By Allyson Chiu / The Washington Post
When Adam Smith pulled open the yellowed door of the freezer in his mother’s St. Louis apartment, he saw a familiar item. Wedged among bags and cartons of frozen food was the small cardboard box that had taken up space in every freezer in every home the 37-year-old had ever shared with his mother.
For years, the nondescript box had been shrouded in mystery as his lingering questions about what was inside went largely unanswered, Smith told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The official explanation was that the box contained the top of his mother’s old wedding cake, according to KSDK. Perhaps, Smith thought, its contents would turn out to be a secret stash of money.
“I’m 37, and it has been in my freezer for 37 years and I was always told it was a wedding cake top,” he said.
But as Smith learned over the weekend while he was cleaning out the freezer following his mother’s death, none of that was true. Instead of finding a wedding relic or crisp bills, Smith told KSDK he made a gruesome discovery inside the box: The remains of an infant wrapped in a pink baby blanket.
“It still had skin, hair and everything,” the St. Louis man said. “It was mummified.”
Now, Smith said the truth has left him with even more questions than before. Could this deceased baby be a sister? What happened to her? Why did his mother never say anything?
“Finding this, I’m more like confused, angry,” he said. “I just want to find closure. I want to know more answers.”
Joining Smith in his quest for information are detectives from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, the Post-Dispatch reported, noting that the case is being investigated as a “suspicious death.” A public information officer with the police department confirmed to The Washington Post late Monday that authorities were looking into the remains.
“The head homicide guy was stumped,” Smith told KMOV. “He literally looked at me and said, ‘This is a good one.’”
For as long as Smith can remember, his mother, Barbara, was secretive, especially when it came to the cardboard box in the freezer. Talking about the box was considered a “no-no conversation,” he told KSDK, and each time he asked about it, Barbara rebuffed him.
“Now I know why,” he told the Post-Dispatch.
Despite not taking a peek all those years, Smith’s curiosity got the better of him over the weekend when he was sorting through his mother’s belongings, KTVI reported. Barbara, 68, had died of lung cancer on July 21, and the apartment she lived in for more than two decades needed to be emptied.
So he plucked the cardboard box wrapped in stained white plastic out from behind a frozen Salisbury steak pot pie, placed it on a nearby table and grabbed a kitchen knife.
Through the pink blanket, Smith told KTVI he “could feel a foot.” Then, he saw the head, which still had hair attached to it.
“After that, I just freaked out,” he told KSDK. “I put it back into the box and I called police right away.”
KMOV reported that police arrived at the apartment shortly before 1 a.m. on Sunday. Smith submitted a DNA sample to investigators and an autopsy will be conducted, according to the Post-Dispatch.
In the aftermath of opening the box, Smith said he has been consumed with questions about the baby and why his mother kept the remains a secret.
“Even as she was on her deathbed, she never told me what was in that box,” he told the Post-Dispatch. “That’s what makes me think maybe she did something to this baby and didn’t want to tell anyone because she was afraid she would get in trouble.”
Smith said he remembers his mother once revealing she had lost a child at birth, KTVI reported. He added that he only recently found out from a relative that his mother had given birth to twins, but one was stillborn and the other was given up for adoption.
“I have to wait for the autopsy to see if that baby ever took a breath,” he said.
Meanwhile, Smith told KMOV he is struggling to deal with the shocking discovery. It just dawned on him that for his “whole life” he had eaten food from a freezer that possibly stored his “frozen sister.” If the baby is a sibling who passed away before he was born, Smith told KSDK he estimates that the body could have been inside a freezer for more than 40 years.
“Who absolutely keeps their own child in a box for this long?” he told KTVI. “I just have so many thoughts. It’s just insane.”