In a dark corner of the evidence room at the Milford (CT) Police Department, an unsettling and unsolved mystery sat for 35 years until last Friday.
The mystery was a gravestone – an old stone belonging to an 18-month-old baby girl that was found in 1977 by three young boys in some weeds on the side of I-95 in Connecticut. It was creepy and sad, and more than a little unsettling, police there said.
All they had to go on as a clue was an inscription on the 8″ x 12″ stone that read, “Bertha, daughter of Wm. & M.J. Phillips, died Dec. 29, 1876. Age 1 yr, 6 mos, 20 days.”
Try as they might in the 1970s – prior to ultra-fast Internet genealogy researching – police could find nothing missing from nearby cemeteries and there were no death records nearby for anyone bearing that name.
So, it was placed in the evidence room – where it got pushed further and further back into a corner over the years.
Two years ago, Evidence Clerk Lisa Muir noticed it and it troubled her that it was still there after so many years. This past January, one of the deputy chiefs found it and felt something needed to be done.
So, earlier this year, police in Milford took it upon themselves to give it another try, to make an effort to let little Bertha rest in peace.
“It’s been down there 35 years and was kind of hidden in some deep shelves,” said Marcia Krusewski, an administrative assistant at the Milford PD. “Earlier this year, our Deputy Chief Mooney went down there and looked at it and asked me to look into it because it was a baby’s stone from 1876. I looked at it and said, ‘Oh my God, it really is a baby’s stone.’ I couldn’t believe it had been in our evidence room all this time. It was awful and unsettling. It just didn’t belong there.”
A quick Internet search of Connecticut death records turned up nothing, Krusewski said. So, Muir referred the mystery to a family member who is an expert in genealogy.
“Lo and behold, she went on Ancestry.com and found the record of death and that the child had died in Chelsea, Massachusetts,” said Krusewski. “Though we knew where the baby died, we didn’t know where she had been buried and where the stone belonged. You could die in Chelsea, but certainly be buried somewhere else.”
Enter George Ostler, Chelsea’s premier local historian.
Krusewski contacted City Clerk Debbie Clayman and officials at the Chelsea Library. Through them, she got in touch with Ostler.
He took down the information at 9 a.m. one morning last February, and by 11 a.m. that same day, he had solved the 35 year old mystery.
“When they called me, I just looked up the records of the Garden Cemetery in Chelsea and found it pretty quickly,” said Ostler. “She was Bertha Phillips and was buried in the family plot in the cemetery there. She was just a little baby.”
Last Friday, police officials from Milford, along with Krusewski, travelled to Chelsea with the stone and met Ostler in the Garden Cemetery – an old, historic cemetery that is no longer used and is bounded by Shawmut, Central and Chester Avenues.
After a brief moment of silence that included a temporary re-placing of the old stone, Bertha Phillips was finally at peace and her stone was back where it belonged after so many years spent in an old, dark room more than a 100 miles away.
“It was a nice ending to a pretty sad story, considering how long its been gone,” said Krusewski. “Without Internet research, none of this would have happened. That’s something that couldn’t have been done until recently and why they couldn’t find the rightful place back in the 1970s. I’m glad she’s at peace now.”
One piece of the mystery still remains, though.
No one has any idea who stole it, or why they would have done such a thing – considering there was no value in the stone and it probably took some work to remove it.
“How the stone came from Chelsea to Connecticut, we don’t have any idea,” said Krusewski. “We think maybe some kids stole it and maybe their car broke down or they just threw it out along the road as the drove on the highway. It could have been in the weeds for a long time too.”
Added Ostler, “I still can’t see the reason of anyone taking that stone in the first place and then just going off to some far place and throwing it along the road. I don’t like to surmise, but maybe they were on their way to New York or going to college or something like that. You start to feel bad for the little girl – that someone just couldn’t leave it alone. She was just a baby. Everything should be back in place permanently very soon.”