The marriage of Linda Iseler and Richard Hoagland looked perfect on the outside, but like everything in life, things were not as they seemed. Richard Hoagland disappeared mysteriously in 1993, and no one ever saw him again. Linda and their two sons were left without any money or hope of seeing their father again. (After the world heard Carole Baskin’s story, nothing seems too crazy anymore.)
Secrets of Richard’s started coming out. Of course, the police suspected that Linda had something to do with his disappearance, which made things harder on her and her sons. Throughout the years, secrets came out about Richard Hoagland’s life that confused the detectives, but they didn’t stop suspecting Linda. For 23 years, Linda and her boys lived a life full of stress and paranoia. Then she received a call from a detective.
This is the shocking and tragic story of the disappearance of Richard Hoagland.
Right Before He Disappeared…
Linda and Richard Hoagland lived what seemed to be a perfect life in Indianapolis, Indiana. The couple had two sons together, Matthew and Douglas. Like any other normal couple, they had their occasional argument over things like money and raising the kids, but they never had any serious fights.
When Matthew turned nine and Douglas six, things changed. A family secret was discovered, which only one person really knew the truth about. Richard got himself into a situation and was hiding a very important secret. It would take years before the truth behind Richard would be discovered.
Hiding a Secret From Everyone
During the week before his disappearance, Richard started being very distant from his family and it just seemed to be getting worse. Linda noticed the way he was behaving and how it wasn’t normal, but she just tried telling herself that she’s exaggerating. Slowly, the happy family started to unravel.
Matthew and Douglas were innocent young boys and had no idea what was transpiring. This whole time, Richard was feeling like he couldn’t fix the problems he was having, and he wasn’t able to talk about it with anyone. However, when you look back at the situation, you can tell that he was quietly planning his next step – one that no one saw coming.
An Out of The Ordinary Phone Call
Linda went to work at the medical office in February 1993, like she did every morning. On February 10th at 4:45 PM, Richard called Linda at work. He told her that he wasn’t feeling well and had to go to the emergency room. Like any other wife, she wanted to go down to the emergency room and see him.
But when she offered to come down, he responded, “No, I don’t have time to wait.” Unknown to Lisa, this was when life was about to change. At the end of her shift, she picked up Douglas from daycare. At 5:25 PM, she returned home and was shocked to see that Richard left Matthew home alone.
The Life He Left Behind
When Linda discovered that Matthew was home alone and Richard was nowhere in sight, she started calling all of the local hospitals seeing if anyone had a record of him ever being there. But no one had seen him and no one with his name checked into any hospital in the area. Linda checked the house, but his toothbrush, passport, and clothes all remained untouched.
In an interview, Linda described how “It was cold. It was in February. He didn’t take a coat.” This wasn’t Richard’s first marriage, but he assured Linda that he was in love with her. Richard was a successful businessman and would even take his family on expensive vacations. How could he leave such a luxurious life?
Shattering a Family
On February 10th, 1993, Richard disappeared. It took less than an hour later for the phone to ring. When Linda picked up, it was Richard. He said, “I can’t live this way anymore. I feel you would be better off without me.” He didn’t even give his wife a chance to respond and hung up on her.
Now, if this was the only thing that happened, you would just think that he is looking to get back out there on his own. But only a few hours later he called back. Richard said, “I don’t want to go to jail. I’m never coming back.” It took him 24 hours to flip his family’s life upside down.
No one heard from Richard since the 10th of February and a few days after this, his car was found abandoned at the Indianapolis International Airport. They contacted different airlines and checked their flight records, but they never found his name on any flights. The last two phone calls Richard made, he called collect.
But after checking her phone records, Linda found that one of the calls came from Venezuela and another from Aruba. It really didn’t seem like things could get much worse as Linda now had to put on a brave face for her two sons. Police started investigating the mysterious disappearance of Richard.
Finances Were Kept a Secret
When Spring came around, it was time for Matthew’s 10th birthday. Richard sent his son a birthday card with $50 in it. He then did the same thing for his son, Douglas, when he turned seven. But this was the last time that anyone in the family heard from him. That’s when things started to get even weirder.
Before leaving town, Richard was struggling financially but didn’t tell Linda. He maxed out all of their credit cards. It got to a point where he forged Linda’s signature to get a bank loan. Linda ended up filing for divorce. The judge ordered Richard to pay the various loans, unpaid taxes, debts, and 26 credit card debts.
A Shock to the Family
The two cards Richard sent his sons had notes in them. He wrote, “I love you and miss seeing you. Let your mom help spend this money, you might want to put some away. Maybe sometime soon we will get to see each other. I bet I won’t even know you it has been so long. Mind your mother. Bye, Dad.”
Matthew was interviewed by ABC and said, “Initially, you think: ‘OK, this won’t last long. He’ll be back.’” Little did they know that this was the last time that they would hear from him. Linda commented, “He devastated us. He left us with nothing, absolutely nothing. I was very broken.”
The Lonely Struggle
It really seemed as they were running out of options and everything was crumbling down for Linda and her sons. She was unable to pay their car loans and mortgage. To top things off, the police started to question Linda on Richard’s disappearance. They thought that Linda knew what happened to him or where he actually went.
She continued to hold her ground and told the police that she doesn’t know where he went. She explained the string of phone calls she received from Richard, but it didn’t help. They continued to suspect that Linda was in the middle of this mess and interrogated her multiple times. But Linda stuck true to her story and insisted that she didn’t know anything.
Their Main Suspect
A detective on the case eventually claimed that he believed that Linda knew where Richard had disappeared to. He exaggerated the story and claimed that Linda was wrapped up in a financial hoax with Richard and that she would eventually take her children to meet up with him. The police continued to question her, but this was the least of her worries.
Richard left her with so much financial damage. Linda got to the point where she wasn’t able to pay her bills and had to declare bankruptcy. This situation would be a nightmare for anyone, but it’s another story when the one who disappears was the primary breadwinner of the household.
They Were Being Followed
Richard took the cowardly way out when it came to his financial problems and bailed. Instead of staying with his family and helping them through this troubling time, he left them with a huge mess to clean up. Linda was devastated as they had to depend on her parents just to get by. Throughout this stressful mess, she started to get a strange feeling that she was being watched.
There were strange people following her: cars would park outside, all of her mail was opened and then sealed back up again. To top things off, things in her house were moved around when she knew no one was in the house.
Going into Hiding as A Family
Linda’s father found something. There was a recording device that had been attached to her phone line. She was convinced that Richard got tied up with the wrong people and that is why he had to leave town. “When you’re in that situation, you become very paranoid,” she said. The bank had then repossessed her car and at the same time, they foreclosed on the family’s home.
Linda and the family decided around October that it was time she hid in McCordsville, Indiana. All she wanted to do was keep her kids safe. She put everything in her parents’ name so that no one could track her. She had her kids catch the bus to school from a friend’s house.
Living with Continuous Paranoia
After hiding for six months, Linda thought that the fear would eventually go away. But that wasn’t the case. They were paranoid and scared for years after this. And the trouble that Linda went through never stopped. The police were still watching her every move and it was starting to feel like her family was stuck living fearfully, suffering from her husband’s disappearance.
How could someone do this to the person they love? It was a lucky thing that Linda still had her parents around to help her when this was going down. Linda’s mother had detailed the entire painful situation that progressed.
Richard Comes Back from The Dead
Finally, the truth was uncovered. In 2016, Anthony Cardillo, a detective of the Pasco County Sheriffs Department in Florida, called Linda up. He asked her, “Do you know who Richard Hoagland is?” After all these years, Linda couldn’t believe she was hearing his name again. Richard had apparently settled down again.
Through everything the family was going through, he ran away to West Palm Beach, Florida. Crazy enough, he was alive and remarried. He and his new wife even had another child together. Linda was told by the detective that they had taken Richard into custody for identity fraud. Richard was living under the identity of a dead man.
His New, Stolen Identity
When Richard left his family, he rented out a home in which he found a death certificate in the house. The certificate belonged to Terry Symansky, a man who died back in 1991. Apparently, this is when Richard decided to cut all ties to his family and take on a new identity.
Richard made the fateful decision to become Terry Symansky. He set out as Terry to embark on a new life by getting a job, a new home, and he even found love with a new woman. Everything there seemed great, as most situations seem from the outside. And no one from his new family thought that anything weird was going on.
Taking Advantage of an Older Man
Richard rented out the home from an elderly man named Edward Symansky. Edward was mourning the death of his son, Terry. He rented out a small apartment that was part of Edward’s home in Port St. Lucie, Florida. Richard was living near Edward and ended up listening to him talk about his Terry’s death.
Edward thought he was just a man who was hearing him reminisce about his son. He had no idea that Richard would take advantage of this information. It all started when he found that death certificate. Terry’s sister, Cynthia Bujnak, was interviewed by People after Richard was arrested and said, “My dad was grieving and pouring his heart out… My dad was the victim. Even after 23 years, the truth will always come out.”
And That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbled
Everything started to fall apart for Richard when the real Terry’s nephew was fooling around on ancestry.com. His nephew decided to do some research on his family and came upon something that just seemed out of place. Terry, who has been dead for years now, is listed as remarried and even has his pilot’s license.
This brought up some serious questions, and so his nephew contacted the authorities. In July 2016, the police surprised Richard and showed up at his new family’s home. They arrested him and put him in the Pasco County jail on a $25,000 bond.
There Are Repercussions for His Actions
Linda was happy that after all these years, Richard would be held accountable for everything he has done legally and morally wrong. But there was an issue. In Indiana, the prosecutors weren’t able to file charges for theft against him. Unfortunately, the affidavit that contained all of the original allegations was nowhere to be found.
This included the forged loan documents where Richard signed Linda’s name and all of the stolen credit cards. The statute of limitations on theft in Indiana is five years and he couldn’t be held accountable for his crimes there. However, he could still be charged for stealing the identity of a dead man.
Two Heartbroken Families
Living as Terry, Richard was able to remarry and have another son. This son is now 19 years old. Although the two families haven’t been able to meet, Linda says, “My heart goes out to them. We know what they are going through. We do express our sympathy and empathy to them. I’m Sorry.”
Richard has again gone and claimed to love someone just to tear the family apart. Linda has talked to her attorney, Tom Markle, and they are attempting to get some kind of compensation demanding that Richard pays her almost $2 million in unpaid child support. He’s probably going to have to pay money for working as Terry Symansky before she gets that.
The Family of “Terry Symansky”
Upon taking the identity of Terry, Richard ended up marrying a woman in 1995 named Mary Hossler Hickman. They settled down in Zephyrhills, Florida. The two had a son together and by the time Richard was arrested, he was already a teenager. This new family in Florida hasn’t spoken about much about this situation. They prefer to not be in the spotlight, but it was reported by the Tampa Bay Times that later, Mary found a briefcase containing documents regarding the real identity of her husband.
The briefcase revealed the deed to his property in Louisiana, along with a key belonging to a storage unit. Their son “was shocked. It was still his father. It’s his blood, but that Symansky name is not his. The emotions they were feeling [were] between anger and sadness and the wonder of why,” a detective stated.
Matthew and Douglas’s Struggles
Even though Richard wrote Matthew and Douglas cards on their birthdays, this doesn’t excuse what he did, and it doesn’t make them forget what they went through. This experience could not be forgotten. The brothers were especially affected by his actions. Douglas took his father disappearing very hard and Matthew had to become the rock for his mother.
This ultimately led to Douglas serving multiple prison sentences for drug-related charges. People Magazine got a hold of a letter that Douglas wrote to his father. In the letter, he expresses how it caused him to feel so much anger and he thought that something was wrong with him. He ended up turning to drugs. He ultimately forgives his father, but he is left with one question: “Why?”
Douglas found out about his father’s arrest in Florida while he was serving time inside an Indiana jail. He was in and out of state lockups for years because of his drug use. He explained to the Indianapolis Star, “I started messing around with drugs in early high school. I broke my hand, was prescribed narcotics. It was off to the races after that.”
During an eight-year sentence, they were watching TV when a story came on about a family man living in Florida using a false identity for over two decades. He saw the mugshot that came up on the screen of a 63-year-old man with graying hair and glasses on and immediately recognized his father.
Learning From a Bad Example
Matthew is in his 30s now and started a family of his own. Like anyone else who would be put in this situation, it was hard for him to figure out how someone was capable of walking away from his own family.
To remind him of the horrible example his father set, Matthew wears his father’s ring. He does this so he will never make that mistake with his own family. Linda’s mother is very happy with the outcome and said that she “is tickled” since he can’t stand being in one place and is now restricted to a cell.
Richard Hasn’t Explained Himself To This Day
Richard is one of those men who refuses to say anything. Since this mystery was solved, he hasn’t given any reason as to why he disappeared. He hasn’t given a response to any of the claims that he was having financial issues or to why he forged Linda’s signature on the bank loan. Not only did this hurt his two families, but it hurt Terry Symansky’s family as well.
Especially since Richard knew Terry’s father. After pouring his heart out to a man he thought was just there to listen, Richard stole his son’s death certificate. Unfortunately, there isn’t much of a chance that Richard will ever explain his actions.
Seeing His Sons for the First Time
Not only is Richard a man who won’t explain himself, but he also doesn’t seem to feel too bad about it. After Douglas was released from jail, he went to one of Richard’s court hearings. Now, this was the first time that he would see his father since 1993.
Douglas felt as if there would at least be some kind of reasonable reaction from his father, but that isn’t what happened. In an interview with The Star, he said, “If you think you had two kids and you wanted to see them so bad, you think you’d be a little bit emotional, but this guy, nothing.”
If you thought Richard Hoagland’s disappearance was mysterious, you will appreciate this next real-life story about a woman who thought she knew who her mother was. One day she discovered that her face was on a missing person’s poster, and nothing in her life would be the same. Keep reading to find out what happened to Carlina White…
Carlina White was born on July 15, 1987. She grew up being known as Nejdra “Netty” Nance, and the young woman actually solved her own kidnapping case. When she was 19 days old, she was taken out of the Harlem Hospital Center in New York City, but it wasn’t by her mother. For years, the girl was living with and being raised by a woman who she could only believe was her mother. But in fact, it was her kidnapper.
Carlina only got to meet her biological parents when she was 23 years, which makes her case the longest known gap in a non-parental abduction in the United States where the victim is reunited with the family. Yes, it’s incredible. And yes, it’s a story for the movies. In fact, Carlina’s story was made into a television movie on Lifetime called “Abducted: The Carlina White Story.”
This is her remarkable story…
Nedjra “Netty” Nance
Netty Nance now 33 years old, and it’s been ten years since her story made headlines, and she was able to meet her real parents. She, too, is a parent, and in her words, “If it wasn’t for me getting pregnant, this never would have come out.” What Netty is referring to is the dramatic discovery she made that completely upended her life.
She spent a lot of time and energy, both embracing this revelation as well as trying to wish it away. In 2004, when Netty was a senior in high school, she lived in a poor neighborhood in Bridgeport, Connecticut, when she found out that she was pregnant. By that fall, she couldn’t hide it anymore. Nor did she want to – she was excited to be a mom!
How It All Began
Her cousin, Brittany, was also pregnant, and they spoke about being mothers together. But Netty needed prenatal care, and to get free services from the state of Connecticut, she had to show her birth certificate. And that’s when the story really began. Her father, a man named Robert Nance, was an occasional drug dealer who only saw Netty from time to time.
It was her mother, Ann Pettway, who did all the raising and support. But when the time came one day when Netty asked her mother for her birth certificate, Ann just brushed her off. “She said she was going to handle it,” Netty recalled. But Netty got tired of waiting, so she looked through her mother’s things. And she found something.
Accused of a False Identity
Netty found a document with her name and birth date on it, and she took it to the Bureau of Vital Statistics in New Haven. The clerk, however, couldn’t find her records. Netty wasn’t happy, and when she pressed on, a supervisor even accused her of trying to assume a fake identity.
The supervisor told the pregnant teenager that if she kept trying to pass off this document that she had as an I.D., she might be arrested. Netty was furious. “Keep it,” she said to the woman and stormed out of the office. When she got home, she told her mother what happened. Ann just shook her head and said, “I told you I was going to handle everything.”
The First Lie
Soon after, the Department of Children and Families called looking for Netty’s mother. Netty wasn’t in the know of their conversation. For all she knew, they told her that without proper I.D., Netty needed to enter their system and become a ward of the state. But whatever it was that they spoke about, Ann told Netty several days later, before she was leaving for work, that she wanted to talk to her when she came home.
When Ann came home that evening, she went straight up to Netty’s room, sat down on her bed, and started crying. In her whole life, Netty never saw her mother shed even one tear. “What are you crying for?” Netty asked her. “Your mom left you,” Ann told her, “and she never came back.” It was the first time Netty was told a lie that completely changed her life.
A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
It wasn’t until a full seven years later that Netty learned the rest of the story. She would eventually learn that her real name was Carlina White, and that was abducted as a newborn, 19 days after her birth, from Harlem Hospital only to never be seen again. And perhaps most shocking of all was for Netty to realize that this woman she called mom wasn’t even her mother.
Not only was Ann Pettway, not Netty’s real mother, but according to the police, she was her kidnapper. So who are her real parents? Their names are Joy White and Carl Tyson, and the couple had been the first among their friends to have a baby. The year was 1987.
Young, in Love, and Pregnant
Carl was 22, a truck driver who worked nights in a parking garage. Joy was 16 and still in high school. They each grew up in Harlem housing projects nearby one another. They had been dating for a year when Joy called Carl up at work one day, telling him that she felt sick. The pregnancy clearly wasn’t planned, but the couple chose to stay together.
Their baby girl, Carlina, was born at Harlem Hospital on July 15 and weighed a healthy eight pounds. Joy had the help of her mother, who took care of the baby at her home. Carl would come by every night after his shift. But on August 4, when Carlina was just 19 days old, she developed a dangerously high fever.
“The Baby Don’t Cry For You, You Cry For the Baby.”
Joy and Carl took the baby back to the hospital that she was born in. As they came in, Carl remembers being directed by a heavyset black woman, who looked to be in her 20s, wearing a nurse’s uniform. Carl didn’t really think twice about it at the time, but he looked for her name tag and couldn’t find one.
The doctor told the couple that they wanted Carlina to spend the night at the hospital for monitoring, and so Carl searched for a phone, so they could call their mothers. When he looked down the hall, he saw the young woman in the nurse’s uniform talking with Joy. “The baby doesn’t cry for you, you cry for the baby,” is what the nurse told Joy.
Little Did They Know
In essence, she was telling Joy that the baby was fine – that it was Joy who needed help. Carl remembers thinking it was a strange way to console a young mother. The couple then left the hospital together at around 12:30 a.m., at the same time as the nurses’ shift change. Carl then took Joy to her mother’s apartment, and he went home and went to sleep.
Carl’s phone rang at about 6 a.m. It was the police calling from Joy’s mother’s apartment. A detective told him that Carlina was missing. Joy grabbed the phone and screamed: “Please get here!” When Carl got there, police cars were everywhere, and detectives crowded the hallways. Little did either of them know that last night was the last time they would see their daughter.
An Inside Job
Inside the home, Joy was in a state that any mother would be in after hearing to such news; she was in pieces, sobbing. And soon Carl was, too. The hospital learned that Carlina was gone at 3:40 a.m. And whoever took her unhooked her IV tubes and left without being seen. The hospital claimed, though, that the baby was being checked every five minutes.
The police believed that the kidnapper knew the hospital routines really well and knew to take Carlina at just the right window of time. They suspected a heavyset woman whose staff members had seen around the hospital for the last few months. The woman wasn’t a nurse, the hospital said, but passed as one, even convincing other nurses that she belonged there. It was the woman Carl noticed right away.
No Sign of Them
Joy remembered that strange remark the woman told her that night in front of the hospital room. “She was trying to get rid of me,” Joy later said, “so she could take my baby away from me.” For a while, police thought they had a suspect – a 31-year-old woman by the name of Lucy Brockington. She was already wanted for car theft and fit the description.
Detectives even tracked her down in Baltimore and questioned her. But they ultimately decided that she had an alibi. And unfortunately, after that, they had nothing. There was no sign of the woman nor the baby. Carlina White was gone. And her parents were in shambles.
Everything Fell Apart
Joy was out of school for a year and had to take anti-anxiety medication to get through the day, also going to therapy several times a week. Carl said he “would hardly eat. I was angry with everyone. My temper was short.” He would go over that night at the hospital over and over again, asking why Joy didn’t just stay at the hospital.
He asked himself, “Why didn’t I stay?” His presence only reminded Joy of Carlina, as did hers for Carl. “It was so much to handle,” Carl recalled. They ended up breaking up about a year after Carlina vanished. It would take more than two decades, but Carl would later say, “I always felt that my daughter was going to come back. I didn’t know when, but I knew. Joy was the same way. She always had that feeling.” Carl, who’s large with bright eyes and caramel skin, had has a resemblance to Netty that is unmistakable.
Who is Ann Pettway?
Ann Pettway grew up in the East End of Bridgeport. She went to Warren Harding High School, the same high school that Netty would go to. Ann was a popular and fun girl to be around. “Everybody said she used to be bad,” Netty said about her. “She was out there with those Speedo shorts on, tube tops.” And she sure did have a bad streak.
As a teenager, Ann served a month in jail for larceny in a nearby town. Later, she would be caught in minor theft and forgery schemes, as well as one pot bust. But according to David Daniels, a Bridgeport police officer who knew the family, “she wasn’t a hell-raiser.”
She Said She Was Pregnant
In 1987, the year Netty was born, Ann told her friends and family that she was pregnant. Everyone figured the father was the boyfriend had been seeing on and off, a man named Robert Nance. One of Ann’s younger sisters, Cassandra Johnson, later told the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children that the first time she Ann with a baby was when Ann arrived with the infant one day on a Metro-North train.
One of Ann’s cousins said that Ann left town for a period of time, and it seems as though no one that Ann knew was with her when the baby was born. She has no witnesses of her giving birth. And considering her weight, they also couldn’t tell that she wasn’t indeed pregnant. People just assumed that she went away to give birth and came back.
Living With a Monster
For whatever reason, Ann wanted a child and felt that her only option was to take someone else’s. Sadly for Joy and Carl, that child was theirs. And Netty would spend the first 23 years of her life thinking the woman who raised her was her mother. But Ann was far from the ideal mom.
In January of 2011, when the story got out of the alleged kidnapping, Netty told the New York Post all about her “mother.” She said that Ann was “an addict,” who was often in a drug haze. “There were always drugs lying around… I used to see weapons.” When Ann came down from one of her highs, Netty would run out of the house before Ann became “a monster” again.
That’s Just How it Was
Netty came clean with everything that she endured living in a home with this woman. But despite the absolute injustice and heartbreak, Netty said that she is more forgiving, even saying that everything that happened in her childhood was standard for where she grew up. “Growing up in an urban family,” she told the interviewer, “you were going to get beat, no matter what it was.”
As sad as the story is, Netty doesn’t like to call it abuse. “That’s what people want to hear, the sob story. But I wasn’t abused. Everything that an average person would have I had.” Believe it or not, she considers Ann as responsible, but remote. Never cruel to her, but not exactly tender, either.
She Did Support Her, Though
Despite all the drugs and mood swings, Netty still had this to say about Ann: “I’m not going to say she was the best mom ever, but she did what she had to do to make me who I am. She was strict, but she was cool. All my friends used to say she was a cool mom.”
Ann did support Netty, though, by working as a janitor at a local civic center. Until she started high school, Ann sent Netty to live with her own mother, Mary, during the weeks. Mary lived in a slightly better part of town, which meant Netty could go to a better school. Then, when Netty was about ten years old, Ann had a baby, a boy named Trevon.
Netty spent a lot of childhood with her cousins and aunts, and was especially close to Ann’s sister, Cassandra, who she called her “bestie.” There was at least one cousin who admitted that people in the family would speculate (behind Ann’s and Netty’s back) about the discrepancy about their looks. Ann was dark-skinned, but Netty was light.
Netty remembers looking at pictures of Ann, later on, to see if they had any resemblance whatsoever. “Everybody called me Little Ann,” she said. “But I didn’t see a resemblance.” Ann recalls the moment when Ann confessed to Netty that she wasn’t her mother. “My whole stomach just turned up,” Netty said. All these thoughts and questions went through her head, like, “What are you saying? What the hell are you talking about? This is not my family? That’s not my grandmother downstairs? ”
“She Left You and Never Came Back”
But let’s not forget that Ann told Netty was abandoned by her mother, omitting the real truth. But still, Netty had questions, asking her who her real mother was and where she came from. Had she met her mother, or was she left on the doorstep? But to each question, Ann gave the same answer: “She left you and never came back.”
She insisted that there was nothing more to it. She gave her no names; nothing. For weeks, Netty would ask her these types of questions, but it always led to a dead end. “Even when a year passed by, I was like, ‘You don’t remember nothing?’ ‘No.’ ” With time, and frustration, they stopped discussing the matter and told no one about it.
But Netty’s curiosity never faded. Deep down, she didn’t believe that she just fell into Ann’s lap. And so as her suspicions grew, her relationship with Ann grew more distant. Netty asked the caseworker from the Department of Children and Families if her DNA could be crossreferenced with the DNA database of missing children.
But she was told: “That’s TV stuff.” Robert Nance, her “father,” was in jail at the time on a sexual assault charge, and called Netty after an investigator visited him. Netty took the opportunity to ask him what he knew about her mother. He told her that he and Ann weren’t together when she was born. If Netty wasn’t his and Ann’s, he told her, then he wouldn’t have known.
Missing Child 1987
Netty’s daughter, Samani, was born in 2005. Netty still got her high-school diploma and got a job as a motel desk clerk. When Samani turned one, she moved into her own place. And by 2009, she moved to Atlanta, where her aunt (and “bestie”) Cassandra moved a few years prior. Netty then found work in a hair salon, did a little modeling, and still had dreams of being in the music industry.
Ann would send cards and gifts to Samani. Eventually, Netty told Cassandra about her secret, and Cassandra encouraged Netty to keep searching for her birth mother. Late at night, when Netty had some alone time, she would find herself searching the Internet for stories of missing children. She typed into Google: “Missing child, 1987.”
Finding a Photo
But with all of her online searches, she never found anything. Then, in late 2010, Netty went to the website for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. There she found hundreds of pictures of kids from all over the country. Then it dawned on Netty that she could be from anywhere, not just Bridgeport.
She went through the photo archive and saw a picture of a baby girl, a newborn just 19 days old who went missing on August 4, 1987. The photo caught her eye, and so she dragged the photo to her desktop to save it. That little baby’s face reminded her of her own daughter, and everyone told her that Samani looked just like her.
A Call of Desperation
Three days before Christmas that year in 2010, Netty called the center’s hotline. She muttered the words: “I feel like I don’t know who I am.” But she didn’t mention the photo of the baby. She got overwhelmed at one point and passed the phone to Cassandra, who was with her. “She was agitated,” the center’s president, Ernie Allen said.
“She talked about how she’d been trying to get information about her identity for five years. My sense was this was almost a call of desperation.” In that call, Netty revealed her suspicions about Ann. In Ernie Allen’s words: “She said she believed the woman known to her as her mother abducted her near the time of her birth.”
Reaching Out to Joy and Carl
Cassandra reminded Netty of a birthmark she has on her right arm, which was a detail the center used to cross-reference its records of missing children. “We ultimately narrowed the search to two cases,” Allen said. “And one of those was Carlina White.” The forensic unit compared Netty’s baby photos with the photo of Carlina when she was 19 days old.
They appeared to be a match. “There was nothing to suggest this was not Carlina,” Allen said. And just after Christmas, the center called Joy and Carl. Joy was at work she got an e-mail with photos of Netty. She screamed and cried out. “Both of them were adamant, saying this was their daughter,” Allen recalled. The center then contacted the NYPD’s missing persons unit.
Their First Conversation
Before even getting the DNA testing from Netty, Carl, and Joy, Netty decided to call Joy. The first conversation ever between this mother and daughter was on speakerphone, with all of Joy’s sisters. One of the aunts shouted: “Come home!” Netty had tiny doubts that this wasn’t her real family, but once Joy mentioned the birthmark, Netty was overwhelmed. “I said, Wow. This is real now.”
Netty then called Carl, which was more awkward, but she was still happy to contact them. For two weeks, Joy and Carl spoke with Netty often. “We’re talking, and all of a sudden she’s calling me ‘Dad,’ ” Carl said. “And I’m sitting here saying to myself; I can’t believe it. This is my daughter. That’s my firstborn. And Joy would be trying to call, too, and so she would say, ‘Dad, Mom’s on the phone.’ And I was like, This girl is calling us Mom and Dad!”
Meeting the Family
By January, Joy flew Netty and Samani, her granddaughter, to New York to visit them. Joy and her sister came to pick them up, and obviously, there were many tears involved. Happy ones, though. All of Joy’s extended family were at the house waiting to meet them. Netty then met her sister and brother (Sheena, and Sydney), her aunts, cousins, and a grandmother – Joy’s mother, Elizabeth.
For the time being, Netty and Joy didn’t talk about Ann Pettway or about Netty’s childhood. Instead, they focused on the good things, looked for common traits, cooked together, and watched Samani play. “It felt like this is where I belonged,” Netty recalled. The next morning, Carl came to meet Netty.
The Results Came In
When Netty finally met her father, he couldn’t stop staring at her. She said, “Do I have something on my face or something?” He said, “No, girl, you don’t understand what me and your mother went through. Just to see you standing here is a blessing. ” a few days later, Netty and her daughter were at the airport, waiting for their plane back to Atlanta.
A man came up to her and said, “Are you Nejdra Nance?” He said a detective told him to tell her to call him. He told her they got the DNA back and it came back positive. The NYPD had been trying to reach them, not knowing they were all in New York together. Upon hearing the news, she still boarded her flight back home.
The News Broke
The next day, the news broke. Until then, no child in American history had been missing for longer before being reunited with their parents. It was a big story. The Post wanted to fly Netty to New York and put her up with Carl and Joy, at a hotel. Netty agreed to come but went without Samani, who stayed with Cassandra.
When Netty arrived at the hotel, the whole media was there. “They were booking rooms on the same floor. I couldn’t leave the room without someone seeing me. They had to lead me out of the kitchen to leave the hotel.” As for Joy, she was ecstatic. “I always dreamed this,” she told a reporter. “Now, I can sleep!” Netty tried to be happy, too, but the attention made her feel uncomfortable.
As For Ann…
Netty couldn’t stop thinking about Ann in all of this. It wasn’t just that Ann lied to her; she was an accused kidnapper now. The FBI was searching for her, as she was facing a federal prison sentence of 20 years to life. For a few years now, Ann had been living in Raleigh, North Carolina, apparently working as a kitchen prep cook.
When the Post first reached out to Ann, she vowed to make things right. “I’m coming, I’m coming, I’m coming back to straighten this all out,” she told them. “I raised her, and I was a good mom.” But then she up and left the state, and disappeared, just like Carlina had 23 years earlier.
She Wanted Her to Suffer
In New York, Netty was growing harsh, refusing to look at a police sketch from 1987, or even refer to Ann by her name. “When I look at [Joy], I can see me. With that other lady, I would always be searching for stuff we had in common, but I had nothing in common with her.” Joy said, “I want her to suffer,” referring to Ann. “I want her to do some time, like I suffered for 23 years.”
After Netty returned to Atlanta, she stopped calling her newly discovered parents as often. The media was really getting to her, causing her to recluse. She even checked in to a hotel in Georgia to avoid being seen by reporters at her house. But the calls didn’t stop.
A Call From Oprah
A few years earlier, when Netty was still searching for her real mother, she wrote to the ‘Oprah Winfrey Show’ but never heard back. But now, a producer from the show was on the phone, reading her letter back to her. Joy said she wanted to do the show, and Carl was fine with it. And Netty said yes at first, but then she changed her mind.
The weight of what was happening to Ann, and Netty’s role in it, started to sink in. She was also worried about her little brother, Trevon. Netty was lucky enough to have her real, new family. But Trevor only had Ann. What would happen to him if she went to jail for the rest of her life?
Joy and Carl were disappointed that they wouldn’t be doing the Oprah show and also that Netty was distancing herself from them. All they wanted was to see her more. But Netty was steadfast in her choices at that point. Then, on January 23, 2010, Netty saw Ann on TV, arranging her surrender to the FBI in Connecticut.
From the beginning, Ann’s lawyer, Robert Baum, was trying for a plea deal. He claimed that Ann wasn’t the monster that Netty made her out to be in the press. As for her motives, which were based on statements that Ann gave to the FBI after her surrender, Ann had miscarried during the summer Carlina was born. She was desperate to become a mother.
Ann’s lawyer said the evidence that Ann kidnapped Carlina is far from conclusive. He suggested that it’s possible that someone else took Carlina, but never gave an idea as to who or how Ann wound up with her. Carl went on TV, saying he didn’t think Ann was sorry. He also appeared on ‘The Early Show,’ saying, “I just got to move forward step-by-step.
Joy, on the other hand, went on ‘Today,’ saying Netty was actively distancing herself from both her and Carl. “I was on such a high when I first reunited with my daughter… And it really hurts me that it’s, it’s about money.” She was referring to the reports that surfaced of a trust fund. In 1988, a year after Carlina went missing, Carl and Joy sued the city for $100 million.
A Lost Trust Fund
In 1992, they finally reached a settlement of $750,000, which each parent’s share later reduced to $162,643. Carl and Joy then agreed to put half of their shares, a total of $162,000, in a trust fund for Carlina, in the case that she would return before her 21st birthday. But in 2008, after no sign of Carlina, the trust was liquidated, and Carl and Joy collected what they put in.
“I have two other kids,” Joy told ‘Today.’ “And I had to take care of myself. And I had to live.” According to Joy, Netty was less interested in reuniting with her real parents now that the trust fund was gone. But Joy also mentioned that she realized that Netty was indeed attached to Ann and her relatives.
Joy’s comments left Netty feeling betrayed. “How dare you go on TV and say something like that?” Netty asked Joy on the phone after seeing the show. “I never asked y’all for anything.” In May, Robert Baum, Ann’s lawyer, announced that Carlina White would testify on Ann’s behalf if needed. By July, Netty cut off all contact with Joy and Carl.
Ann Petway was then sentenced to 12 years in federal prison. The statements Ann made about miscarrying and wanting a baby so desperately essentially amounted to a confession in the court’s eyes. “This was not a crime of greed; this was not a crime of vengeance… it was an act of selfishness, a crime of selfishness that inflicted a parent’s worst nightmare on a couple,” Judge P. Kevin Castel of Federal District Court in Manhattan said.
Righting Her Wrong
Before sentencing 50-year-old Ann Petway, she apologized to the family and said, “I am here today to the right my wrong and ask for forgiveness.” Netty, however, didn’t attend the hearing after she chose to distance herself from the case. Joy and Carl made emotional pleas, asking for a prolonged prison term.
Ann Pettway pleaded guilty to one count of kidnapping, under a plea agreement that carried a sentencing guideline of 10 to 12.5 years. When Netty was asked if she would want to visit Ann in jail, she made a face. “I don’t really know,” she said. “I don’t like jails, and I don’t like hospitals. That’s not what I do, and I’m not going to get out of my comfort zone.”
Netty also said that she would eventually communicate with Ann again, “But it’s going to take a little while for that to just when I’m ready to, I know that I will. Just not at this moment.” The hard part for Netty is talking about Ann with Samani. “She’s very close with my daughter,” Netty admitted.
“She did more stuff with her than I think she did with me. She took her trick-or-treating. Christmas, Halloween, school. She provided like a grandmother’s supposed to… She doesn’t know the story. I just say she’s on vacation.” Netty explained that she went off the radar because she needed to get clarity. “I have bills to pay. I have to teach my daughter. I’m trying to build my own career. I can’t just sit here and dwell.”
Reconciling with Her Parents
A friend of Joy’s said that Joy is sad and terrified of commenting publicly again, fearful of driving Netty further away. Carl is enraged. “She says she’s got to live her life? Okay,” he tells me. “But you’re not spending any time with your family. None at all. You say you don’t know us? Fine. We don’t know you. But how are you going to get to know us? I’m frustrated.”
Netty is aware of the pain she has caused Carl and Joy. “I did what I did because I felt like when I’m ready to dip back in, it’s going to be on a different note. The approach has to be better than it was the first time. It was just too much commotion.” A few weeks later, Netty called both her parents. Her conversation with Carl was short, but she talked to Joy for three hours.
From Netty to Carlina
The trust-fund issue, Netty says, was “just a misunderstanding.” What put her and Joy at odds was Ann and her sentencing. “I know they both want justice. I would feel the same way if someone did that to my child. But at the same time, I have unconditional feelings for [Ann].” All in all, Netty is happy; she knows the truth now.
So, what about the name? Is she going to remain Nejdra Nance? “I’ve been trying to get my paperwork together. When I get my I.D. and everything, it will say Carlina White.” But old habits die hard. When someone asks her what my name is, she naturally says Netty. According to her, “Netty’s not what the Pettway family gave me or what the White family gave me. It’s what I gave myself.”