What was initially to be a short volunteer research project into a Vancouver cold case to support a theory championed by a retired homicide detective, became, for me [and continues to be], a 17+ year personal journey “to restore to now dead people the fullness and degree of complication of their lives. To restore their humanness back to their lives.”
“That’s our work. To restore humanity to the human being that went before that don’t speak for themselves… You have the possibility of willing them to life; you have the possibility of waking the dead. You have to liberate your characters to their full human dimension whether they are historical or not… The characters exist in a historical reality… that makes our work a kind of 3-D chess game… To make the characters real, you have to permit a darker side.” – Ken Burns
Photos by Julian Bowers
The distinction between life and lifeless is a human construct. Every atom in this body existed before organic life emerged 4000 million years ago. Remember our childhood as minerals, as lava, as rocks? Rocks contain the potentiality to weave themselves into such stuff as this. We are the rocks dancing. Why do we look down on them with such a condescending air? It is they that are an immortal part of us.
My passion project, Molly- a true crime analysis, centres around a 63 year old Vancouver cold case.
On January 15, 1953, the skeletal remains of two children were found in the forest of Stanley Park in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The victims became known as the Babes in the Wood. The physical evidence indicated that the children were killed using a hatchet and confidently pointed to the involvement of a woman, likely the children’s mother. Unsolved for over 63 years, the double homicide still haunts the city and fuels the imaginations of Vancouverites. Several theories have been explored and many leads and tips have been followed; yet the identities of the two victims remain unknown.
Molly- a true crime analysisillustrates my research into this heartbreaking mystery.
My involvement initially began as a volunteer researcher on the Babes in the Wood task force from 2003 to 2004.
This passion project- an illustrated book- is as much about the PROCESS and my deep involvement as it is about the cold case and the ultimate “end” product. And yes- that process. The creative process is incredibly magical and rewarding. The project is directing itself in a sense, and I am following and trusting.
The book will include text (facts and interpretation), illustrations (including magic realism), photographs, primary sources, physical evidence, circumstantial evidence and artifacts.
I am currently reworking the text and illustrating. I am experimenting with embroidered drawings.
Why embroidered drawings?
Certain drawings (in particular chapter headings) are embroidered as a means to reflect the act of connecting the dots and weaving together timelines, evidence and research. The stitches are footsteps on a map. It reflects deep thought and the passage of time. It is historical. Traditional. Sacred. It is about strengthening the fragile. It fascinates me that a medium so cheap and easily torn such as newsprint becomes strong and hardy when layered and sewn together. It can be manipulated and folded, handled, and only gains a lovelier patina. There is something magical in that.
The skeletal remains were found covered in layers of fallen leaves and forest growth and decay. I am currently experimenting with layering of embroidery and incorporating text continues to simulate forensic taphonomy and the layering of forest vegetation over time.
Forensic taphonomy is concerned with the study of the decomposition of human remains, particularly in the context of burial sites.
… And when they were dead
The robins so red
Brought strawberry leaves
And over them spread;
And all the day long,
The green branches among,
They’d prettily whistle
And this was their song-
‘Poor babes in the wood!
Sweet babes in the wood!
Oh the sad fate of
The babes in the wood!’
“The Babes in the Wood,” Anonymous (ca 1595). Public domain.
On January 15, 1953, the skeletal remains of two children were found in the forest of Stanley Park in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The victims became known as the Babes in the Wood. The physical evidence indicated that the children were killed using a hatchet and confidently pointed to the involvement of a woman, likely the children’s mother. Unsolved for over 63 years, the double homicide still haunts the city as the identities of the two victims remain unknown.
My involvement began when I was a volunteer researcher on the Babes in the Wood task force from 2003 to 2004. My work interpreted the cold case within the historical context of a Post War city, folding in theory as to the psychological behavior of the offender or offenders.
To enrich the profile of the unknown woman involved, I searched for comparison cases regarding troubled women in post war Vancouver and came across a story about the suicide of Molly O’Dwyer, a young immigrant woman who had relocated to the city from Alberta in July 1947. I printed out the article for my files.
In one glorious 3 AM AHA! moment, I recalled an obscure lead regarding a woman named Molly from Alberta who headed west in 1947 with her two children and was never heard from again.
13 years later, I have taken that initial headline about a suicide and, through extensive research, mapped out Molly’s entire life and the incredible parallels to the Babes in the Wood.
My thesis dares to ask, “What if?” – Katarina Thorsen