Stolen at Birth: A Decades-Old Mystery

Part 1: A nurse recalls the day baby Paul Joseph Fronczak was taken from a Chicago hospital in 1964.
3:00 | 03/16/14

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Transcript for Stolen at Birth: A Decades-Old Mystery
"Stolen at birth" with Barbara Walters starts right now. I don't know anything about myself, my heritage, my birthday. Everything I thought was my life, wasn't. Tonight on "20/20," a huge break through of a shocking story of a baby stolen at birth by a woman dressed up by a nurse. The baby was kidnapped? Baby was gone. Suddenly 14 months later he's found, or is he? This is my life and this is my only shot at solving these mysteries. Tonight, Barbara Walters with the 50-year-old cold case that "20/20" has suddenly turned red hot. This couldn't be an easy case. A young man's obsession with finding out if he's the real baby Paul. Hundreds of all new leads pouring into our "20/20" tipline. Cousins, caregivers, stunning age progression images. Is he not the real Paul? Is this man? It's ghostly to see it in person. And finally the shocker that will change everything. Do you know who stole this baby? Yes, my mother. She had a room with nothing but wigs and nurse dresses. Tonight is there finally an answer of who was really stolen at birth? Here's Barbara Walters. Good evening, tonight, a program literally 50 years in the making. As a man living a mystery comes the closest yet, to finding out who he really is for the last year, "20/20" has been along for the ride with him, bringing in hundreds of leads ourselves, as we asked for your help, but nothing could have prepared us, and the FBI, for the most shocking call of all, the one that might finally shovel the mystery of who was stolen at Birt birth. I want to show you some photographs. Reporter: Looking at old family photos with Paul Fronczak is a strange experience. Because the baby in his baby pictures is not him. How do you feel when you see this picture? I feel like I want to find him, and hug him, and make sure he's ok. Reporter: Paul has a wife, Michelle, a daughter, Emma, and a fish named blue. A perfectly ordinary life. The problem, as he recently discovered, it is not his life. This mystery, born of a terrible crime, was supposedly solved nearly 50 years ago. But today it is paradox so strange, even his name is not his own. Who is Paul Fronczak? That's what I hope we can find. Reporter: The crazy amazing story begins with a villain, an evil woman dressed in white, and a baby stolen at birth, half a lifetime ago in 1964. Lyndon Johnson was in the white house, leading a nation still reeling from the assassination of president Kennedy. A young journalist named Barbara something-or-other was breaking into television, appearing on "The today show." And the original boy band was shaking up America. ? Shake it up baby ? Reporter: In Chicago, Chester and Dora Fronczak, married two years, living in an apartment in his parents' home, were starting a family. A first pregnancy ended in stillbirth, but on Sunday, April 26th, Dora gave birth to a healthy nine pound boy. They named him Paul Joseph. He was a very cute, alive, sparkly baby, and she was thrilled. Mary trenchard Petrie was a 19 year-old student nurse at Michael Reese hospital in Chicago. She was in the maternity ward with Dora Fronczak the day after her delivery. That whole thing is like a movie in my brain. I see myself in my uniform as a student nurse, I see the joy that was when they brought the baby to her the first time, how thrilled she was. Reporter: But soon the thrill and the baby would be gone. It was the last time Dora Fronczak would hold her son. Earlier that day, a woman dressed like a nurse, all in white, had come into her room. She looked at baby Paul and left without a word. The woman had been seen elsewhere in the maternity ward several times that day and the day before. No one questioned her or raised any alarm. Former FBI agent and ABC consultant, brad Garrett has looked into this case for us. My sense is she was looking for what child she wanted to take. Reporter: That afternoon, the woman in white returned to Dora fronzcak's room. And as I was leaving the room, a woman came into the room. Reporter: This time, she did more than just look. And did Mrs. Fronczak give her her baby? The woman said to her, "um, the doctor wants to see your baby." And she said, "Oh, ok." And handed the baby to her. Reporter: The fake nurse was able to whisk Paul Fronczak out of the maternity ward, down several flights of stairs and out of the hospital. Apparently she got in a cab and took off. Easy? Easy, very easy. Reporter: Just like that, Paul Fronczak, less than two days old, was stolen from his mother's arms and vanished. The baby was kidnapped? The baby was gone. Reporter: Mary trenchard says 45 minutes passed before the baby was missed. And they said, "Do you have the Fronczak baby?" And I said no. And she said, "Well then the baby's gone." I was like, "Gone where?" You know and, and she said, "You go back to Mrs. Fronczak's room and stay with her. The baby's been taken." Reporter: There was a frantic search. Nurses turned the hospital upside down. But, astonishingly, for several hours no one told Dora Fronczak, the one person best able to describe the kidnapper, that her baby had been taken. Your heart must have been in your mouth. It was awful. Reporter: Finally, authorities came empty handed to the maternity ward to deliver their stunning news. And they told her, "Mrs. Fronczak, your baby's been taken." Is there anything you would like to add, Mr. Fronczak? What would you like to tell the person that took your baby? Reporter: We uncovered rare archival news photos and film footage of the case. Here is Chester Fronczak, the day after learning that while he was at work as an aircraft machinist handing out celebratory cigars, his boy had been stolen. Do you have an appeal to the kidnapper? I pray that she'll take care of the baby. Return him. Reporter: A distraught Dora Fronczak, with Chester kneeling by her side made a public appeal for the kidnapper to return their son. Would you have any reason to think why she might have taken the baby? The only thing I can think of she must have been desperate for a baby that she would come and take someone else's baby away from them. Or she couldn't have her own. Or she lost hers or something. But even losing a child, I don't think you're that desperate to go and take another woman's baby. Reporter: If the kidnapper seen in police sketches heard the Fronczak's plea, she was not moved by it. But others were. FBI agents and police, many working on their day off, searched the city for the phony nurse and the kidnapped baby. They threw out a dragnet, pursuing hundreds of leads and tips from the public. So where do you go from here lieutenant? We're still checking out all the leads we have, that we're receiving by telephone and other checks that we are making. Reporter: Authorities had another problem. If and when they found the baby, how would they positively identify him? There was no DNA testing and blood testing was inexact. Particularly if you go back to 1964-65, extremely challenging trying to match up. Is this the child, the biological child of the fronczaks? Reporter: There was another identification method then in vogue. The shape of an ear. Basically, it's the dimension size and the folds of the ear. Reporter: Authorities were about to get a chance to put the ear theory to the test. 14 months after the kidnapping a child was found. A boy, apparently the right age, halfway across the country. Was it possible? Might this be the face of Paul Fronczak? And I heard the lady say, oh my god, this is my child. This is my baby." Stay with us. We perform solos, improvs,

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