Cradle to Grave

by longformphilly


Stephen Fried | Philadelphia Magazine | April 1998

Homicide Hal has always been concerned that the Noe case is a ditzel.

The renowned forensic pathologist thought the case might be a ditzel back in 1963, when he did the autopsy on the sixth healthy infant that Art and Marie Noe had lost to “crib death.” And he was completely honest with that nun who called him at the medical examiner’s office in 1966 to inform him that the Noes were listing him as a reference on their adoption application—after having lost a record nine babies.

”I remember telling the nun there were two ways of looking at this,” recalls Dr. Halbert Fillinger, the 71-year-old Montgomery County medical examiner with the “Homicide Hal” license plate. “I said, ‘If you give Marie Noe a baby, she’ll either kill it quickly … or, if she had no hand in these deaths, nobody deserves a baby more than she does.’”

Everyone in the Philadelphia Office of the Medical Examiner (OME) had suspicions about the Noes back then, even though they never said so publicly. And, sitting in an office cluttered with antique murder-phernalia, Fillinger says he continues to have his suspicions today, 30 years after the tenth Noe baby died and the couple was investigated one last time and nothing came of it. While the Noes went on to rebuild their lives, their case lay dormant in OME file #30-68 and police homicide miscellaneous investigation file #11-1968. Just another ditzel.

“A ditzel is a case that looks like a goodie, but means nothing,” Fillinger tells me, his voice so gruff and breathy that everything he says sounds like it might become a dirty joke. “It’s a fairy tale you bought and you get it home and the last chapter is torn out. So there is no answer.

“Yes, I wonder what happened to those ten little kids. But there are so many blind alleys. You think you’ve got something meaty, but it’s like a papier-mache pizza. You keep thinking, Somebody must know something somewhere. But they don’t, because, well, it’s a ditzel.”

Writer bio: While Stephen Fried, a native of Harrisburg and graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, is a two-time winner of the National Magazine Award, the result of this story may be his ultimate trophy: it pushed the murderer, after 30 years, to confess.

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