June 17, 2009 -- The Michigan man who believes he was the toddler kidnapped on Long Island, N.Y., more than 50 years ago said today that it was pictures of the missing boy's mother that led him to contact the boy's family with his startling theory.
John Robert Barnes told The Associated Press today that the woman in pictures he found online looked familiar. Now he's "waiting for the FBI to tell me who I'm related to."
Steven Craig Damman disappeared from a Long Island sidewalk in 1955. DNA tests to confirm Barnes' claims are still pending, but the family of missing Steven Craig Damman said it has already begun referring to Barnes as "Steven."
"I think I'm more hopeful than really convinced," said William "Matt" Greer, the son of Steven Damman's adult sister, Pamela Horne.
Barnes' search for the people who could be his biological family began last fall when he was apparently told something by the woman who'd raised him, Greer told ABCNews.com.
Greer said that in a phone call to Pamela Horne, Barnes said his mother was in the hospital and on medication when she blurted out the information that started his search. Barnes looked intomissing children that matched his description. That's when he found the Damman family.
On Oct. 31, 1955, Steven Damman was nearly 3 years old when he and his baby sister, Pamela, disappeared from a sidewalk outside a Long Island store while their mother was inside.
Pamela, then about 7 months old, was found by a family friend in her carriage around the corner from the store. Steven was never seen again. The family eventually moved from Long Island to the Midwest. Their parents divorced and their father, Jerry Damman, remarried.
In October, Greer said, a letter addressed to Pamela, whose last name is now Horne, was delivered to her ex-husband's house in Liberty, Mo. The ex-husband called Matt Greer, who lived down the street from his mother.
"I kind of threw it on the table," Greer said and left it unopened.
Later that night, he called his mother and told her about the letter and she asked him to open it and read it to her. Greer said he didn't realize what the sender was actually saying until about halfway through.
"I got this really eerie feeling," he said. "It gave me chills basically."
'The Story Is Not Out'
Growing up, Greer said Steven's kidnapping wasn't discussed much.
"Nobody really talked about that much. My grandmother mentioned it to me when I was 6 or 8 years old," Greer told ABCNews.com.
"It's been on my mom's mind probably more than anybody else's," Greer said.
Reached at her Kansas City, Mo., home, Pamela Horne said she couldn't comment on her older brother's kidnapping or her contact with the man who may be Steven.
"The story is not out no matter what the newspapers say," Horne said.
Since the story has gained steam in the media, Horne has hired an attorney, who could not immediately be reached for comment.
Greer said that the man claiming to be Steven does have some physical similarities to both Horne and Jerry Damman. He believes there might be other telltale physical characteristics that lend credence to Barnes' claim, but was not sure what they were.
The phone number listed for Jerry Damman's address in Newton, Iowa, was continually busy today, but he told The Associated Press that "it's very possible" that Barnes was his son.
"Naturally, you're hopeful. Just like a death gives you closure, you know sometimes, it will give you closure to know what happened," he said.
Nassau County (N.Y.) Police Lt. Kevin Smith told ABCNews.com today that they had turned over whatever information they had on the Steven Damman case to the FBI's Detroit field office, mostly just paperwork and other documents.
"There's really no forensic or any type of evidence like that," Smith said.
Smith said his department first heard of Barnes in March, when he called to tell them he thought he might be Steven. He had done a search on the Internet of kidnapped boys that matched his age and found a striking similarity in the Damman case.
Smith said Barnes called back after Horne had consented to a private DNA test that showed a "possibility" the two were siblings. The FBI's laboratory in Quantico, Va., is now processing a second more definitive test, he said.
Is This the Real Steven Damman?
Sandra Berchtold, the FBI's Detroit field office spokeswoman, said she could not confirm or deny any information that does not exist in public records and that includes any information on the Damman case.
But, she said, the FBI does generally conduct investigations into kidnapping cases.
Smith said there's still a lot of speculation that Barnes is Steven Damman. While there have been few recent leads in the case, the forensic tests in 2003 officially ruled out the possibility that Steven Damman was "the boy in the box," a small child found naked in a cardboard box in Philadelphia in 1957.
Like all unsolved crimes, Smith said, "this case always has someone on it."
Ernie Allen, president and CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said that parents of any missing children are often consumed by not knowing what happened.
In a case like Steven Damman's, where decades pass without any answers, families often move on, Allen said, "but it never disappears from their thought process.
"The reality is you always think about that lost child," he said. "Just not knowing is what eats at you."
Though the center was not involved in Damman's disappearance as a cold case -- the center was founded in 1984 -- it has helped identify missing children for decades, one case going as far back as the 1940s.
"It's unusual," he said, of a missing child being found alive and well after so long, "but it's not unprecedented."
Allen said children Steven's age are very easily manipulated and trusting of adults.
"It's absolutely plausible that this child would have no memory of his early life," Allen said.
The area from which Steven Damman disappeared, Smith said, has undergone a "complete change" from that day in 1955. The shopping area his mother was visiting that day has been torn down to make way for a new shopping plaza.
And while the town was once flush with military families, the air base that brought in so many residents is gone. All that remains, Smith said, is some recruiter housing.
According to the Nassau County Police Department's 1955 missing poster, Jerry Damman was a first class airman who had been stationed all over the country.