As Close to Crime: A Suspicious Death


It was early Wednesday evening, August 23, 1950, when the body of 22-year-old Ann Victoria Barrett was removed from Canoe Lake, located in Philadelphia’s Island League Park (now FDR Park).

George Metzer, Sr. and his two children, aged 8 and 15, were out making memories to last a lifetime when they spotted her. The fully-clothed body was floating in the middle of the lake, roughly 40 feet from the shore. The water was only 4 feet deep. Ann was 5 feet tall and weighed 110 pounds.

Mr. Metzer rowed his family back to shore, reported what they’d seen to the boating concessionaire, who then summoned the Park Guards. The Guards rowed out, retrieved the body and transported her to Methodist Hospital.

The woman was wearing blue Navy slacks and matching waist-length jacket, a yellow jersey, black socks and black loafers. Ann Victoria Barrett, a Navy WAVE, had been reported missing the day before. On the very day Ann was reported missing, a man who was fishing in Canoe Lake spotted a wallet in some shrubbery, located 4 feet from the water. Seeing that the wallet belonged to a WAVE, he turned it over to a sentry at the Naval Base gate.

At the morgue, Ann’s body was positively identified by Katherine Bennett, yeoman 2nd Class, and Lillian M. Young, yeoman 1st Class.

Identifying the body was never the problem. Determining how she ended up there was. A difference of opinion would stall the investigation.

Robbery was ruled out as a contributing factor because Ann’s wallet still contained an undisclosed amount of cash and on the ring finger of Ann’s left hand was diamond ring. She hadn’t been raped so it didn’t appear to be a sex crime. The coroner concluded that cause of death was drowning.

Police interviewed Ann’s fellow WAVES and heard one misconception that quickly had Captain James A. Kelly, homicide squad chief, writing her off as a suicide. Several women told the detectives that they knew Ann to be “a war widow” who was despondent over “the death of her husband in Alaska.”

undated photo, image

Ann’s military record showed her marital status as “single.” Ann’s mother, Catherine, and Ann’s twin sister, Alice, disputed this claim of Ann being a widow. According to Catherine, her daughter Ann, “never even went steady” with a young man.

Ann’s father, Arthur, who was 37 years older than Catherine (his 2nd wife), had died in 1943 at the age of 73.

L to R – Ann, Catherine and Alice in the early 1940s image

As far as being depressed, this too was contested. Ann returned to Denver on leave during the first week of August. During that time, she showed no signs of depression and, in fact, Ann told her family she was “having a swell time.”

Catherine referenced a letter from Ann that she’d received on August 19th which stated Ann had enjoyed her recent holiday in Denver but she had “missed the kids” at the Naval Base WAVE barrack and was glad to be back in Philadelphia.

Ann’s commanding officer, Lt. Commander Audrey F.C. Williams, also disagreed with the police’s assertion that Ann was depressed and took her own life. According to Williams, “Miss Barrett was at no time despondent or worried. She seemed in her usual cheerful good spirits.”

Ann Barrett had enlisted in the Navy Women’s Reserve in November 1948 because they offered training in something she was passionate about – photography. Ann completed basic training at the Naval Station Great Lakes in Illinois and was assigned to Philadelphia’s Naval Air Experimental Station in February 1949.

Ernestine Fredette

On August 21, 1950, Ann took part in an impromptu party at a bar called “The Bucket.” According to the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper, they were celebrating a victory by Ann’s softball team. With Ann that night were three fellow WAVEs – Ernestine Fredette (who had driven the three gals there), Mary Ernster and Amary Smith plus 5 enlisted men in civilian clothes.

Amary Smith was the first to leave the group that night; she had a previous engagement.

As the evening wore on, Ann told the others that she was feeling tired and asked Ernestine Fredette for the keys to her car. Ann wasn’t planning on driving herself back to the base; she thought she might take a nap in the backseat. Ann stepped outside just long enough to unlock the car before returning the keys to Ernestine. Ann said she would lock herself in the car.

Around 11:45 PM, Ann’s friends came out, knocked on the window and offered to drive her back to base but she declined. Less than 30 minutes later, two Navy enlisted men, Cyril Bowe, aviation mate third class, and Frederick Boldt, seaman first class, spotted Ann still sleeping in the back of the car and offered to escort her back to base. Again, she declined.

When Ernestine and Mary left the bar at 1:30 AM on Tuesday morning, they noticed immediately that Ann was gone and the car was unlocked. They drove back to base and learned that Ann had not checked in at the barracks in Mustin Field. They returned to search the area between bar and the base, but finding no trace of Ann, they reported her missing. She was scheduled to be on duty Tuesday morning.

At 4 PM on Wednesday, Ann was missing no longer.

Philadelphia Inquirer –
Feb 14, 1955 image

Curiously, Captain James A. Kelly was quick to announce to the press, and I assume to Ann’s family, that the police investigation produced “nothing to indicate that she died of any violence.” He theorized that Ann may have slipped or plunged into the water. He had not yet received the coroner Joseph Ominsky’s report. This rush to judgement on Kelly’s part is disappointing because he had some high-profile arrests under his belt at this point.

Much was made, in the newspapers, of the fact that a lover’s lane, popular with sailors from the base and their girlfriends, runs along the area where she was found but that seems out of character for Ann.

Mrs. Catherine Coskey, waitress at The Bucket, told police that Ann wasn’t aloof when at the bar but that she had never made any dates with men she met there. Mrs. Coskey also reported that Ann, who usually drank beer, only had two glasses of beer that evening before heading out to Ernestine’s car for a nap.

Even if Ann were to take this lover’s lane back to the barracks, it’s a distance of one mile between the bar and the lake.

It’s difficult, after 69 years, to pinpoint the exact location of a bar that’s
no longer in business. Especially as various newspapers described it differently.
I feel it must have been at an intersection somewhere near where I’ve indicated.
This will give you a rough idea of the distance between the bar and Canoe Lake.
The Philadelphia Navy Yard is at the bottom of the map near the Google logo.

Dr. Frank Glauser, coroner’s physician, performed the autopsy on Ann and his report included things not mentioned in the police report. Namely three bruises to Ann’s nose and lower lip and the discovery of two monogrammed, blood-stained handkerchiefs that had been stuffed into Ann’s yellow jersey. According an August 26th edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer, both handkerchiefs had the initial “C” on them. Earlier reports had the initials as either a “J, “C” or “I.”

Dr. Glauser’s report concluded that Ann’s drowning and the events leading up to it showed no indication of being natural or self-induced. He felt there was a good chance she had been rendered unconscious before being tossed into the water.

Philadelphia Inquirer photo –
August 27, 1950

On Friday, August 25th, detectives from the coroner’s office spent three hours interviewing fellow WAVEs Ernestine Fredette, Mary Ernster and Amary Smith. During the interviews, Detective John Fenton learned that one of those three women, it wasn’t revealed which one, had been at The Bucket one week prior and suspected someone seated at her table might have slipped her some “knockout drops.”

Police revealed this fact to the press on Saturday, August 26th. They also made it known that they were anxious to talk with one of the five sailors in civilian clothes who had been part of the impromptu party on the evening on Monday. Rumor had it that he had been seen kissing Ann before she went missing. His name was not revealed.

Ann’s mother and sister flew in from Denver while police were still waiting on results from tests being conducted by Dr. Charles Lampert, city chemist. They arrived on Saturday, August 26th and were guests of the Naval Base.

Despite early pronouncements by the police of Ann’s death being suicide, an investigation was launched by the coroner’s office and the US Navy.

A conference was convened so that all of the investigators could compare notes. In attendance was Captain James A. Kelly who brought along Sgt. Samuel Riccardi and Detective Daniel O’Mahoney (two members of his homicide squad), Coroner Joseph Ominsky and Deputy Coroner M. Philip Freed, Coroner’s Detective John Fenton, Park Guard Detective Sgt. Thomas Clark. Afterwards, they were all in agreement. Ann’s death was not suicide.

Ann’s memorial service was held on August 29th at the Naval Base Chapel.

On August 30, 1950 the results of Dr. Lampert’s test were revealed. There was no evidence of drugs, barbiturates or knockout drugs in Ann’s vital organs. The blood analysis showed an alcoholic content of .15 of one percent. This indicated Ann had been drinking but because her body had been in the water for some time no definite conclusion could be reached, said Captain Kelly. However, if you recall, the waitress stated Ann had only had 2 beers that night.

Despite everyone’s best intentions to investigate the circumstances of Ann’s death and perhaps bring a murderer to justice, the case went cold. Nothing additional was reported in the nation’s newspapers regarding the investigation until December 1st, 1950.

On November 30, 1950, following a 2 1/2 hour coroner’s inquest, the official verdict was that Ann Barrett “came to her death by drowning in a manner unknown – in line with her duty while serving her country.” Fifteen people, many of them sailors, testified at the inquest but nothing new was revealed. We still don’t know the name of the man who was seen kissing Ann. It may have been revealed at the inquiry but nothing was made public.

Coroner Joseph Ominsky said he would classify the case as open, ever hopeful for future developments, but it was acknowledged at the time that a resolution was unlikely. Line 21 of the Pennsylvania death certificate calls for a determination of  Accident, Suicide or Homicide. Joseph Ominsky marked it as “UNK.”

On October 15, 1953, 51-year-old James A. Kelly resigned from the Philadelphia Police Force, ending his 25-year career. As a parting shot he accused his superiors of ruining his health and destroying his initiative. Less than two years later he was dead.

Ernestine Fredette, who joined the Navy in 1944, retired in 1966. Her final assignment before retiring was the portrait studio of the Naval Photographic Station in Washington, D.C. Among the photos she was honored to have taken were President Lyndon Johnson and his wife Lady Bird; Secretary of the Navy, John Warner; Astronaut Scott Carpenter; and actor LCDR Jackie Cooper, USNR.

Catherine Barrett died on September 15, 1990, still waiting for news regarding Ann’s death.

Alice Barrett married Jackson Gould on July 12, 1952. They had a lasting and loving marriage which resulted in children and grandchildren. Jackson died in 2007 and Alice in 2009.

Ann Victoria Barrett is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. photo uploaded by John Evans

It’s nice to know that Ann’s mysterious death hasn’t gone completely forgotten. In 2010, 2013 and again in 2016, the daughter of a former WAVE who had been Ann’s friend when they were stationed together at the Philadelphia Naval Base, placed inquiries on various genealogical websites seeking information regarding the case on behalf of her own mother and Ann’s niece. It doesn’t seem as though she’s had much success but at least someone’s still looking for answers.


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