(John Nicol/CBC News)
Who is the baby at 29 Kintyre?
Last Updated Sept. 17, 2007
The mummified remains of an infant were found at 29 Kintyre. (John Nicol/CBC)
A couple of months ago, on the evening of July 24, 2007, home renovator Bob Kinghorn was looking for electrical wires in an old house in East Toronto when he spotted a package that had been placed between the attic floorboards and the second-floor ceiling.
Kinghorn reached up through the laths and tossed the package, wrapped in a floral comforter, down to the floor. He jumped down from his ladder, cut through the butcher's string, and found another wrapping inside, made from the Mail and Empire newspaper from 1925.
At first he thought he had found a cat or dog. "It smelled dead," said Kinghorn, 37. "If you've smelt death, you know what it smells like." Then, "when I ripped open the package, really ripped it open, it was like all crunched up in a fetal position. I counted the little fingers and toes, just like a dried up baby. It was pretty horrific. I went into denial right away.
"No! No! No! I got mad, threw off my headgear, kicked something and bounced out of the house. My first thought was murder. I thought: How could you do that? You sons of bitches!"
Kinghorn's discovery set off a round of speculation among police and the public on how the unidentified baby on Kintyre Ave. ended up under the attic floorboards. (John Nicol/CBC)
Kinghorn's discovery set off a round of speculation among police and the public on how the unidentified baby on Kintyre Ave. Baby Kintyre ended up under the attic floorboards. Was it the offspring of an unwed mother? Was it hidden to save a marriage? Was it killed by someone too poor to raise or bury it?
The infant was a boy and the Ontario coroner's office determined that the mummified baby was about 80-years-old, which fit with the newspaper it was wrapped in and which was dated Sept. 15, 1925.
The first examination concluded that the infant had reached full term and that there was no evidence of injuries or stab marks.
Dr. Jim Cairns, Ontario's Deputy Chief Coroner, said the forensic evidence is inconclusive, but it suggests the baby was "born alive and died shortly afterwards." He didn't see the need for a police investigation, especially since anyone connected to the baby would be long since dead.
But that still left the essential question unanswered: who was Baby Kintyre?
Della Russell, Rita (Rutter) Rich and Wesley Russell. (Courtesy of Russell-Way family)
Early research by reporters, through libraries, land registries and the Ontario archives suggested that it may have been the offspring of Della Emily (nee Rutter) and Wesley Llewellyn Russell, who owned the home from 1919 until 1941.
Wesley was a postal clerk and his wife ended up in a psychiatric hospital sometime before 1939, the year Wesley died. They had no known children, but shared the home every so often with Charles Wesley Rutter, Della's brother, according to the city directory.
Most news outlets dropped the hunt for relatives at that point — it was far-fetched to believe someone might still be alive who knew about the home and the identity of Baby Kintyre. But the CBC soldiered on and enlisted a group of in-house and external librarians in the hunt.
The search broadens
Members of the Russell clan were relatively easy to find in and around Prince Edward County, near Belleville, Ont. But none of them had any knowledge of the couple's lives. Della had three siblings who survived to adulthood but only one had a child, and that family had moved to the U.S.
The chances of anyone in that family knowing what happened on a tree-lined neighborhood in faraway Toronto seemed slim.
Then, a member of the Russell clan in Ottawa contacted the CBC and said her cousin's wife had a cousin on the Rutter side who had lived on Kintyre. This woman, who was still living in the U.S., was Rita Rich.
When we tracked her down, we were prepared for the possibility that she might not contribute much to the story and that, at 92, she likely would have either forgotten the details, or that she might a hard time understanding what we wanted.
Rita Rich. (John Nicol/CBC)
What we didn't expect was the vivid detail with which Rich recalled the house and the characters who lived there.
When told a baby was found in the attic floorboards and that it was likely placed there in 1925, she was shocked.
"A baby!" she said from her senior's apartment in western New York. "Oh for goodness sakes!"
Life at 29 Kintyre
When we told her the date, we figured the infant was probably placed in the floorboards around her 10th birthday. What's more, it was hidden under the floorboards of her very room, a room brightly painted yellow and royal blue and filled with dolls and miniature doll furniture.
There was even an altar in the corner where she said her nightly prayers to her mother, who had died in 1918, when Rich was three, during the Spanish flu epidemic.
That's why Rich ended up at 29 Kintyre. But she was never short of parenting. She had her father, her aunt and her uncle to take care of her, as well as a boarder named George Turner. Rich felt it implausible that any of them could have been responsible for the baby in the floorboards.
Her father Charles was a barber who never remarried, and he did his best to make sure Rich never forgot her mother. Every year on her birthday, Rutter took his daughter to the storage room where he had a trunk of her mother's belongings.
"He would take one thing out of it and give to me and say, 'This is from your mother to wish you a happy birthday,'" Rich recalled. "The last thing he gave me, when I was 16, was a ring with five pearls."
Her father was such an easygoing character that one day he brought a client home with him, and that man ended up staying for almost 10 years. George Turner, in his 20s, had just arrived from Ottawa.
"He was like a big brother to me," said Rich.
The cast broadens
Asked if it was possible Turner could have got a woman pregnant and didn't know what to do with the baby, Rich countered: "He would have married her for sure. I mean, he was very much a gentleman."
Whenever Rich went off to take the Dundas streetcar, Turner escorted her to the stop and was there in the evening waiting for her to return.
As for her Uncle Wesley, she described him as a "second father. He was very good to me."
Apparently he was handy around the house, turning the basement into a den and taking a week off work every two years to paint the outside. He also took two weeks off in the summer to run an ice cream stand down at the Canadian National Exhibition. Rich and her friends benefited from free ice creams.
"He used to make home brew," said Rich. "He drank quite a bit, but I never saw him drunk. He never missed a day's work. I know that."
Rich ruled out her aunt as a possible mother to the child because it was well known she couldn't have children as a result of a childhood fall from a horse. "Della was always very sad she couldn't have children."
Then, as Rich was telling the story her mind tripped across a distant memory. Another aunt, the more glamorous Alla Mae, had been visiting from New York city.
"She was at the house and moving furniture. I could hear my Aunt Della say: 'Don't do that, or you will lose this baby.' It was a quick blink of an eye that crossed my mind. Where did that come from? How did I remember that? This thing that crossed my mind. It was as if Alla Mae didn't want the baby."
In 1925, Alla Mae Rutter was 32, and between marriages. Her first husband went off to war four months after they tied the knot, and the union ended when he returned in 1918.
In the meantime, Alla Mae had moved to her husband's native city, New York. When she was not doing embroidery for department stores, she enjoyed the nightlife and hung out with some of the better known bandleaders of the time.
On one of her trips to Toronto, one of the New York bandleaders picked her up in a car at 29 Kintyre. Rich's memory is vague on that point but she remembers it was a pretty big deal.
During her adolescence, Rich's idyllic childhood gave way to a darker chapter in the lives of everyone at 29 Kintyre. Della, Rich's aunt, became mentally ill. Rich recalls that one night Della tried to throw herself from the roof.
Wesley Russell had his wife committed to a mental hospital. It turned out Russell also had a girlfriend who moved into the house after Della left. Della would spend the rest of her life in an institution until she died in 1953. Alla Mae passed away in 1960.
Baby K at rest
Now that the family's secret has surfaced, Rich has not only wracked her brain to figure out the mystery at her former home, she has volunteered to give DNA to try to match the mystery baby's.
She also met the coroner in Toronto on Sept. 17, along with other members of the Russell family, in order to figure out whether the baby is related to them, and whether it should be buried next to one of their loved ones.
As for Kinghorn, the renovator would just like to see the baby at rest and has set up a trust account at TD Canada Trust to help pay for a memorial. He's putting some of the money he earned from a video he took of his discovery towards it.
"We'll do a memorial on the street, buy a tree with edible fruit, a plaque, and the city will buy a bench," said Kinghorn.
He says he is amazed at how much his discovery affected him. "When I called and they told me it was a natural death, no murder, I felt better. Then the Chinese couple from across the street came over and said: 'You released that baby from prison.' That felt good."