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Mummified baby haunts police

Story Highlights

• Infant's remains wrapped in 50-year-old newspaper
• Tiny corpse weighed 13 ounces
• Rosary, religious cards found inside case
• Lab in Florida studying DNA from bones
By Susan Candiotti
CNN
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Editor's note: In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences covering news and analyze the stories behind the events.

DELRAY BEACH, Florida (CNN) -- The face of a partially mummified baby boy, wrapped in newspaper since 1957, is haunting -- chilling even. Imagine the shock when a suitcase was opened two weeks ago in a storage locker by a woman in Florida, and there it was, a mummified corpse with his umbilical cord still attached.

Investigators showed me photos of the remains. The boy is curled in a fetal position, with light-colored curly hair covering his head. The remains measure just under a foot and weigh only 13 ounces.

"You can see the actual facial features. You can see the eyes. The slit for the mouth ... and also portions of the fingers and toes," said lead Detective Gene Sapino of the Delray Beach Homicide Division. "At first, I wasn't convinced it was a child -- until I saw the face. ... It's obviously emotional because that's a child."

I was also shown the contents found with the child, which was stuffed in a decal-covered suitcase, crammed into an even larger piece of luggage. Inside that suitcase, there was an intriguing black-and-white photograph of a little girl probably not yet 10 years old. Near the photo, there was a small striped box, and inside, a silver, thimble-sized container holding a tiny rosary. There were two religious cards. (Gallery: See what was found with the child)

A musty smell filled the air as we went through the contents. It was eerie to think that the remains had been stored inside luggage for at least 50 years.

As I looked at the photographs of the child, it was amazing to think that the remains were so well preserved. You could still make out his features, all the way down to his fingers and toes. The most touching thing to me was seeing his light curly hair.

What did the mummified child look like? I can best compare it to the famous photographs of King Tut.

When you see something like this, you can't help but speculate about what happened. I also tried to picture what it was like at the moment that this woman, going through her parents' storage area, discovered his remains -- as she peeled back layers of newspaper from 1957.

Clearly, this was the last thing she expected to see, and it was no wonder to me that police described her as an emotional wreck.

One police officer said the discovery even hit investigators hard, especially for those who have children.

'Child was cared for'

Investigators are now trying to sort through the mystery. A forensic examiner said an initial investigation revealed no obvious signs of trauma.

"I think the child was cared for," said Sapino. "If this was something where it was an unwanted child, why wouldn't they just dispose of it?"

The horrifying discovery was made in late-January. The New Jersey woman had flown to Florida to clean out her parents' rented storage area. She didn't know it existed until the manager told her the rent was past due.

She found a suitcase resting on top of a recliner, according to police. She then opened it and discovered the smaller suitcase covered with decals from Palisades Park in New Jersey, the Gettysburg Museum, Fort Jackson U.S. Army base in South Carolina and North Carolina's beaches.

The child was wrapped tightly in paper from the New York Daily News, dated January 9, 1957. It was then wrapped, paper and all, with a pair of black nylon pants, police said.

Experts: Newspaper helped preserve child

Experts say the newspaper absorbed moisture from the infant's remains and prevented mold from speeding decomposition.

"It's a natural dehydration process of the tissue that leads to mummification," said University of Florida forensic anthropologist Anthony Falsetti.

A sample from the baby's humerus arm bone has been sent to the University of Texas. Scientists there will compare it to DNA samples from the woman who found the remains, her brother and the deceased woman's sister to see whether they're related to the infant on the mother's side.

Falsetti continues to examine the remains. He hopes to figure out the fetus' age and cause of death.

"It tells you something about the mindset of the person who kept these remains all these years. If it turns out to be one of the parents of this child, then it seems most likely this was an accidental or even a natural occurrence," he said.

"And for whatever reason, they could not part with the individual."

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