Some years ago, a Pennsylvania woman made headlines when, after her death at the age of 76, the remains of five long-dead human infants were found in her attic. It was presumed that this woman, who never married, had secretly given birth to these children many decades before.
It is a chillingly Gothic tale--reminiscent of William Faulkner at his most morbid--but not unique. A similar story from London was reported in "The Guardian" on August 26, 1920:
A strange discovery was related at the Manchester City Coroner's Court yesterday during the holding of an inquest on Jane Shaw, Deramore Street, Moss Side, who died as a result of falling downstairs."The Guardian" had a follow-up story two days later:
Mrs. Shaw was a widow, 84 years of age, nearly blind, and her husband, it was stated, died some 20 years ago.
Thomas William Sutton, gardener, said Mrs, Shaw had lived with him during the last 18 months. She was blind in one eye. The witness knew her nearly 60 years ago, but had lost sight of her for nearly 60 years until a few years ago. He never remembered her having any children, nor did he know of any of her relations.
The police evidence disclosed the finding of a black tin box in Mrs. Shaw's bedroom, and on being opened the skeleton remains of two children were found inside. Mr. Sutton, the earlier witness, in reply to the Coroner, said he knew nothing about the box prior to Mrs. Shaw's death.
A verdict of accidental death was returned. The gruesome contents of the box will form the subject of a Coroner's inquiry on Friday next.
An inquest was held by the Manchester City Coroner (Mr. C.W.W. Surridge) yesterday on two skeleton bodies of children found in the bedroom occupied by the late Jane Shaw (84), widow. Mrs. Shaw died from injuries received by falling downstairs. At the time of the accident she resided at 13 Deramore Street, Moss Side.
Sergeant Crabtree said he found the two bodies in a wooden box enclosed in a tin box in the room used by Mrs. Shaw. The tiny skeletons were wrapped up in old clothing. In the box was an old publication entitled "The Young Englishwoman," together with the song "The Last Rose of Summer." There was nothing to show the identity of the remains.
John Sutton, Brailsford Road, Fallowfield, said he had known Mrs. Shaw for some 60 years. "My mother," he said, "worked for a time at the same place as Mrs. Shaw, and I remember her telling me that Mrs. Shaw had two children, about 1869 to 1870. She was not married at the time, but she told my mother that they had been sent out to nurse, and were doing well."
Dr. E.P. Hughes said he had examine the bodies. Death had occurred at or shortly after birth. It was quite possible that death had occurred over 50 years ago.
Mr. Surridge: You have, I believe, made inquiries as to the paper found in the box?--Yes, I was informed at the Manchester Reference Library that the paper was first published in 1865. There was a paragraph in the "Young Englishwoman" relating to the importation of eggs in 1862 and 1863.
The coroner returned an open verdict.