Searching For Tony


And a few days ago, Vicki Johnson's lawyer sent ABC a new, 140-page response to our story. It included signed affidavits by the Zackheims and three other people swearing to have met Tony. However, none of these people would discuss Tony with us directly. Also, the lawyer asserted that medical and adoption records for Tony exist, but will not be provided to ABC because they are "privileged and confidential." Further, the response contends that claims that Tony does not exist are an attempt to promote the movie version of Armistead Maupin's novel, "The Night Listener." "The Night Listener" was released by Miramax, a sister company of ABC, Inc. Just yesterday, Ms. Johnson's attorney accused ABC News of "bias and disregard for the truth."

ABC received other letters in support of Tony in July, some from people also claiming to have met him. One letter said, "Tony exists" and "is a beautiful and deep soul."

Jack Godby, who wrote the introduction to Tony's book, told "20/20" he still keeps in touch with Tony by email and by phone, although he admits that after all these years, he's never met Tony in person.

Bernstein's response to the people who still believe in Tony? "There are still people that believe in the tooth fairy." What's most interesting, Bernstein says, is not that Vicki may or may not have been Tony, but that people wanted to believe that Tony exists.

The movie version of Maupin's "The Night Listener" was released in August and comes out on DVD this week. Robin Williams plays the character Maupin based on himself. Williams says he's known Maupin for 30 years. "He became obsessed with the idea of finding out who is this person."

Maupin added, "It was very difficult for me. I didn't stop thinking about it. I didn't stop speculating over it. I didn't have any proof, so all I could do was turn to fiction."

Maupin says the movie is a fictional reflection of the complicated emotions he felt after bonding with Tony and Vicki on the phone and never being allowed to meet the boy.

"I think maybe Tony was her [Vicki's] imaginary friend. He was certainly mine," said Maupin with a laugh.

I Know This Child!

When "20/20" first broadcast this story in July, a haunting question remained. If Tony never existed, then who is the boy in the photographs people received? Like Maupin, Terry Anderson struggled to conjure the true identity of that boy -- a boy they only knew as Tony. "Somebody out there in the world knows who that is," says Anderson.

Of the many millions of people who saw the original "20/20" broadcast and the special web link which asked, "Do you know this boy?," exactly three people came forward to tell ABC the real name of the boy featured in the photos.

His name is Steve Tarabokija, not Anthony Godby Johnson. And he is not a writer suffering from life-threatening maladies, but is instead a very healthy traffic engineer from New Jersey.

As one can imagine, Steve was surprised when he received a call from an ABC News producer telling him the details of the story. "It was shocking. It took a couple of days just to sink in," he told "20/20."

So how did childhood photos of Steve Tarabokija come to be misappropriated, allegedly by Vicki Johnson? One viewer who came forward to identify "Tony" as Steve was Cary Riecken. She was watching at home the night of the original "20/20" broadcast.

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