FBI: Michigan Man Isn't Toddler Who Vanished in 1955

John Barnes believed he was really Steven Damman, kidnapped in 1955.

June 17, 2009, 11:25 AM

June 18, 2009— -- DNA tests conducted by the FBI ended the bizarre drama today of a 54-year-old Michigan man who believed he was really Steven Damman, a toddler who was stolen in 1955 and never heard from again.

The FBI was called into the case when John Barnes of Kalkaska, Mich., approached police in East Meadow, N.Y., to say he suspected he was the missing boy.

Initially tests comparing blood samples between Barnes and Damman's sister Pamela Horne did not rule him out as a possible relative of the Damman family, so the FBI conducted a more sophisticated DNA test. The results of the tests ruled Barnes out as a member of the Damman family, the FBI announced today.

"DNA samples analyzed by the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Va., show John Barnes and Pamela Damman Horne do not share the same mother," the FBI said. "All interested parties have been notified of the DNA test results."

Barnes' suspicions about his origins began in March, but became the subject of nationwide speculation as word leaked out about his efforts to prove who his parents really are. Barnes even rejected his father's insistence that it was all "foolishness."

Steven's father, Jerry Damman, told the Associated Press, "It's too bad we had to go through all of this for actually nothing in the end."

Earlier this week, Jerry Damman hadn't made up his mind about whether Barnes is his son and said today that he was disappointed by the DNA tests.

"Yes, this was a big let down," he told ABCNews.com. "You do have hope that this would work out, but I'm kind of glad this is all over."

"It's too bad to have all this going on and then it not mean anything. It's been very emotional. The whole thing is very emotional," Jerry Damman said.

Damman, who will face another Father's Day now without knowing what happened to his little boy, said he still has hope of finding Steven.

"Hope has always been there, even after so many years," he said.

The debate raged among the Barnes family as recently as this morning when John Barnes went on NBC's "Today" show to reject his father's insistence that they are related. He noted that he has a scar under his chin and a mole on his leg just like Steven Damman had.

"I'm his dad," Richard Barnes told The Associated Press. When asked whether John Barnes had been kidnapped as a little boy, Richard Barnes said, "No, no," and called the accusation "a bunch of foolishness."

Richard Barnes said his son is 54 and was born in a Navy hospital in Pensacola, Fla., Aug. 18, 1955.

"We brought him home two days later, and he's never been out of our sight," he said.

Cheryl Barnes grew up with John and said she was "flabbergasted" by her brother's claims.

"I can't begin to know why he would think this," said Cheryl Barnes, 50. "Everybody in my family thinks John looks just like my dad."

John Barnes wasn't convinced by his father's statement and insisted on waiting for the DNA tests to determine who he really is. He told the "Today" show that he is "pretty confident" that the tests wouldl indicate he is Steven Damman.

"There's an investigation going on right now, and when that's over with, he'll know who, I'll know who I am, and he won't be able to dispute anything," John Barnes told "Today."

Steven Damman's sister, Pamela Horne, who was 7 months old when Steven disappeared, also wasn't convinced that she has found her long-lost brother. Barnes reached out to Horne with a letter and they have since talked.

"He explained his situation, and we became friends quickly," Horne told "Good Morning America" today. "We just hit it off."

Steven Damman's Sister Is Not Convinced

When asked, however, if she believed John Barnes was her brother, she told "GMA," "We have talked some, but no."

Barnes claims to have never felt as if he fit into his family, but it was a deathbed comment from his mother that prompted him to start searching the Internet for children who went missing in the 1950s.

When asked if his mother told him she wasn't really his mom, Barnes told "Today," "She didn't tell me that. She was trying to tell me that. But she was dying of lung cancer, and she was on a bunch of different drugs, morphine. But that's what she was trying to do, I believe."

That's when he found the case of Steven Damman.

Barnes told The Associated Press that pictures of Steven's mother, Marilyn Damman, he found online looked familiar.

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 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. Pamela and Steven's parents divorced, and their father, Jerry Damman, remarried.

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.

ABC News' Tahman Bradley contributed to this report

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