BALTIMORE, MD — At around 6:15 P.M. on November 8, 1954, 14-year-old Carolyn Wasilewski said she was heading out to meet her friend Peggy so they could “register for dance lessons.” Carolyn’s long-suffering parents knew this could mean anything.
Despite her tender years, Carolyn had established herself as a queenpin among local juvenile delinquents. In particular, she lorded over a subset of Baltimore toughs with a love for leather jackets, rockabilly music, and hotwiring hot rods who were known as the “Drapes.”
Clad in a black denim jacket, pink shirt, and a black skirt with a green scarf wrapped around the curlers in her bleached blonde hair, Carolyn very much dressed the part of a Drape when she split that evening.
The next time anyone saw Carolyn, she was half-naked and all dead. A train engineer spotted her body sprawled out next to railroad tracks near the Belvedere Bridge. Emblazoned in lipstick on Carolyn’s right thigh was a single name: “Paul.”
Investigators located Carolyn’s blood-soaked clothing and personal items in a vacant lot about eight miles away. They concluded she’d been killed there at about 11 P.M., and then thrown off the bridge. Somewhat surprisingly, the coroner determined that she had not been sexually assaulted.
Immediately, the Baltimore PD dragged in every Drape and Drape-associate they could get their mitts on. The cops ultimately interviewed more than 300 people. Nobody knew anything.
In the meantime, the press had pumped up the murder as a “screamer headline” scandal, and the public reacted with near hysteria. As a result, rowdy crowds packed Carolyn’s wake and funeral services, with rubberneckers crazily vying to gawk at the “jailbait” gang deb in the casket.
The authorities never found more than two persons of serious interest. The first was a man accused of raping another Drape girl. Carolyn had testified against him in court. However, he had an alibi for this crime.
The other man brought in for questioning was Ralph Garrett, a married 45-year-old who lived near Carolyn. At least one witness claimed to see Garret talking to the girl the night she died. He protested his innocence.
The very day that police formally announced Garrett as a suspect, his body was found hanging by a belt in a rail yard directly across the street from the murder location. Stunningly, police concluded that Garrett, distraught over his mother’s recent passing, had simply committed suicide and that he had nothing to do with Carolyn’s death. And since then — that’s it.
The case remains unsolved, and it’s evolved into something of a Baltimore legend.
The city’s best-loved filmmaker, John Waters, was just eight when Carolyn died. He said the whole story profoundly impacted him, and he later turned his fascination with “Drape” culture into his classic movie Cry-Baby (1990).
In that way, at least, some of Carolyn Wasilewski’s spirit will always live on.
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Main photo: Carolyn Wasilewski [Wikipedia]