In The Foundling, Part 1, Steve Morrow and his wife Rosie uncover an astonishing secret about her past, one that launches them on the investigation of their lives.
In Part 2, the search continues for Rosie’s biological parents.
And in this third and final installment, the Morrows piece together the facts of her parentage … but will they find the closure they seek?
We spent days waiting for a call from Cindy, who we now knew was Rosie’s aunt, and who knew something she wasn’t ready to tell us about the family’s past. Those days felt like lifetimes.
Finally, Cindy called—to share a suspicion she’d been stewing on for nearly a week: that her sister Michele, by then deceased, was Rosie’s biological mother. Her other sister, Corrina, was still pregnant at the time Rosie was born, Cindy explained. And her other sister, Paula, had never had a child, as far as Cindy knew.
Rosie’s aunt filled us in on Michele’s difficult history: She had worked for child support services and was married to a man named Daniel, who was not faithful to Michele. He had even stolen money from her, she claimed. But despite it all, Michele loved Daniel madly and would do whatever he asked her to do. She had even followed him to Texas, hoping to mend their failing relationship.
After Daniel cheated on her again in Texas, Michele gave up on him and moved back to California. Meanwhile, her multiple sclerosis was worsening. She’d suffered frequent bouts of depression and at times had refused to take medication. Left untreated, the MS had eventually killed her.
Cindy wasn’t sure about Daniel’s whereabouts but had heard a rumor that he had died in an accident in Dallas.
While Rosie considered this information, we headed to Ventura High School, where Paula and Michele had been students. The school librarian brought out a stack of old yearbooks for us, and we paged through them.
At one point, Rosie stopped turning pages, and her face went pale. I looked at the page and saw a familiar face staring up at me, one that looked uncannily like Rosie as a teenager—at around the age we started dating. We also found a yearbook photo of Michele’s sister, Paula, but I saw no resemblance between her and Rosie.
To me, this solidified the who, but Rosie still wasn’t sure.
When we got back to the office, we looked up Michele’s residence history and found out that she lived about three minutes by car from the alley where Rosie was found. Paula lived about fifteen minutes away. She had refused to take a DNA test, insisting that she’d never had a child. “Either trust me or don’t,” she said, her face hard and resolute.
“I don’t know you,” shot back Rosie, her expression a mirror image of Paula’s. I had seen the look many times on my wife’s face. And it was now becoming clearer to me where that iron will had come from.
The next day, we started looking into Daniel. An initial database search for him seemed to indicate a living person, and turned up several phone listings. I called one of the numbers and explained to a woman named Olivia who I was and why I was calling.
In a voice shot through with quiet disbelief, Olivia told me that Daniel was her father, and that he was alive. She then asked if she could talk to Rosie in person and “see for herself.” I put Rosie on the phone, and they agreed to meet in a few days.
In a voice shot through with quiet disbelief, Olivia told me that Daniel was her father, and that he was alive.
Meanwhile, we kept digging into Michele’s past. A colleague of ours soon discovered a bombshell: a birth certificate for a male child born to Michele and Daniel. The boy had been put up for adoption. We tracked him down and learned that his new name was George.
Rosie called George and told him her story. He was shocked but eager to learn more, and agreed to a DNA test.
That same day, there was one more bombshell: A man named Mark called to tell Rosie that he felt sure she was his half-sister. Mark was the oldest child of Daniel and the full-blood sibling of Olivia. He explained that Michele had told him, years ago, that she and Daniel had put one child up for adoption and aborted another child.
Mark suspected that Rosie might be the “aborted” child that Michele had spoken of.
Rosie and I met with Olivia and Olivia’s sister Amanda. Amanda had a different father than Olivia and Rosie, but knew Daniel well. The sisters marveled at the resemblance between Rosie and Olivia as a teenager—and also, between Rosie and their father, Daniel.
Olivia agreed to take a DNA test. We sent her a kit and waited.
Soon, Rosie received notification that Olivia had submitted her test and it was being processed. But George, it seemed, had never submitted his test. Rosie tried to follow up with George, but he never followed through on his promise.
Maybe knowing what had happened to Rosie gave him second thoughts about wanting to get involved. Or maybe he was afraid of finding out that someone in his family might have done this. We may never know.
About six weeks later, the results came in, showing that Olivia was Rosie’s half-sister. Olivia seemed pleased that the science confirmed what her heart and instincts already told her was true.
In June 2016, Rosie and I decided to visit Daniel. Rumors of his fatal accident were rooted in truth: He did sustain a life-threatening head injury while horseback riding. He’d been hospitalized and placed in a nursing home in Los Angeles. We were warned that the injury to his brain might have affected his memory.
As we crossed the parking lot into the nursing home, we noticed a man sitting alone in a wheelchair near the entrance, expressionless but watchful. As we walked past the man, I smiled at him. His face remained deadpan as his eyes followed us, but no other acknowledgment escaped him. I hoped that this was not a sign of things to come.
Inside the facility, I saw another face that looked familiar to me: A smaller Puerto Rican man wearing glasses sat at a circular table. He waved hello to all of the nurses and attendants. I saw features of my youngest son in the man’s face.
We both immediately knew that we are looking at Daniel. He seemed a pleasant enough fellow, joking with the staff and fellow residents. A nurse hurried up to us, and Rosie hastily explained who we were and why we were there. Rosie told the nurse that we were family—that she’d been adopted and had never met her father. (She left out the abandonment part of her story.)
The nurse looked at us both very closely as if trying to gauge our intention. After a moment of appraisal, she smiled and walked us over to Daniel.
We introduced ourselves to Daniel, assessing him to see how much we could say without upsetting him. I explained that Rosie was his daughter. He was delighted to see her and asked her how she was doing. We told him that she was fine and that we believed Michele to be her mother.
He agreed that Rosie looked like her. When we gave him the news that Michele had died, a sorrowful look clouded his features. “This hurts me very much,” he told us—an expression that he would repeat throughout our conversation. Michele was “the only woman who treated me right,” he said, and he had treated her abominably.
Rosie then showed her father the newspaper articles about “Baby Jane Doe.” I watched him for signs of acknowledgement or deceit. He looked at the article briefly before placing it down on the table. He looked up at Rosie and me and kept speaking to us as if he had never seen it.
Rosie showed her father the newspaper articles about “Baby Jane Doe.” … He kept speaking to us as if he had never seen it.
When Rosie asked him directly if he knew anything about her abandonment in the alley, Daniel said no. He said that he and Michele used to live around the corner from the place, but nothing else registered in his eyes to indicate whether he was hiding something from us.
I asked him how many children he and Michele had. Two, he told us—a boy and a girl. Rosie asked what happened to them, and he told her they were both put up for adoption, or so he’d been told. Rosie pressed Daniel to search his memory: Did he sign any paperwork for the adoptions?
He remembered signing paperwork for the boy but not for the girl.
The Various Truths
When Rosie was born, Daniel explained, he and Michele had already separated. They were broke and incapable of caring for children. Michele struggled with chronic illness and depression and was barely capable of caring for herself, he added.
And because she was overweight, she could easily hide a pregnancy. They’d managed to keep her pregnancies a secret from her family—at the time, only one sister, Paula, knew about the babies. In fact, Michele was planning to name Rosie “Paula,” after her sister.
Rosie then asked one final question of Daniel: Did he remember when, exactly, she was born?
March of 1984, he told her. And Michelle had assured him that spring that their daughter was adopted by a good family.
After hearing this and taking it in, Rosie leaned over and whispered in my ear: “Should we tell him that I was the baby in the article?”
I looked over at Daniel. He waved at a new face that had come into the room, then turned his eyes to the TV. It came to me that he believed in a simpler truth: that Rosie had been given up to have a better life. That he was the reason she couldn’t have such a life with her biological parents.
I asked Rosie if she believed Daniel was telling us everything he knew. She replied that she felt Daniel had told us his truth.
I told Rosie that the man seemed to have endured enough tragedies. Why tell him about another one? Rosie thought about what I’d said and decided not to tell her father the truth about the day of her birth.
We spent another twenty minutes talking to Daniel—or at least, I did. Rosie had gone quiet. She seemed to be putting it all together and figuring out how to feel about things. She shot me the look, the one that tells me to wrap things up.
We said goodbye to Daniel, and he asked us if we might visit again. I looked at Rosie and could not see the answer in her face. Her features were fixed into a defiant mask. I knew better than to press her for a reply.
On the way home we talked about the things we’d discovered. I asked Rosie if she believed Daniel was telling us everything he knew. She replied that she felt Daniel had told us his truth.
The truth was proving as slippery as ever.
The Elusive Why
It took nearly six years for us to answer Rosie’s first question: Who did this to her? There were times when doubt and anger almost stopped us from finding out the who. Fortunately, advances in DNA testing helped point the way, providing leads that we could grasp onto and follow. And we’re so grateful to the many folks who helped us along the way, by trusting us enough to answer deeply personal questions about the past and agree to DNA tests.
Ultimately, the why proved impossible for us to answer. Michele could not supply an explanation, as she died five years before we started our search. And Daniel was led to believe (or chose to believe) that both of their offspring were placed with good families and given an opportunity to excel.
The truth of what happened to Rosie never dawned on him.
Dark images of a trash-strewn alley are slowly fading, replaced by the memories we’re making now.
Rosie’s extended family were, in a way, victims as well. The truth was withheld from them. They were deprived the opportunity to get to know my wonderful Rosie as a young girl. They missed so many milestones and birthdays, holidays and graduations. That wrong can never be undone.
They will never replace the family that took Rosie in and loved her as their own, but Rosie is happy to have them in her life. They came into our world as names that we read online, as strands of DNA in a report. Now they have come to life before us. They invite us to family gatherings and call us if a cousin is in town. Hearing their stories colors in the details of Rosie’s history. I see her face in their mannerisms. I hear her voice in their laughter.
I see Rosie’s found family trying their best to live in the now, and to bridge what came before. Dark images of a trash-strewn alley are slowly fading, replaced by the memories we’re making now.
The Foundlings of the World
Rosie and I wrote this story so that other foundlings might read it and find hope and inspiration to keep moving forward. Throughout our search, we’ve found comfort in faith. I often turned to Luke 8:17, which says, “For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither anything hid, that shall not be known and come abroad.”
There is much in Rosie’s story that cannot be known. Rosie will never fully grasp the why of what happened to her, in the darkest hour of night, more than three decades ago. But her anger has faded. And here is what Rosie can and does know: She is not disposable. She is wanted and loved—by her lifelong family and her newly rediscovered one.
She knows that a desperate and hopeless someone threw her away one night, intending to let her die, all alone, in a pile of garbage. But Rosie did not die that night. A man digging for something—for anything of value—found her there, under a foot of trash. What were the odds that a baby’s luck could change so much in a single night? That a discarded, unwanted foundling could become a treasured daughter, a beloved wife, a devoted mother to three gifts from God?
A mother’s monstrous act does not define a child’s worth.
To the foundlings of this world, we say this: Keep looking for the answers. Pursue them to the end.
I am reminded that some of the most precious things are formed under pressure. Rosie faced the pain of her history and emerged from it all, tough as a diamond, and priceless to the people who love her. She may never know for sure what passed through the mind of the person who abandoned her to the night. But after six years of asking her family hard questions, studying their faces, and seeing their fear, hope, and denial, she has glimpsed her mother’s heart. The shame, terror, and anguish. And afterward, the bitter remorse.
The truth is never simple, and it is never easily found. Rosie’s search tore a crack into her world and let in darkness and heartbreak. But beautiful things also streamed in, and our lives are the richer for it all.
One day, when they are ready, my children will see the different branches in their family tree. They’ll see the people we inherit, and the providence of birth and bloodlines. And they’ll also see that birthright is not always destiny. The most important families are the ones we collect around us. In Rosie’s case, she has decided to love both—the family fate gave her, and the family who chose to love and care for her for a lifetime.
To the foundlings of this world, we say this: Keep looking for the answers. Pursue them to the end. Don’t accept the notion that you will never find the truth, because then you stop moving forward. And the truth is always worth seeking, no matter what you might find.
*Some names have been changed.
About the Author:
Steve Morrow began his career in private investigations in 2003. As a graduate of the Nick Harris Detective Academy, he learned a variety of investigative techniques including surveillance, skip tracing, asset searches, background investigations, obtaining statements and more. In 2011, he founded the Morrow Detective Agency in Simi Valley, CA. and has successfully conducted more than a thousand investigations.