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Archive for Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Mysteries remain 25 years after abandoned baby found at Lawrence apartment building

January 18, 2011

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This stairwell, at 2400 Ala. in Lawrence, is where then-KU students Jana Cook and Kathleen Zans discovered an abandoned, newborn baby in a box on January 19, 1986.

This stairwell, at 2400 Ala. in Lawrence, is where then-KU students Jana Cook and Kathleen Zans discovered an abandoned, newborn baby in a box on January 19, 1986.

Lawrence resident Ron Holzwarth looks over a scattering of photographs of an ex-girlfriend, laid out on the floor of his apartment on Friday, Jan. 7, 2011. Holzwarth believes that the woman in the photographs, whose identity he will not reveal, abandoned their biological son, Baby John Doe, in a box in a stairwell of an apartment complex at 2400 Ala. on Jan. 19, 1986.

Lawrence resident Ron Holzwarth looks over a scattering of photographs of an ex-girlfriend, laid out on the floor of his apartment on Friday, Jan. 7, 2011. Holzwarth believes that the woman in the photographs, whose identity he will not reveal, abandoned their biological son, Baby John Doe, in a box in a stairwell of an apartment complex at 2400 Ala. on Jan. 19, 1986.

Related document

Baby John Doe articles ( .PDF )

It didn’t seem all that unusual for a box to be sitting in the stairwell of Jana Cook and Kathleen Zans’ apartment complex 25 years ago Wednesday.

Classes were starting up again, and students were doing the semi-annual apartment shift around Lawrence. That included the women’s apartment complex, which still stands at 2400 Ala.

“We’d gone by that box all day,” Cook said.

But after a few hours, the roommates looked inside the box and found a newborn baby, umbilical cord still attached. More than two decades later, the case of the abandoned baby — who would now be a grown man — remains something of a local mystery. Those involved in the case reflect on what happened to the infant, while one Lawrence man seeks to reunite with the person he believes is his son.

‘Just the kind of baby everyone wants’

When Cook and Zans found the baby, which paramedics estimated to be just hours old, it wasn’t moving.

“We didn’t know if it was dead or alive,” said Cook, who, with Zans, was a Kansas University student at the time.

They called 911, and the newborn, referred to as Baby John Doe, turned out healthy, endearing himself to the nursing staff at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. A Jan. 21, 1986, front-page Journal-World article was headlined “Abandoned child wins hearts of nursing staff.” He was described as “gorgeous” and “just the kind of baby everybody wants.”

The child’s birth parents never came forward in the case, and the community watched closely as the baby worked his way through the legal system, looking for a permanent family.

“There were just hundreds of people calling SRS wanting that baby,” said former Douglas County District Judge Jean Shepherd, who handled the case and eventual adoption.

Shepherd, 25 years later, remains one of the few people who know what happened to the baby. But strict confidentiality laws prevent her from saying much about the adoption, and the adoption case file remains sealed.

Looking for a son

Lawrence resident Ron Holzwarth has spent the last few years trying to find Baby John Doe. And as Holzwarth thumbed through old photos and newspaper articles about the case at his apartment recently, he said he believes he’s the baby’s biological father.

“No question,” Holzwarth said, though he can present only circumstantial evidence for his claim.

The day the baby was found, Holzwarth, who lived across the street from the apartments, says he found a note on his door saying, “There’s a package for you across the street.” He didn’t think much of it until he read stories about the baby in the newspaper. The note, along with some other circumstances, led Holzwarth to believe a woman he had a relationship with abandoned the baby. Holzwarth said he was unaware the woman was pregnant and he hadn’t talked with her in months.

At the time, Holzwarth said he debated going to police, but decided against it.

“I alone had no way to support him, and I did not want him to be in the limbo of the foster care system,” he said.

At this point, the only way to verify Holzwarth’s claim would be a blood test, and that would require Baby John Doe to contact Holzwarth.

Every year since Baby John Doe turned 21, Holzwarth has placed an announcement in the Journal-World wishing him a happy birthday. In addition to a desire to reconnect after all the years, Holzwarth says he wants to convey some health-related information to the man, particularly about a genetic heart condition. Holzwarth remains active on websites such as www.adoption.com, where he posts information with the hope that someday Baby John Doe will come across the website and contact him.

Safe Haven Law

At the time the child was abandoned, Kansas didn’t have an infant safe haven law. But in 2006, the state passed the Kansas Newborn Infant Protection Act that protects mothers from criminal charges if, instead of abandoning a baby, they “surrender” it to a fire station, health department or hospital. In Kansas, mothers have used the law three times, once in 2008 and twice in 2010, according to Bill Miskell, spokesman for the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.

Shepherd said the law was spurred by cases such as Baby John Doe, who spent his first few hours of life in a stairwell in the middle of winter.

Despite that rough start, Shepherd said, things probably turned out OK for him.

“This child probably does have a regular life and regular parents,” she said.

Cook and Zans, who remain friends, said they kept up with the case at the time and even tried to visit the baby at the hospital, where they were questioned by authorities who suspected one of them might be the birth mother.

More than two decades later, the two occasionally talk about the mysterious baby they found back in college.

“We’ve always wondered what happened to him,” Cook said. “He was a beautiful baby.”

Comments

Erin Graham 3 years, 11 months ago

God bless..and may you find your answers, Ron.

Ronda Miller 3 years, 11 months ago

Wishing all involved a positive outcome. I hope the baby was adopted by loving and kind parents. Ron, keep the faith and I'm sure hoping to read about your reunion one day soon.

AnnaUndercover 3 years, 11 months ago

This story made me tear up. I'll keep my fingers crossed for Ron.

bearded_gnome 3 years, 11 months ago

Oh Ron.
this is an intense incredible story.

I had not been in lawrence long at that time, and I guess I hadn't noticed it in the news.

I know you have a big warm corner in your heart for this guy who's 25 now.

hang in there Ron. you're doing the right stuff. I do understand how you'd be reticent to come forward back then in 1986.

Cait McKnelly 3 years, 11 months ago

Ron, I've come to know you over the years on the LJW boards. I had no idea of your personal pain in this and I'm very happy to know what a good man you are. Although she didn't abandon her son, my sister gave her baby up for adoption in a sealed adoption when she was 16 in 1975. The day he turned 18 she began to search for him. The fact that they found each other is a miracle in and of itself. You can read their story at http://sunflower.com/~caitlin/KattandAndy.htm I will pray that you find this young man, and however it turns out, whether he is your son or not, may you have some peace and closure. Perhaps you will be able to provide the same for him.

grammaddy 3 years, 11 months ago

p>Adoption.com worked for me. I found the daughter I gave up at birth in "73 almost 3 years ago. I gained 2 granddaughters in the process.It takes time, especially when you have less info than I did, but it can happen. Good luck!

Bob Forer 3 years, 11 months ago

Thanks for sharing your story, Ron. It took a lot of guts to open your heart to public inspection. I wish you the best. If you believe in Karma, good things happen for good folks.

Ron Holzwarth 2 years, 11 months ago

Happy 26th Birthday Baby John Doe born January 19th, 1986 with love and tears across the years. I would love to try to make your life better, but if you do not contact me, that won't be possible. 785-865-4034

Ron Holzwarth 2 years, 11 months ago

There is a small error in the article. It states that the note read: “There’s a package for you across the street.”

That is not correct in two ways. One is that the contraction "There's" was not used, instead it read "There is". And, there was no period at the end of it.

Correctly, it read: "There is a package for you across the street"

Some are some things you simply do not ever forget.

A blood test is mentioned. That is not done anymore to prove paternity, instead a Q-tip is swiped against the inside of the cheek, and no needle is involved.

And, if the evidence that I can present is "only circumstantial", we need to let everyone out of jails and prisons everywhere. Because if eyewitness testimony is only circumstantial, no one can be convicted of anything.

Ron Holzwarth 2 years, 11 months ago

Or you could say nobody really knows who their real father is without a DNA test, I suppose.

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