That Time My Mom’s Babysitter Was A Murderer; or Why You Need to Vet Your Childcare Providers

My mom was born on May 30, 1933 at her paternal grandmother’s house in Clinton, New York. My grandparents, Tom and Dorothy Canfield and their newborn daughter Patricia then took up residence in Clayville, New York near the Clayville Knitting Mill (now Homogeneous Metals, a division of Pratt & Whitney) where both parents worked. The mill was located on the Sauquoit Creek, whose falls provided the hydroelectric power needed to function.

Photo taken from the ledge of a waterfall, overlooking flowing water and jutting branches.

Overlooking one of the mill’s waterfalls.

With Tom and Dorothy both having to work, they enlisted the services of a young neighbor named Stella, who watched several neighborhood children. Now, Stella was not cut out to provide child care – my mother and her friends used to tell stories of being regularly locked out of the house, even when one of the area bullies would come over, knock a child to the ground and sit on them. Stella would simply come to the door and tell them to knock off the racket.

Years passed, my mother grew old enough to take care of herself, and Stella married one Harry Komorek. Alles gut, ja?

Nein.

The Stella story my mother told me far more often that being sat on by the fat boy was of the early November day in 1949 when Stella came running down the street screaming that he son was gone – kidnapped, in fact. The authorities were called and an investigation was opened. Stella told the story of a strange man entering her home, taking six-week old Stephen from his crib, and fleeing in a “motor car.” Although she gave chase, Stella couldn’t catch up with the abductor.

Newspaper and radio coverage was nationwide, with Harry tearfully pleading for his son’s return and begging his captor to take care of young Stephen, even giving feeding instructions.

Photo of two adult women and two girls atop Bald Mountain in the Adirondacks.

Family day on Bald Mountain in the Adirondacks. Not pictured: murderer. From left, Grandma Dorothy, her niece Beverly, Mom, and grandma’s sister Helen.

Sadly, this was all for naught, as Stephen’s body was found in the shallower waters of the creek. The coroner became involved and the investigation intensified, ultimately resulting in Stella’s confession.

In her new story, Stella accidentally dropped the child during a feeding, which killed him. She said that she panicked, threw his body over the falls and ran into the street with her story. The entire time, her husband stood beside her, the coroner accepted this version of her story, and she was released.

Chicago Daily Tribune front page from November 7, 1949 with headline CHILD DEAD IN KIDNAP HOAX

Chicago Daily Tribune, November 7, 1949. Stella’s case is the headline, with the article in the far right column. The story made headlines across the United States and as far away as Australia.

Many members of the community remained convinced that she killed the child intentionally (for one drop – even if she was standing – to kill him seems to be unlikely, especially considering floors were wooden at this time, and may even have been carpeted). But, the case was closed and people were concerned with making their own livings as mechanization began to encroach on their own jobs.

I don’t know what became of Stella and Henry, but members of the Komorek family still reside in the area – none of them killers. In fact, one of the Gen-Yers in the family was my mom’s hairdresser for years. Morals of the story: if you don’t want kids, don’t have them, and Post-Partum Depression is real, so don’t ignore or dismiss it.

Groom and bride (James and Patricia Canfield White) cutting into wedding cake in the 1950s.

My mom went on to get married, have seven children, and a career as an executive secretary. She stayed sexy and didn’t get murdered.