Real Name: Unrevealed
Case: Lost Families
Location: Memphis, Tennessee
Date: 1920s to 1950
Details: From 1924 through 1950, Beulah George "Georgia" Tann ran the Tennessee Children's Home Society, from a stately home on Poplar Avenue in Memphis, TN. Tann used it as a front for an illegal foundling home and adoption agency that placed over 5,000 newborn infants and children, from toddlers up to age 16, to sell to what Ms. Tann called "high type" families in 48 states. She used manipulation, deception, pressure tactics, threats, and brute force to take children from mainly poor single mothers in a 5 state area to sell to wealthy parents up until outrage, lawsuits, and complaints spurred a state investigation into her tactics closed her down in 1950. Protected by the infamous Edward Hull "Boss" Crump, she regularly altered and destroyed the records of the children "processed" through her custody and did not conduct checks on the adoption homes to which she sent children. Hers was a complicated story: Ms. Tann craved the wealth and power that her position and role afforded her - hopefully to eclipse her locally famous father who was a judge in Mississippi and who had prohibited her from entering the field of law. She delivered speeches about adoption in Washington, New York, and other major cities and was consulted by Eleanor Roosevelt regarding child welfare. So many children died while in Tann's care that at one point, the infant mortality rate in Memphis, TN was highest in the country and many more deaths were never reported. Notable celebrities such as Joan Crawford, June Allyson, and her husband Dick Powell, Smiley Burnette, and Pearl Buck used her services as well as the parents of New York governor Herbert Lehman and professional wrestler Ric Flair. Tann's death prior to prosecution in 1950 led to more stringent laws on adoption in Tennessee in 1951. Fewer than 10% of these stolen children were ever reunited with parents or siblings due to the complicity of local and state officials such as Juvenile Court Judge Camille Kelley, who provided about 20% of the children adopted out by Tann, and difficulty finding true and accurate documentation for identification. Cindy Lou Presto was one of the children adopted by her and was reunited with her mother after 32 years. She was abducted by her while she was playing at a park when she was just a toddler. Two of her former children, Lynne Heinz and Nancy Turner, are looking for their birth families.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the December 13, 1989 episode. It inspired the movies, "Missing Children: A Mother's Story" and "Stolen Babies." The book, The Baby Thief: The Untold Story of Georgia Tann, the Baby Seller Who Corrupted Adoption, by Barbara Bisantz Raymond, was published in the U.S., Australia, and the U.K.
Results: Solved. Soon after the broadcast, Lynn was reunited with her father and two half-brothers. Nancy was also able to locate and reunite with her sister, Evelyn Routh, whom she hadn't seen in over forty years.