The Babes in the Woods murders

On November 24, 1934, the bodies of three young girls, 8 year old Cordelia Noakes, Dewilla Noakes, 10 years old, and their 12 year old half sister Norma Sedgwick were discovered by two hikers John Clark and Clark Jardine, who discovered them suffocated to death after discovering them under a blanket near South Mountain in Cumberland County. Police swiftly came to the conclusion this after they failed to exhibit any outward signs of injuries.

Discovery of the girls’ bodies started a nationwide media frenzy r resulting in many false leads as to the identities of the girls.
Across the nation, newspapers printed images of the kids curled up on a blanket. In an effort to identify the dead, thousands of people gathered to view them.

Before the girls were buried, death masks were created to help identify them. The labels on some of the children’s books, towels, and clothing that had been discovered had been torn off. One of the children’s books contained only the name “Norma.”

When a man and woman were discovered dead from gunshots in Altoona, a day after investigators had already established the girls were related, they started piecing the puzzle together. Elmo Noakes’ family objected when Pierce moved in with Noakes, whose wife had passed away two years earlier, so Noakes and Winifred Pierce, his 18-year-old niece, left California.

The Babes in the Woods murders

On their journey east, Noakes reportedly ran out of money and was forced to kill his daughters Cordelia and Dewilla as well as their half-sister Norma because he could no longer afford to feed them. Noakes and Pierce left the girls’ bodies behind and headed west before abandoning their vehicle halfway between McVeytown and Altoona and hitchhiking to Blair County.

The couple’s final item was a coat that Pierce sold on November 23. Noakes bought a rifle from a used shop with the $2.55 she was given, and a day after the kids were discovered, he used it to kill Pierce and himself. Winifred Pierce suffered two gunshot wounds—one to the heart and one to the head—while Noakes only sustained a head wound.

Using the description of the car, the physical features of the dead girls, and Elmo Noakes’ fingerprints on military records, the bodies were quickly identified.

The three young girls were quietly buried a week after their deaths in the Westminster Cemetery in North Middleton Township, Cumberland County, not far from where their bodies had been discovered. The American Legion Post in the area covered the costs of the funerals and burials. As their pallbearers, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts participated.

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