I-TEAM INVESTIGATES: DNA fills in missing pieces as long lost sisters come together

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Tuesday, October 9, 2018
(News 12 at 6 O’Clock / NBC 26 at 7)

(WRDW/WAGT) – It's amazing how two sisters can look at the same picture of their mother, and see something totally different.

For Barbara Hudson it's a memory, a part of her life frozen in time.

But for Debbie Drummond, it's a mirror. She sees her face looking back, but that woman in the photograph wasn't part of her life. It was her mother.

Debbie: "Yeah. Cheekbones. High cheekbones."
Barbara: "High cheekbones, the nose."
Debbie: “The neck.”
Barbara: “Everything. It's so her. "

They reflect on their mother, one that Debbie never got to meet.

"When a baby is separated from its mother, it senses something is wrong but it can't fix it. And I get it. I totally get it," Debbie told News 12’s Meredith Anderson and Kelly Wiley.

Barbara understands it too.

"I said, ‘mother who in the heck is Beverly K. Perry’?” It’s the name she saw when she opened her mother’s Bible, and it was a name two below her own.

“She said it was a daughter I had,” Barbara remembered.

"She named this baby, and she evidently didn't realize that even though she named this child, that someone else might have this child. Everything’s changed," Barbara said her mother never would have let her daughter go, even though she was 19 and about to get divorced.

Meredith: "Do you think that's why she was targeted, though, by Bee Hamilton?"
Barbara: "I definitely do. Yes."

Debbie has always had questions.

"Why was I given away? What did I do to be given away?"

It never crossed her mind that she could have been taken away. Growing up, Barbara's uncle used to tell her stories about Bee Hamilton.

"I can see her right now. In that old black Ford. Riding around the neighborhood. Just cruising the neighborhood."

But it wasn't until her cousin sent her a link to our News 12 investigation years ago that she knew Bee Hamilton was orchestrating the sale of stolen babies.

Hamilton was primarily targeting young, un-wed or divorced pregnant women. She was taking their babies and selling them to unsuspecting couples, like Debbie's parents, who were happy to take in an orphan.

"I know without a shadow of doubt. They were good, Christian people and loved me. "

“Loved” in the past tense. Debbie lost both her adoptive parents and her husband, not even within 2 years of each other.

"And I went into the pits of depression. And without me knowing it, Kim, my daughter, submitted a DNA."

Barbara didn't submit DNA, but an uncle did. That’s how they were able to connect the dots.

Barbara and Debbie: "It was instant. It was instant connection."
Barbara: "I was a wreck. Nervous wreck coming over here."
Debbie: "I was, too."
Barbara: "I couldn't really, I felt like I couldn't breathe. I hugged her.
Debbie: "No hesitation."
Barbara: "No."

There’s no hesitation for these sisters to make new memories. This was the first night they met.
Bee Hamilton might have erased Debbie from other pictures, but she can’t stop new ones from happening.

Now there are new pictures, new memories: children, grandchildren. They know their past was stolen, but their future now belongs to them.

News 12 is continuing to uncover stories of families torn apart. Stay tuned for more.

Monday, October 8, 2018
(News 12 at 6 O’Clock / NBC 26 at 7)

(WRDW/WAGT) – A typical family cookout set the scene for a touching reunion, years in the making. It’s a day Barbara thought would never come after 55 years.

Kevin Morgan was adopted at 5 days old by two loving parents. 55-years-later Morgan swallowed his biological mother, Barabara Hollis Smith, in his arms at the Lock N Dam park.

Kevin and Barbara say they feel blessed to have found each other after all these years, but both say they feel cheated too.

Barbara and Kevin believe someone else seperated them. ​

"I think this was all back in Bee Hamilton days and I was put to sleep and don’t remember anything," said Hollis.

Smith says on the day Kevin was born she walked in the hospital pregnant and left believing her baby died. She says she didn't even know if the baby was a boy or a girl.

News 12's Meredith Anderson began her investigation into "Black Market Babies" in the Augusta area eight years ago. She uncovered a juvenile court officer, Elizabeth "Bee" Hamilton, working with local judges to steal and sell babies.

There could be thousands of families affected.

Meredith Anderson: “What do you remember about Bee Hamilton?”
Barbara: “I remember her. [She] used to come over to my mother’s house, ‘cause I had a couple brothers that was on the wild side, you know. After I had my children, well actually after Kevin was born, she would come by my house and send me blue jeans and stuff for my boys. When I was working at the hospital she sent me three $100 bills."

Now, Barbara wonders if that was payment.

Kelly: “You were talking about what you lost. How do you feel about that?”
Barbara: “Sad, sad. I look at his pictures, so I could see he was a baby, growing up and all.”

Kevin Morgan says he knew he was adopted, but he didn’t know much else. When he went searching for answers as an adult, he told News 12 the only thing in his file was his birth certificate. The birth certificate doesn't have a hospital or doctor listed on it.

Kevin sent a DNA kit to Ancestry.com to figure out his nationality, but then the messages started flooding in.

“I started getting hits, like first cousins and second cousins and then all of the sudden I got a letter from Glenda, my sister,” said Kevin.

Kelly: “Over the years, what did you think happened?”
Barbara: “You know, I’m thinking they told me he was dead, because I had two more babies after I had Kevin.”

Barbara had nine kids in total and says she remembers all of the other births.

Kelly: “What would you say to her?”
Barbara: “I am not going to repeat that on television.”

Instead, Kevin and her family will focus on what they say to each other.

“First time we talked on the phone it immediately felt right. It felt good," said Kevin.

For a long time, families like this haven't been able to come together because records have been destroyed, falsified or lost. Sites like Ancestry.com are helping to fill in the blanks.

Tuesday, October 9th, we will introduce you to another black market baby who never got to meet her birth mother. But now, she has a whole new family.​

Thursday, October 4, 2018
(News 12 at 6 O’Clock / NBC 26 at 7)

(WRDW/WAGT) – Our I-Team is re-opening a News 12 investigation that essentially blew the lid off a black market for babies in Augusta.

More than eight years ago, News 12 exposed how a juvenile court officer was working with a local judge for decades to steal and sell babies.

We have been able to crack several of those cases and reunite some families, and now we’re hoping to reunite even more.

In 2009, North Augusta Public Safety officer Landon Terry started quite the journey with News 12’s Meredith Anderson. We found out he was one of those “black market babies”.

For years we searched for answers with Terry. There wasn’t much to go on except for a hand-written record of his birth on October 16, 1963, when he was known only as “Baby Boy Cooper”.

We caught up with Terry recently.

“I can’t believe it’s been that long, though. Eight years. That’s a long time, and we still didn’t know anything,” Terry said.

It’s always bothered I-Team reporter Meredith Anderson that she could find other people’s families, but not his.

Meredith: “That’s my job. To get answers. And I couldn’t get them for you.”
Terry: “Might be getting them now. You might be able to blow it wide open.”

After all this time, saliva could fill the missing pieces. Terry sent a DNA kit to ancestry.com to hopefully unlock the secrets of his past. We brought it to him this week, and Meredith personally put it in the mail.

More recently, Meredith met two more families ripped apart by the woman behind the secrets, former clerk Bee Hamilton, who has now passed away. The families are putting together the pieces with the same types of DNA kits. That’s why News 12 is covering the cost of Terry’s kit.

“That story you did reunited people, and now here we go again.”

Terry could get results in 6-8 weeks, and the timing of all of this is a story in itself. This all re-ignited when fellow I-Team reporter Kelly Wiley was working on a story that led her to the name Bee Hamilton.

Kelly was covering a happy story of a mother and son reunited after more than 50 years thanks to DNA, but something the mom said led her to Meredith and the black market babies story from 2009.

Next week, Kelly and Meredith will team up for a full exclusive on the woman behind the heartbreak of these families. Stay tuned for that story.