Babes in the Woods

Outdoor B&W photo of a men and women standing around coffins in Westminster Cemetery near Carlisle, PA. Two coffins are visible, and a third is probably hidden behind one.
Photo of the roadside marker along Rt. 233 identifying the site.

Top: Men and women standing around coffins in Westminster Cemetery near Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Two coffins are visible, and a third is probably hidden behind one (PC-610-004 - Purchase Print);

Bottom: Roadside marker along Rt. 233 identifying the site.

In November of 1934, the bodies of three young girls were found on South Mountain along Centerville Road (Rt. 233) in Penn Township. No readily identifiable information was available to determine who they were, and the ensuing investigation of the mystery attracted nation-wide attention. A roadside marker along Rt. 233 identifies the site.

The bodies were taken to Carlisle for autopsies by the coroner and then were taken to the Ewing Funeral Home on South Hanover Street (located then in the present-day Carlisle House Bed and Breakfast). In an attempt to identify the bodies, the public was invited to view them. Thousands of people lined up and walked by the bodies but no identification was made.

At a small railway stop near Altoona, another mystery was also developing. The bodies of a man, Elmo Noakes, and a woman were found, evidently the victims of a murder and suicide. The investigation which followed, using clothing tags, eventually led the police to the tragic events in Cumberland County.

In the meantime, at Carlisle, plans were made for the burial of the girls at Westminster Cemetery in Carlisle. Following funeral services conducted by three of the local clergy, the funeral procession moved to Westminster where they were laid to rest and where their bodies remain.

As the investigation proceeded, it was learned that the girls, as well as the man and woman from Altoona, were members of a family from California. The events leading up to the family’s trip across country have never been fully understood. By the time the family reached Pennsylvania, they were out of money and had not eaten for several days. What led Elmo Noakes, the father of the girls, to kill his children is not known. The young woman who was killed was his niece, Winifred Pierce, who had been helping him care for the girls at their home in California following the death of Noakes’ wife two years previously. Two of the girls, Devilla, aged 10, and Cordelia, aged 8, were his by his recently deceased wife. The oldest girl, Norma Sedgewick, aged 12, was his wife’s child from a previous marriage.

Over several months in 2006, more than seventy years after the events, various branches of the family returned to Cumberland County to revisit the site for the first time since the tragedy occurred. One branch of this family of Mormons performed religious rites at the cemetery to consecrate the graves according to Mormon tradition. The ceremonies included the dedication of the graves of Noakes and Pierce who are also buried at Westminster, a short distance from the site of the grave of the girls.

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References (Sources Available at CCHS in bold)

A large collection of information about this tragedy is housed at CCHS in the library archives, the photo archives and the museum.  Among those are:

Babes in the Woods drop file; “Journal of Norma Sedgwick” compiled by her sister, Beverly Sedgwick Hatch; “Noakes / Pierce / Daniels Scrapbook” compiled by Dan Daniels; collection of photos regarding the tragedy; museum items related to the investigation.