The kidnapping of Paul Joseph Fronczak in April 1964 made headlines. Kidnappings often do, and this one was particularly unusual. Paul was a newborn, and he was taken by a woman posing as a nurse at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago, who told Dora Fronczak that a doctor needed to check the baby. Understandably trusting, Dora turned over the child.
Acting under the 1932 Lindbergh Law, the FBI entered the case, but the woman and the baby had vanished. There was no ransom demand or communication to the parents, Dora and Chester. From that point on, the story only grew stranger.
In 1965, an apparent 14-month-old was found abandoned in front of a variety store in Newark, New Jersey. Since kidnappings of this sort are rare, FBI and local police examined the child. He bore a remarkable resemblance to what baby Paul looked like when he was taken and what he should have looked like at this age. He was returned to the Fronczaks, but since authorities couldn’t be absolutely sure, the rejoicing parents completed formal adoption proceedings to keep everything absolutely proper.
Paul Fronczak is now 49-years-old and lives in Henderson, Nevada with his wife Michelle and young daughter Emma. He says that Dora and Chester were wonderful parents and his childhood was happy and normal. Yet at a certain age he was told of his past history and always harbored a nagging doubt as to whether he actually was the “real” Paul Joseph Fronczak. He didn’t look like either his mom or dad and somehow didn’t feel he was like them.
Last year he bought a home DNA kit and took test swabs from both himself and his parents during a visit from Chicago where they still live. He discovered that he was not genetically related to the Fronczaks and therefore had not been the baby stolen from his mother’s arms in 1964.
His parents didn’t take the news well. Not only was he their son as far as they were concerned, they dreaded another onslaught of media focus like what they suffered through when the crime occurred. The FBI is reopening the case, though none of the original investigators is still active.
And as for Paul, he told a local television station,”I don’t know how old I am, or who I am, or what nationality, all those things you just take for granted.”
A couple of thoughts.
First, this is profoundly sad all the way around. A loving couple in their early eighties has had its world turned upside down for the second time, a legacy of history that won’t leave them alone. Some have suggested that Paul never should have told them, knowing the agonizing it would cause.
But the need to know is strong. And the need to know who you are is stronger still.
As Paul told The Chicago Sun-Times, “I really feel in my heart that the real Paul Fronczak is alive and well and out there, and nothing would make me more happy in this life than to find the real kidnapped child and at the same time, I wouldn’t mind finding out who I am.”
In the vast majority of cases when a baby or young child is kidnapped and not returned in a short amount of time, the victim has been killed, as happened in the notorious kidnapping of Charles and Anne Lindbergh’s 20-month-old son Charlie in 1932. But this one may be an exception and Paul could be right, since two of the traditional motives for kidnapping do not apply. This was not a criminal enterprise for money and it was not a terrorist, organized crime retribution or revenge kidnapping. This leaves a lonely woman who desperately wanted a baby or someone acting on behalf of others with the same desire – a desire powerful enough to steal another couple’s child. Whether that now 49-year-old can be located and tested is another matter. The chances are great that this individual has no knowledge of his origins. And if he is identified, we can only imagine how this revelation will upend his own life.
When John Douglas and I participated in this year’s PBS “Nova” documentary Who Killed Lindbergh’s Baby?, I contacted Charles and Anne Lindbergh’s youngest daughter Reeve to see if she would agree to be involved in the program. She respectfully declined, and told me that, based on our reputation, she had no doubt about our integrity and sincerity in investigating the death of the brother who died before she was born, every time there was a new book, program or other publicity about the crime, someone else would come out of the woodwork claiming to be baby Charlie all grown up. There have been more than a score of these untenable claims, and New Jersey State Police archivist Mark Falzini reports that at least 17 individuals have approached his department over the years. While Anne Morrow Lindbergh was still alive, each one would present her with a new emotional trauma.
And sure enough, after the program was aired, the attorney for a Lindbergh claimant in California contacted us with “proof” that his client was the real thing.
The point is, there is no situation following a kidnapping in which the subject of identity is not a trauma for all concerned.
And this, in turn, only goes to underscore the general point: Every serious crime destroys something, whether it is lives, trust, health, happiness or identity. And the awful legacy goes on indefinitely, reverberating throughout the years so that no one involved is, or ever can be, the same.