The mystery began on a quiet night in May 1946.
Fifteen-year-old Lois Yeck was listening to the radio when she heard a knock at the front door of her family’s home in the western Michigan city of Ludington.
She went to the door, but saw no one there. A few minutes later, a knock at the side door led to the discovery of a baby lying on the porch, wrapped in a blanket.
That’s all Julie Himebaugh knows about how her life began. She was that baby.
The details she has learned about that night 68 years ago were printed in newspapers across the state. She was the 6-month-old blue-eyed girl found with a bundle of clothes, baby formula and a note pinned to her blanket.
Police have no record of what happened May 7, 1946. They only keep records of such cases for about 20 years, a clerk said.
Newspaper stories tell the tale of the doorstep baby, detailing the efforts that went into trying to find her mother. A car ferry was monitored closely. An advertisement was put in the Ludington Daily News asking for information. Rumors swirled around town .
A probate judge made an appeal in the Ludington Daily News, asking the child’s mother to come forward to sign off on rights to the child so she could be adopted more quickly. All to no avail.
“It’s hard to believe that all of this was done because of me. I caused a whole lot of commotion,” Himebaugh said.
The judge and a social worker arbitrarily picked a birth date for the baby — Oct. 20, 1945 — and gave her a name, Himebaugh discovered after tracking down both of them years later.
“I said, ‘How did I get the name Marleen Madison that was on my adoption papers?’ and the judge said, ‘Well, the social worker said her favorite name was Marleen and asked if we could name you that. I said fine, and we just added on the last name Madison.’ It sounds like a movie star’s name.
“And then, the judge told me, ‘We couldn’t keep calling you the Doorstep Baby, or Baby Jane. We had to give you a name.’ ”
Himebaugh was adopted by James and Jean Rye of Ludington nearly a year after she was abandoned, and grew up as Julianna Rye, though everyone called her Julie.
Her parents, she said, told her she’d been adopted. But it wasn’t until 1999, when she petitioned for adoption records, that she learned she’d been abandoned on a doorstep. By then, her adoptive parents were dead.
“It blew my mind,” she said.
“We used to joke about it,” said her husband, Gil Himebaugh. But then we found out that’s what really happened. We couldn’t believe it.”
The couple now live in Elizabeth City, N.C., but visited Michigan earlier this month to see friends, holding on to hope that they’d discover something new.
“I told one of my friends, ‘Gosh, this is like a Nancy Drew story.’ And she said, ‘Hell, it’s like Hercule Poirot.’ ... I really would like to find some biological family, and if they wish for me not to say anything, that they are part of my family, I would go along with that. I understand that some people just don’t want anything to do with a remembrance of an extra child.”
She has worked with a genealogist and historian trying to find clues, but has turned up nothing.
“We have no name to go by. And it’s hard for me to search,” she said. “I have no mother’s name, no place of birth, no date of birth. Usually, an adoptee has something like that. But I don’t have any of it.”
About four years ago, Himebaugh got an anonymous tip by mail suggesting she ask some questions of a woman working at a store in Ludington. But the lead went nowhere, and now many of the people who might have known something about her story are dead, she fears.
Himebaugh turned to DNA testing this spring, hoping to find clues in her blood. From that, she learned that her ethnicity is 97 percent European, with the largest portion — 53 percent — matching with people from Great Britain. The test also suggested that 22 percent of her DNA matches people from Ireland and 12 percent from Western Europe.
“Through my DNA, they found a second cousin” match, Himebaugh said, along with another possible cousin. But those leads, too, have dried up.
“I would just like to know what happened, and know if I have siblings out there. I had a great adopted life. I couldn’t have asked for better parents and sister and brothers. It was just wonderful. But I have an insatiable curiosity. I just wish I could find something out, or that someone would come forward.”
Himebaugh’s daughter, Laura McCombie of Accokeek, Md., said it would be peace of mind to have some family medical information, plus more clues about what her grandmother was thinking on that May night.
“Why would anybody leave a baby on a doorstep?” McCombie asked. “There’s a mystery surrounding it. My mom’s been trying to figure this out forever. She just runs into roadblock after roadblock after roadblock.
“I don’t want her to just give up. I want her to follow through. That’s what she always told us: Always follow through.”
By Kristen Jordan Shamus - Detroit Free Press (MCT)
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