News 12 at 11, November 19, 2009
It sounds more like a movie than real life: a juvenile court officer and a judge steal babies and sell them all over the country. But, some say this drama really happened in Augusta, and it played out for years.
News 12 started investigating these alleged black market babies when a North Augusta Public Safety officer came to us, claiming to be one. He believes hundreds, maybe thousands, others just like him are out there, and he says all of them deserve answers.
Landon Terry and Barbara Seeger sit on the same couch, but they represent very different sides of the same past. "I've never actually met a mother looking for their child," says Landon. Barbara looks at him and replies "I will never give up." Barbara's never met a child looking for his mother, at least not one like Landon. He thinks he may have been ripped from his mother and sold to his adoptive parents.
Barbara reaches across the couch and grabs his hand "I know you loved your parents," she says. "Oh, I did," Landon answers. "That's still my mom and dad. I just have a lot of unanswered questions."
Both of them do.
They might look like old friends, but this is the first time Landon and Barbara have ever met. After Landon came to News 12 with his story, we came across a post of a woman looking for her daughter. She wrote her baby "was taken by county juvenile department," so we tracked her down. She was living in North Carolina. Turns out, her daughter was born in 1963, the same year as Landon. Like Landon's birth mother, she never took her baby home.
"There was a cop, more than once, standing outside that hospital, waiting for you to walk out that door with that baby, if you did not sign those papers," remembers Barbara.
Those papers gave her child to the Richmond County juvenile court and to a woman named Bee Hamilton. She's the same woman whose name is all over Landon's adoption documents, "plus, you know, copies of bills that Bee sent. That one additional bill like, you know, I got another bill from the hospital. could you pay this for me please?"
But it wasn't just Landon's hospital bills that went to Bee directly. News 12 found the transcript of a 1955 court hearing in Miami that explored adoption. A lot of the adopted kids came from women who lived at boarding houses. Bee was collecting money to pay rent for these girls, but the cash may have never left her pocket. A Mrs. Epps, who ran one of these houses, testified she never saw any.
Mr. Mitler: You never received any money from Miss Hamilton for these cases ?
Mrs. Epps. No, sir.
Mr. Mitler: So that if any money was paid to her, it did not get to you?
Mrs. Epps: Nothing.
But, it looks like Hamilton was getting that money. This is a bill, read in that same courtroom :
Judge Harry A. Woodward, $250 fees for filing temporary adoption papers, et cetera. Miss Elizabeth B. Hamilton, $165 board for 11 months in a boarding home at $15 a month.
The judge mentioned here, Judge Woodward, is one of Bee's supposed partners in crime. His wallet was getting fat during these adoptions too. He had bills of his own. Here is more testimony from the 1955 hearing: "Normally, it was around $250 or $300, even though he did not act in any way as a private attorney for them." Another person testified, "the fee ranged from $100 to $300, and in some cases it was more."
Judge Woodward died in 1969. He had retired the year before, but rumor has it, he wasn't the only judge in on Hamilton's scheme. Both Landon and Barbara believe other judges, including one who handled both of their cases, were involved. Landon's tried to get people to talk about it, but no one will give him any concrete answers, although one judge tried to help.
Landon "went in one day and was talking to his secretary and I said, do you know anything about the bee Hamilton babies? And, they all started laughing, and the judge knew my dad well, and said come on back here."
He showed Landon a book with the names of adopted children. In it, he read "Baby Boy Cooper, October 17, 1963." That's the name and date on all of Landon's adoption records. He made a copy of the page, but wonders what other records are out there.
Barbara wonders too. She's tried to leave a letter for her daughter at the hospital where she was born in case she ever wants to know her medical history, but there is no place to put it. "The man told me that there's probably not a file there. She will never be able to find that because there's no file for that to go into."
Landon's young daughter, Vivian, is a main reason he wants to find his parents. Being a father has suddenly made finding his own that much more important. "I've got a lot of unanswered questions. I'm like you Barbara). I'd like to know."
There's a lot of things Barbara would like to know, but most important to her is that her daughter ended up with a good life despite this bad situation. "She might say I don't have the right to know, but I really would like to know that she is safe, and that she was loved, that by not fighting back, I did the right thing."
But she is fighting back now by looking for her, trying to get those answers. Plus, she has new hope after meeting a new friend. Landon does too.
Bee hamilton died in 1988, so Barbara and Landon worry she took a lot of answers with her to her grave. They are hoping, though that by telling their story, somebody will remember something and maybe help them or other alleged black market babies.