The Babes in the Wood – Stanley Park, Vancouver 1953

Case update Oct 27 2021 – The first attempt to sequence DNA data was not successful, so the decision was made to go back to perform another extraction. Our team was notified today that Lakehead University’s paleo DNA lab was able to get a more substantial second extraction and we are feeling optimistic about making another attempt at sequencing!

Press release via Vancouver Police Department (18 May 2021):

Vancouver – Vancouver Police think modern science could provide new clues in one of the city’s oldest unsolved murders, and hope DNA from the victims can lead to a break in the case, which has puzzled investigators for nearly 70 years.

“No homicide case is ever closed before it’s solved, and for decades our investigators have chased down leads with hopes of someday identifying the victims and people responsible for this unsolved crime,” says Sergeant Steve Addison, VPD. “Now, advancements in science, combined with peoples’ interest in learning about their own ancestry, has created an exciting new opportunity for VPD to finally get some answers.”

The case – known in popular culture as Babes in the Woods – dates back to 1953, when skeletal remains of two boys were discovered by a groundskeeper near Beaver Lake, in Stanley Park. The children’s skulls had been bludgeoned by a hatchet, which was found near their bodies, and they were covered by a woman’s coat. It’s believed the children, aged 7 and 8, were killed in 1948 and laid undiscovered for five years.

“We still don’t know who these boys were, why they were in Vancouver, or who killed them,” adds Sergeant Addison. “But, we hope genealogical testing will finally give us the answers we’ve been looking for.”

VPD has contracted Redgrave Research Forensic Services, a Massachusetts-based forensic genetic genealogist company, to study DNA recently extracted from the victims’ bones. Using public DNA databases, such as GEDmatch and FamilyTreeDNA, Redgrave Research hopes to identify living relatives who share the same DNA as the murder victims. They’ll do so by comparing the DNA from the victims to people who have submitted their DNA to private companies to learn about their own ancestry.

“With so many people curious about their ancestry and willing to submit DNA for genetic testing, we think the Redgrave team can build a family tree for these boys and possibly identify others who are related to these young victims,” adds Sergeant Addison. “This process could give us new leads to follow, and we hope it will finally help us give these boys a name and identify their killer.”

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Case synopsis by Olivia McCarter

Redgrave Research Forensics Services has paired up with the Vancouver Police Department to identify two unidentified boys, known as “The Babes in the Wood”, found in Stanley Park in Vancouver, British Columbia in 1953.

At the scene, the two children’s skeletal remains were found with a hatchet (which was later determined to be the murder weapon), a woman’s coat used to cover the bodies, one woman’s shoe, and two children-sized avaiator helmets. Thought to have been killed as far back as 1947, the two half-brothers were aged 7-10 years. They were thought to be a boy and a girl until their DNA was tested for the first time in 1998.

The boys’ remains have been examined multiple times throughout the decades, and the case is featured in the Vancouver Police Museum. The case has been covered by several television documentary series and podcasts. Investigators in recent years have attempted advanced DNA testing but the attempts were unsuccessful until now.

Redgrave Research Forensic Services was able to assist investigators in finding a lab experienced in DNA extraction from much older remains and facilitated the Vancouver Police Department’s submission of bone samples to Lakehead University’s Paleo-DNA Laboratory in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Upon successful extraction, Lakehead University then shipped the DNA extract to the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in Huntsville, Alabama. Once sequencing of the extract is complete, the resulting file will be sent to Kevin Lord of Saber Investigations for bioinformatics.

We would like to thank Aida Rodriguez of the Vancouver Police Department, Laura Yazedjian of the Vancouver Coroner’s Office, Lakehead University for the DNA extraction, HudsonAlpha Discovery for whole-genome sequencing, and Kevin Lord of Saber Investigations who will do the bioinformatics. This case will be co-team led by Anthony Redgrave and senior intern Olivia McCarter.