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For Brief Lives Empty of Kindness, a Last Caring Gesture

CITYSCAPES / MILES CORWIN

October 11, 1993|MILES CORWIN

A single pink balloon floated high above a sunny hillside where Baby Doe was buried--a serene end to a short, brutal life.

The newborn infant was found last month beside a trash can in a parking structure. She was wrapped in two plastic bags, and her mouth and nose were taped shut to keep her from crying.

She was the city's youngest homicide victim that month and, like any other homicide victim, she was autopsied and placed in a refrigerated crypt for 30 days at the coroner's office.

Under the usual county procedures, Baby Doe would have been cremated. Her ashes would be held for three years and, if not claimed, poured into a common grave at the county-owned cemetery in East Los Angeles.

But an organization called Child Rest in Peace Foundation now provides a burial service, with flowers and a headstone, for every abandoned baby picked up by coroner's investigators. Five to 10 bodies of infants are found each year in Los Angeles County and many, like Baby Doe, are newborns who knew only pain and cruelty in their brief lives.

"At least in death we can show them some decency," said Rose Horton, who founded the group with her husband in 1991. "We can show that their lives, however short, were worth something."

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Baby Doe is the 11th infant buried by Child Rest in Peace. After the service last week at Rose Hills Memorial Park near Whittier, Rose Horton walked through Lullaby Lawn, in a section of the cemetery reserved for children. She stopped by the graves and recalled the painful circumstances behind the death of each of the infants, some who have been given first names by group members.

Baby Laurie Doe was found in a box beside a driveway in San Gabriel. Baby Girl Doe was found in a trash bin behind a Downey apartment complex. Baby Paul Doe was beaten to death in an Antelope Valley campground and his parents were arrested in the case. Baby Myrick Doe was found on a bus bench in Van Nuys.

Others were left in parks, placed in suitcases or abandoned in hospitals. Some babies were stillborn. Others died of drug overdoses because their mothers were cocaine addicts.

Two social workers attended the funeral of one drug addicted baby who died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Four nurses at Good Samaritan Hospital who cared for another drug addicted baby bought the gravestone, on which they inscribed: "Your life on earth was full of pain. May your days in heaven be full of love and joy."

Only three people attended Baby Doe's funeral--Horton, who released the pink balloon at the end of the service, an elderly woman who attends all funerals held by the group, and Howard Beardsley, the detective investigating the homicide.

Beardsley hoped that someone connected with the case would show. Just in case, he had a police photographer with a zoom lens hidden in the distance to take pictures.

But Beardsley had no luck and the case continues to frustrate him. When the baby was found at a Los Angeles International Airport parking garage, he hoped that the tape or plastic bags would yield fingerprints that would lead him to the mother. But Beardsley has no leads or suspects.

The baby was found last month about 4 a.m. on a Sunday and Beardsley was called to the scene. When the coroner investigator unwrapped the baby and Beardsley saw the tape, he was stunned by the brutality of the crime.

"In my 18 years as a policeman I've never seen anything like that," said Beardsley, who is with LAPD's abused child unit. "I've seen babies in trash cans, diaper bags, dumpsters . . . but I've never run across a baby whose mouth and nose was taped shut. Someone definitely wanted to end this little girl's life."

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Two years ago, a transient rummaging through a dumpster in Downey discovered the body of a newborn in a red plastic bag, her umbilical cord still attached. The baby had died from a blow to the head.

Rose Horton read about the baby and was haunted by the death. This was the first infant death Horton investigated, the case that led to the formation of her group.

She called detectives to learn more about the baby and was so persistent she initially was considered a suspect. When Horton discovered that the coroner did not provide a burial, she and her husband, who own a Santa Fe Springs carpet installation company, decided to provide one.

"I'm not overly religious, but I just don't think it's right to deprive these babies of a funeral," Horton said. "I was an abused child . . . and it's very disturbing to me that these parents can't see how precious these babies are."

Although the group has received enough donations to provide for all burials, they have been subject to some criticism. Some have called Horton and told her she should use the donations to help the living--the many abused children--and forget the dead.

But Horton said the infants, who must endure the indignity of an autopsy and storage in homicide crypts, deserve a measure of kindness in death that they never knew in life.

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