Investigator’s Notebook: When a husband-wife investigative team hires themselves to dig into her biological parentage, what they discover will launch the most important investigation of their lives.
Most of us know where we come from. We can look at old photographs and blame Great-Grandpa Chuck for our big ears. Or we hear stories and know Grandma Margie is to blame for our stubbornness.
Some of us are not so lucky.
I met Rosie when I was a teenager, and we started dating when I was 19. I thought I knew everything about her until the day I met her family. She’d withheld one small detail, it seemed: Her mother, a Caucasian woman who looked nothing like dark-haired Rosie, greeted me at the door. Inside were photos of her sister and father—also Caucasian.
My wife-to-be (who looks as if she’s of Hispanic descent) told me what I’d already guessed: She was adopted.
A few years later we got married and entered into the world of private investigation. We had two beautiful sons. As we looked at our future and the gifts that we were blessed with, questions started forming: Who were Rose’s biological parents? What hereditary illnesses ran in her family? If there were genetic disorders looming over our sons’ futures, what could we do about them?
We had a lot of questions and no answers. So we hired ourselves to look into finding them.
Digging Into the Past
My wife skipped the first, obvious step: asking her family. She didn’t want to hurt them by suggesting that she didn’t consider them her “real” parents—to her, they are as real as parents can be. (I’ve found this to be a common concern among adoptees.)
Rosie was born in Ventura County, so our first step was to go the Ventura County Human Services office in Oxnard, Ca. In autumn of 2010, we met with a social worker, a pleasant, heavyset man in his forties. He was knowledgeable and put us at ease.
He explained that in California, you may request non-identifying information from an adoption; the state will even reconnect individuals, as long as there is a mutual consent on file. We filled out the documents. He told us that it might take a few months for us to hear back.
In February of 2011, a manila legal envelope arrived in our mailbox. Rosie tore it open. What we found inside would take us on the most important case of our lives.
The enclosed letter explained that the agency had no information about her birth family. Because of the extremely unusual circumstances under which she was placed into protective custody, there was no non-identifying information for Rosie.
The letter went on to explain that around two in the morning on March 7, 1984, a man named Cirilio Mateo was in an Oxnard alley searching a trash bin for aluminum cans, when he heard the cries of what he thought was a cat.
Mr. Mateo soon realized that the noise was not the meowing of cat, but an infant’s cries.
He dug through a foot of trash and found a tiny girl, wrapped in a brown plastic bag, with her umbilical cord and placenta still attached. “This foundling was extremely cold to the touch, with mottled hands and feet,” we read. “That infant girl was you.”
He dug through a foot of trash and found a tiny girl, wrapped in a brown plastic bag, with her umbilical cord and placenta still attached. “That infant girl was you,” we read.
Mr. Mateo, who didn’t have a vehicle, rushed the baby to his daughter-in-law’s house. They cleaned the infant and called the Oxnard Police Department. An ambulance responded to the call and took the baby girl to St. Johns Hospital, where she was admitted as “Newborn Girl Doe.” The baby’s temperature measured 78.5 degrees—she was suffering from extreme hypothermia.
Baby Jane Doe recovered quickly. She was a full-term baby, with no drugs in her system and a healthy weight of 7 ½ lbs—all of which had given her a fighting chance, the doctors said. They also surmised that Rosie wasn’t the first baby born from this mother, citing the limited bruising around the crown of her head.
Because the baby was born on Ash Wednesday, the nurses started calling her “Baby Ashley.” For reasons unknown, the County of Ventura gave Rosie the name “Kelly O’Keefe.” Court documents would refer to her as that name, and sometimes also as Jane Doe.
Rosie’s story was reported in the local and national press. Numerous people called to check on her status and to ask how they could adopt her.
The letter from the social worker ends with a footnote explaining that, although the department does not condone such action by a parent, it is important to know why a child is abandoned. Studies indicate that child abandonment is often the result of untreated postpartum depression, or poor decisions made in desperate circumstances.
I watched the color drain from my wife’s face as she read all this. She handed me the letter and newspaper clips. I felt her pain acutely. Fortunately, our kids were still at school and day care. Rosie was going to need some time to process this new information.
The Investigation Begins
Rosie quickly came to terms with what she’d learned about her past and was ready for the next step. The information we had was limited, but it did contain some jewels. We knew the names of the investigating officers and the people who’d found Rosie, and we knew exactly where they’d found her.
That evening, Rosie and I located the Mateo family and drove to Oxnard to meet them. We found them to be a very kind family. The daughter-in-law, Sandra Mateo, remembered the night and was happy to see Rosie in the flesh. She admitted that she had considered keeping Rosie at first, since they had only boys. But she knew that calling police was the right thing to do.
She also told us that Cirilio Mateo had quietly kept tabs on Rosie until his death. Rosie thanked them and told the family that she wished she could express her gratitude to Mr. Mateo. They then gave us directions to the spot where Rosie was found. This had been a shady place known for prostitution and vice back in the day, they explained. They also warned us that the area hadn’t changed all that much since then. We thanked them again, and Rosie felt grateful for having made some new friends.
We soon found the alley where Rosie had been abandoned. It was in a lower income neighborhood, surrounded by decaying apartment complexes. Nearby was a mini-mart and laundromat. Rosie and I got out of the car, and she walked over to the trash bins that still stand where she was found.
A rare look of vulnerability crossed Rosie’s face as she stood there in that trash-strewn alley, staring at her genesis. After a few minutes, we got back into the car.
We rode in silence. When Rosie finally spoke, it was to tell me that she was determined to find out who did this to her and why.
And find them we would, no matter how long it took.
*Some names have been changed to protect identities.
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.