphia’s most exclusive residential suburb.) A child was born—out of wedlock. He is now a cripple.
For six years I raised and kept him. Then I met Mr. De Marco. He was so kind and generous to me. We married. For two years he kept asking me why we didn’t have children. I wanted to please him, but couldn’t make him understand that nature itself had turned against me. I was paying for my girlhood sin with the loss of God’s greatest gift to women —that of bearing children.
I brooded over the fact that I couldn’t satisfy my husband’s one desire, that of becoming a father. He is an Italian, and Italians are great believers in having families. I was afraid I would lose his love.
Finally after I had gone to several doctors and asked them to aid me, I devised a plan to deceive Antonio. I would have a child. His desire must be fulfilled. So one night, when he came home, I informed him he could expect a child. His joy was unbounded. He kissed me; made a big fuss over me: and was just like a great big kid. For eight months he kept telling his friends he was he was about to be a father. He planned a huge christening, such as only Italians can hold, and he invited all our friends. He made extra barrels of wine, and gave me plenty of money to buy baby clothes.
At last the ninth month came along. Antonio became impatient. I was terror stricken at having deceived him. Many times I thought of telling him the truth, but was afraid. Finally I decided to kidnap a child. On the afternoon of May 5th, I was walking by the Modell store. I saw the baby. She was just young enough for my purposes. I thought of a plan and went to a department store a few squares away and bought a doll. Then I went back. When no one was looking I picked up the baby, put the doll in its place, and walked away. At first I put the child under my coat as though she was a bundle. I was afraid I would smother her, however, and took her out when I got to Sansom Street.
I went through the alley. I finally got to Black Oak Park and rested for a few minutes near a tree. When I started out I met a woman who looked at me in a strange manner. Then I ran. When I finally got home, I noticed the baby had lost one of its booties. I thought of going back and look for it but was afraid. Then I went to bed.
When Antonio came home from work I told him the baby had arrived. He was overjoyed, and summoned some of his friends. They were all so nice to me. Two women, whose names I won’t mention here, came to my house and took care of me. Oh, I was so happy and then—the police came. Yes, I am guilty —may God save me—I am guilty, but I only did it to try and hold my husband’s love.
(Signed) MRS. MARY DE MARCO
After Mrs. De Marco had made her confession, we sent two officers to the Modell home to summon the parents. Shortly before they arrived, news broke that the baby had been found. A great crowd of West Philadelphians stormed the station house. Reserves were called to keep them in check. A great cheer arose when General Butler, who had worked tirelessly throughout the entire investigation, arrived from City Hall to personally take command of the police.
AN interesting explanation of the manner in which the woman deceived her husband was later explained by Mrs. De Marco. When he returned to the home after the child had been found, he discovered a small box under the bed. In this box there was a baby’s nursing bottle and fresh milk.
Mrs. De Marco said that her husband was under the impression that the baby was what is known as a “breast baby,” that is, feeding from the mother’s breast. In reality, it was a bottle baby. Whenever she wanted to feed the child, she found some pretext on which to send her unsuspecting husband out of the room. As soon as his back was turned, she would lean over the bed, get the bottle and place it under her nightgown with only the nipple protruding so that the baby could feed from it. She claimed her husband and the two women, whenever they came in, never suspected her.
She further explained that she had obtained the milk by sneaking downstairs while her husband was still sleeping that morning and taking a pint of milk up to the bedroom with her.
The neighbors were easily fooled because of the fact that they first entered Mrs. De Marco’s bedroom approximately four or five hours after the supposed birth. Baby Corinne, being an unusually small baby, could easily have passed for a child much younger. This fact was substantiated by physicians who called to examine the child shortly after it was found in Mrs. De Marco’s possession. They explained that an infant, from the time of its birth until it is three or four months old, shows very little change, and that an unusually small baby, as was true in the Modell case, could easily be mistaken for a child much younger.
The neighbors did not bathe Mrs. De Marco, merely attending to her feeding, such as preparing meals, cleaning up the room and taking charge of the home. They afterwards swore to the District Attorney that they had not even handled the baby, Mrs. De Marco refusing to permit anyone to do so.
The scene of the Modell parents’ reunion with their child was pathetic. I took Baby Corinne, as newspapers referred to her at the time, and handed her to the mother. The latter was so overjoyed that she even threw her arms about General Butler and kissed him.
On May 19th, less than two weeks after she had been arrested, Mrs. De Marco appeared in Quarter Sessions Court before Judge William C. Ferguson. She pleaded guilty to the charge.
When I took the stand and read her confession, she jumped to her feet and then kneeled before the bar of justice. She sobbed:
“I am guilty—oh, My God I am guilty—Please save me, someone, I merely did it for my boy and the man I love!”
Her impassioned plea aroused the sympathy of the fickle public. Two weeks before they had cried for her blood. Now many were hoping the court would release her with a suspended sentence. Judge Ferguson did the only thing he could under the law. He sentenced the confessed baby thief to two and a half to five-years imprisonment in the Philadelphia County Prison. The woman took the sentence calmly.
Mr. De Marco, who in the meantime had been released, was in the courtroom. After sentence had been passed, he came to me and declared he still loved his wife, though she had deceived him, and that he would welcome her when jail doors opened to liberate her.
That afternoon, I received a phone call at my office. A woman spoke to me. “This is the woman you spoke to at Sixtieth and Market Streets a couple of days ago,” she said. “I see by the paper the kid’s been found and the woman goes to the ‘Moya’ for a stretch. Gee! I’m glad you found that kid.”
It was the woman of the streets who had given me the tip which led to the blonde’s arrest. That was the last ever heard of her.