Three Babes In The Woods

Three Babes In The Woods Marker
near the intersection of Pine Tree Drive & Centerville Road (Route 233)
Newville, Pennsylvania
submitted by: “wendyvee”

For parts of my junior and senior years in college, I tended bar at a little mountaintop bar/seafood restaurant called Kahler’s Pine Tree Inn (sadly it burned down some time ago – I really wish that I had some pictures of it). I passed this marker every day on my way to work and often thought about the three little girls who had lost their lives in such tragic circumstances.

On November 24, 1934 three girls [Norma Sedgewick Noakes, 12, Dewilla Noakes, 10, and Cordelia Noakes, 8] were found by local men out scavenging for wood. The girls had been suffocated about 50 feet from the side of the road and left under a battered green blanket. The discovery soon became a local sensation as citizens and law enforcement became obsessed with identifying the children and their murderer.

In the midst of the Great Depression, the father of the girls, Elmo J. Noakes, and his young niece, Winifred Pierce, traveled across the country from Roseville, California with the girls in tow. They were looking for work and a better place to live. That quest ended in desperation. Money and food were scarce and it is believed that Mr. Noakes smothered the starving children (the girls were emaciated and likely hadn’t eaten regularly for quite some before their deaths). Police believed that the girls had been killed on or around November 21st. A brief time after the discovery of the girls, the bodies of Elmo and Winifred were found several counties west of this site — the apparent perpetrator and victim of a a murder/suicide.

Local press reported that several hundred people attended a memorial service and funeral for the girls. Ewing Brothers Funeral Home (which is still in operation in nearby Carlisle, Pennsylvania) donated its services and the Carlisle Post of the American Legion arranged the burial of the sisters at Carlisle’s Westminster Cemetery. Their father and aunt are buried in the same cemetery.

The site where the “Three Babes” were discovered

As with other shocking crimes throughout history, there were (and continue to be) conflicting dates, motivations, and details surrounding the deaths of the little girls. When I worked at the bar, I heard various versions of the story (some wildly embellished) and the accompanying ghost stories that develop as tragedies fade fade over the decades from being news to becoming legend.


>   A version of the The Babes In The Woods story at “Pennsylvania Jack”

>   Images of the grave site via “Find A Grave”

>   Images of a Nebraska newspaper piece near the time of the discovery

17 thoughts on “Three Babes In The Woods

  1. Geez, that’s sad. I guess the father thought he was being merciful but it seems like such a waste, like someone could have helped them. I suppose some people feel this way now, too, how tragic.

    1. I know, I can’t imagine how desperate someone would have to be to get into that state of mind.

      Back when I used to pass this sign on the way to work, there would often be stuffed animals or toys below it. It’s amazing how their memories have been kept alive for so long.

    2. What is really sad is nobody realizes how many missing starving and exploited children there were in 1934. There were responses from all over the entire United States when these dear little girls bodies were discovered.

  2. My grandfather Morey J Potter was the news reporter for this story when this tragic event had happened. My mother had the actual pictures that my grandfather had taken of these children as they were placed on a blanket deceased. There were also pictures of each child he had taken at the morg. My mother passed away in 1990 and we have looked for these pictures and were never able to find them. It was as though they were buried along with her when she passed. I never forgot what they looked like and the feeling of sadness I felt. This was such a horrible way to die. We think mother either bunt these pictures or gave them to her sister. I will have to check with my aunt since my gradfather had kept a scrap book on this tradegy. Who would have thought we would move to that area in 1970 and then find out my grandfather had done this article. Strange but true. Sadly Morey passed away when my mother was young. I keep pictures of him and my grandmother Gertrude or Trudy as she liked to be called on my dresser. I wish I would have had the opportunity to meet them but both passed before I was born.

    1. Wow, Sherry … so glad that you commented.

      I can’t imagine how sad it must have been for your gandfather and others who witnessed the aftermath of the girls’ deaths.

      I was just Googling your grandfather and found some really great links to some of his pieces.

    2. I saw the “Babes in the woods” memorial many years ago and I am trying to find it. This web site says it is near intersection of 233 (Centerville Rd) and Pine Road. But sattelite photo shows that as open farm land, and I rememebr the memorial was in a wooded area. Can anyone help?

      1. Ken –
        It’s actually Pine Tree not Pine (I know it can be confusing … there is actually yet another Pine-named road very nearby as well).

        If you are at this little intersection … you’ll be about 50 yards away from the marker.

        Hope this helps 🙂

  3. I grew up in the area and heard many different versions of the story. I’ve spent a lot of time researching the actual events and am so amazed that there is very little information to piece together the entire story. And there are many disturbing revelations. Norma Sedgwick didn’t belong to Elmo. She was his stepdaughter. Elmo took Norma from her real father after her mother died, and when he crossed the state line with her, her real dad couldn’t get aid from authorities to get her back. In 2004 her name was corrected on the grave and on official records. Elmo and Winifred (his sister’s daughter) were lovers. It’s believed that a family feud about the affair drove the couple East with the children. It’s unclear if the murders were pre-meditated or if they were a result of desperation in a moment of weakness.

      1. The film is a ‘what if’ version…many what ifs, that is! So keep in mind it’s an ‘inspired by’ version of the story. The brutal scenes would’ve been a bit too much for the young actors. And the hopeless end of the actual events were a bit too Shakespearean for me to deal with in short form.
        Not To Be Taken is showing at POWFest March 2012 and there are pending acceptances at other festivals. Once the film has finished its festival circuit, I will post a cut on Vimeo for public viewing.
        I hope someday to piece together the actual events, work through character motivations, and write a feature-length version that does justice to the dead.
        You can learn more about the film at:
        Thanks for your site – it transports me back to my hometown/childhood in central PA!

  4. Wow. Joan and I have been to a lot of obscure spots in Pennsylvania, but I don’t think we’ve ever come across this one. What a terribly sad story. … (As an aside, you might be pleased to know that your website is the #2 Google result when typing Three Babes in the Woods. You’re pretty much the go-to site for information about this roadside oddity.)

    1. A very sad event, indeed.

      Even if you and Joan had driven by it (had you happened to be on RT 233) … it’s VERY easy to miss if you don’t know that it’s there.

  5. As you are driving up and down hills on route 233 south at 45 to 50 mph its humbling to read the state route marker. I visited the State Police Barracks on a field trip when I was in elementary school and the pictures and story stayed with me for 40 some years. I told my daughter what the marker was for and we researched more info on the web about it.

  6. My father pointed this site out to me and my siblings when I was a little girl. He was an avid fisherman and outdoor enthusiast and often took our family fishing and picnicking during the warm months. This memory has stayed with me all these years as I am now in my 50’s.
    I was delighted to find information online about this. Thanks for your article.

    1. I’m glad you found the site, Sandra and Lori. It’s amazing that the memory of these unfortunate little girls still lives on today.

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