Stanley Park "Babes in the Wood" murder victims identified

April 02, 2022

On 15 January 1953, a groundskeeper in Stanley Park, Vancouver, Canada discovered the skeletal remains of two children.

The park gardener, Albert Tong, discovered a woman’s green oilskin rain cape draped across the grass, deep in the woods near Beaver Lake, and lifted it to reveal two skeletons.

The bodies had been positioned to lay straight, mirroring each other with the soles of their feet facing. The skull of the youngest child had on an aviation hat with goggles strapped to the front and although the clothes had disintegrated over the years, a zipper, belt, jacket, and a pair of shoes were left behind. A metal lunch tin and a woman’s shoe were also discovered at the scene.

The woman's shoe was found under the shoulder of one of the children and police at the time believed it belonged to their killer.

A bladed tool, described as a hatchet that would be used for roofing, was found at the scene. The blade was rusted, and the handle was broken and police soon identified it as the murder weapon.

Autopsy revealed that the children had been murdered several years earlier, likely in 1947, and had died as a result of being struck in the head with a sharp object. The notches in the children’s skulls were confirmed to have been made by the hatchet found near their bodies.

They were light blows that barely made a depression in the skull. I believe a man would have struck harder," Detective Don MacKay said in 1953.

The exact year of the murder has been debated over the years, with some reports stating the children were murdered between1949-50, and some stating the children could have been killed around 1944.

There were several witness reports regarding the case over the years- one of which was from a logging camp worker who told police in a letter that sometime between 1949 and 1950 he had picked up a woman with red hair and two young boys in his vehicle. He described one of the children as wearing an aviator hat and said the woman told him she had gotten into trouble with the law for either prostitution or vagrancy. The man told police that the woman had said she lived on Cherry Avenue, in Mission, Vancouver and although they tried to follow up the lead, nothing came of it.

Another witness said he and his girlfriend were taking a walk together in the area surrounding Stanley Park in 1944 when a woman emerged from a bush before them in a state of distress wearing only one shoe and screaming. Police brushed off the sighting as they initially believed 1944 was too early a year for the children to have been murdered on account of the shoes they were found wearing. They believed that the style of shoe was not available in Canada until after the war, however, this was later proven to be incorrect.

On December 31, 1953, a female witness came forward and told McKay that she had seen a woman carrying a hatchet walk into a wooded section of Stanley Park with two children in tow. She claimed that she later saw the woman re-emerge wearing only one shoe and missing her coat. She had written about this strange occurrence in her diary after it happened.

A pathologist at the time determined that the children were male and female, between the ages of six and ten years old, however, in 1998 a forensic dentist ascertained that the victims were both male, and brothers.

Casts of the children's skulls were made to determine what they may have looked like when they were living in the hope that the public could help identify them. The artist working on the casts hypothesized that the victims may have been Scandinavian, possibly Norwegian, or Swedish.

The children's remains were displayed in an exhibit at the Vancouver Police Museum; however, they were later cremated, and the ashes scattered in the 1990s after samples were taken.

The case came to be known in the media as the Babes in the Wood murders.

Seventy years after the double homicide, the Vancouver Police Department identified the victims as Derek D'Alton 7, and his half-brother David, 6. The children were of Russian descent and their family had immigrated to Canada in the 1900s.  At the time of their murder, they resided in Vancouver and had relatives in the area where their bodies were later discovered.

Although police knew the boys’ killer would be long dead, they wanted to crack the long unsolved cold case and give the brothers back their names. Their killer, police said, had passed away around twenty five years prior to the discovery of the victims’ identities.

The boys were identified when police began working with a genetic genealogy company who extracted DNA from fragments of the victims’ skulls and uploaded the DNA profiles to GEDmatch.

From there, they discovered a link to the victims’ grandparents and created a family tree, leading them to a living relative of the victims who was residing in Vancouver. When contacted by police, the relative told detectives that the family were told that Derek and David had been taken away by social services and that any conversation pertaining to the boys was shut down or ignored and no further explanation was given.

In a statement about the recently solved case, Inspector Dale Weidman of the Vancouver Police Department said: "These murders have haunted generations of homicide investigators, and we are relieved to now give these children a name and to bring some closure to this horrific case. "Although significant folklore has surrounded this case for years, we must not forget that these were real children who died a tragic and heart-breaking death."

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