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The poignant story of the woman who snatched baby Karen Lightfoot
10:15am Monday 11th March 2013 in News
Former journalist Chris Barrow concludes his dramatic account of the kidnap of little Karen Lightfoot in 1965.
SHE cowered between the two policemen who dwarfed her in the dock at St Helens Magistrates’ Court.
This was the first glimpse the public had been allowed of Mary Elizabeth Draper, the woman who took Karen Lightfoot and her pram from outside the Church Street store of Marks and Spencer.
News of the baby’s safe recovery and Draper’s arrest swept through the town.
She became a hate figure, and the courtroom was packed,chiefly with mothers. But they were quick to realise that Draper was to be pitied, not reviled.
The “monster” image was quickly destroyed by the evidence of Det Chf Insp Ken Collett, who had led the hunt for baby Karen.
He spoke of the interview he conducted with 34-year-old Draper after Karen had been found at her home in Osborne Street, Wigan.
When he asked Draper to “tell me about it” she replied “It is the baby you have been looking for. I want to tell you all about it.”
This is how Mary Draper poured out her confession: “I was expecting a baby on the 28th of February but, through no fault of my own, I had a miscarriage.
“I was afraid to tell my husband in case he left me.
“I carried on the pretence of having the baby until it was due, and I wore slack clothing. On 27th March I ordered a taxi, leaving a note to say I had to go to the hospital because the baby was overdue.
“When I came home I told my husband the baby had been kept in the hospital. I said I had to go to bed. He kept on all weekend asking when the baby was coming home.
“Last Friday I got out of bed and said I was going out to phone the hospital to see how the baby was. Instead, I caught a bus to St Helens and walked around several stores thinking of how I would tell my husband.
“I walked along Church Street and saw a pram. There was no-one with it. I wheeled it away and stopped near a side street where there are some small shops.
“I walked across waste land to the No 1 bus stop and caught a bus to Haydock and then one to Platt Bridge. When I got home I changed the baby and put on clothes which I had got for my baby.
“When I got home there was no-one in. I later told my husband I had been told to go for the baby to hospital.
“I had burned the clothing she had been wearing.
“He was delighted with the baby and thought it was a boy. I never told him it was a girl. I haven’t slept since it happened. That’s all – I only did it because I didn’t want to lose my husband.”
Mary Draper had then been charged with unlawfully taking away, by force, Karen Lightfoot with intent to deprive her father of possession.
Her solicitor, Mr Noel Adler, then spoke of Draper’s tragic background. She had had three children before.
The first was born when Draper was in her teens and unmarried, and this had been adopted. A second died after a few weeks and the third was stillborn.
Det Insp Bob Whitfield told the court he made the arrest after going to Draper’s home accompanied by DC Eric Litherland.
It was 10 minutes before midnight on April 5 when he called at her house in Osborne Street.
He said he was making inquiries into the disappearance of Karen Lightfoot and had reason to believe she was in possession of a young child. She simply replied “Yes.”
Insp Whitfield continued: “I asked her when the child was born and she said ‘On the 28th March this year.’ I asked her if I could see the child and she said ‘Sure.’
“She went upstairs and returned with a carrycot in which there was a baby. I asked her who had attended the birth and she said ‘Nurse Quinn and Dr Ince.’
“I then asked her if the baby had been born at home and she said ‘No, at Billinge Hospital.
"Dr Ince thought there might be complications but there weren’t any and he sent me home after a day.’ “I said further inquiries would be made.”
Insp Whitfield said he saw Draper again at the Central Police Office in Wigan at 12.35am on April 6 and cautioned her.
He told her he believed the baby was Karen Lightfoot and she replied “I’m sorry. I did it. I didn’t know the trouble it would cause, Inspector.”
The St Helens JPs had sympathy for the frightened woman before them.
Draper was granted bail and some weeks later appeared at Liverpool Quarter Sessions.
The judge felt he could be lenient because of the extreme mitigating circumstances surrounding the abduction.
Mary Elizabeth Draper was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment.
WHERE are you, Karen Lightfoot?
That’s the question detective Tom Mousdale has asked The St Helens Star to help find an answer to.
He would welcome a reunion with Karen… to learn how life has spanned out for her and to give her his precious picture.
Tom said: “I simply believe she is entitled to the photograph; it illustrates a special moment in her life, and I feel sure the gift will ensure that it lives on after I have gone.”
Tom knows that Karen married, and believes she lives close to her Blackbrook family home, but he has no idea what her married name is.
Tom added: “She could so easily be a grandmother by now.
“I would love to fill in the gaps between 1965 and today.
“It would be wonderful to meet Karen again and to tell her just what it was like when my colleagues and I frantically searched for her.”
The St Helens Star telephone number is 01744 762766.
BRAVE Brenda Lightfoot embarked on a crusade to help the mothers of St Helens.
Within days of the return of her brown-haired baby daughter, Karen, she took on the role of a mum with a mission.
Brenda decided to go head-to-head with the bosses of the town’s big stores in a move designed to have the ban on prams inside shops lifted.
She quickly recruited a powerful ally in the shape of Chief Constable Archie Atherton, whose force had to deal with hundreds of cases of “lost” children each year in the early Sixties.
He described Brenda’s proposals as foolproof, and said if adopted they would be a step in the right direction in ensuring children were not left in the street outside stores.
Brenda she challenged store chiefs to put things right. She wanted them to set up nurseries supervised by an experienced nanny.
Mothers placing babies would sign them in and receive a token to be surrendered when collecting their youngster. In the end, though, costs proved prohibitive.
Instead, areas at the front of Woolworths, Marks and Spencer and Lincoln House were cleared to allow prams to be brought inside – with mothers taking it in turns to guard the little ones.
It worked…until the memories of that black day in 1965 were completely forgotten.