Baby Deaths Case Is Reopened Police Have Again Questioned A Kensington Couple In The Mysterious String Of Deaths Three Decades Ago.

Posted: April 01, 1998

More than 30 years after the last in a string of mysterious baby deaths that left a Kensington couple childless, Philadelphia police are again investigating the case, which has long baffled medical experts and detectives.

Homicide Division detectives last week brought the couple - Arthur and Marie Noe - to the Police Administration Building for questioning. Marie Noe, 69, gave a signed statement in which she implicated herself in several of the deaths, investigators said.

The statement has been sent to the District Attorney's Office so prosecutors can review it and decide whether to press charges. Police said investigators would compare the statement to autopsy findings for the babies.

Investigators familiar with the case, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was uncertain whether the new information was sufficient to support prosecution. They said it was unclear whether Marie Noe understood what she was doing when she gave the statement to detectives March 25.

``Did she know what she was doing?'' asked one investigator. ``I'm not sure.''

District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham declined to comment on the case.

Efforts to reach the Noes, whose phone number is unlisted, were unsuccessful. The couple has said the deaths were the result of ``crib death,'' also known as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, which claims 8,000 lives a year in the United States. SIDS occurs when an infant has an abnormal response to a decrease in oxygen during sleep.

Marie Noe gave birth to 10 children from 1949 to 1968. One was stillborn. A second died in the hospital six hours after birth. The rest went home in what appeared to be good health. None lived beyond 15 months.

The first child, named Richard, was a month old when he died April 7, 1949. The probable cause of death was listed as heart disease. The cause was never conclusively determined.

The couple's ninth child, Catherine Ellen, lived the longest. She died at 14 months on Feb. 25, 1966, of unexplained causes.

The last death was on Jan. 2, 1968. That baby, named Arthur Joseph, was slightly over 5 months old when he died after being sent home from an extended hospital stay. The cause of death was never determined. There were no suspicious marks found on his body when doctors pronounced him dead on arrival at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children.

``There are no reasons to believe that they are not natural deaths,'' Joseph W. Spelman, then the city's medical examiner, said in a 1968 interview. ``But what the disease is, what the metabolic or genetic defect is, we do not know. . . . We have no idea.''

Halbert Fillinger, then a pathologist on the medical examiner's staff, performed autopsies on several of the Noe infants. Fillinger, now Montgomery County coroner, said authorities suspected foul play, but could never find proof.

``I'm sure [the Noes] are not happy to see all this tragedy bubble up again, but I think this is a good idea,'' he said.

``I still think something must have happened to those kids,'' Fillinger said. ``When you have the first death, it's a tragedy. When you have the second, it's a medical mystery. But by the third, it's a homicide.''

In a January interview with a Daily News reporter, Arthur Noe, 76, a former Democratic committeeman, said he was still haunted by the deaths.

``The last thing we want to see is this thing brought up again,'' said Arthur Noe, who worked as an aide to former City Councilman Harry Jannotti and at the Philadelphia Gas Works. ``It brings up all the pain and troubles and heartaches. Maybe it's news to others, but it's pain to us.''

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