Snatched baby finds real mother after 24 years

One of New York's most enduring and baffling cold cases that began with the disappearance of a 19-day-old infant from a Harlem hospital 24 years ago seems finally to have been solved – by the victim herself.

Astonishment has given way to ecstasy for Joy White, the mother who made headlines across the city on 5 August 1987. The day before, she had taken her then baby girl, Carlina, to the hospital with a high temperature. She left the ward for two hours only to find on her return that the cot her child had been in was empty.

With no credible leads and in spite of an offer of a $10,000 reward for anyone providing information leading to an arrest, efforts by the NYPD to trace tiny Carlina eventually petered out. Members of the distraught White family said at the time they had seen a woman in a nurse's uniform dawdling near where Carlina had been left and suggested she may have been responsible for spiriting her away.

But now it is Carlina herself who, with some diligent internet sleuthing, has brought the agony of the lost years to an end, identifying Ms White as her birth mother and rushing to New York to be reunited with her.

"Carlina was a missing link and we have gotten her back in the name of Jesus, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah," Pat Conway, White's godmother, said after Carlina flew on Wednesday from Georgia, where she has been living, to New York and into the arms of the extended White clan.

Now 23 years old, Carlina was raised as Nejdre Nance in Bridgeport, Connecticut, an hour northeast of New York and after that in Georgia. She has told police investigators that she had long harboured doubts about the woman who purported to be her mother if only because they didn't look alike. Her concern deepened when she had her own baby and no one could give her papers like her own birth certificate.

"Nejdra Nance was very suspicious of who she was and what family raised her," Lieutenant Christopher Zimmerman of the NYPD. "There was no paperwork to follow her such as a birth certificate or social security card. In her late teens she became suspicious of who she was."

At one point in her late teens, she even wrote to Oprah Winfrey, the American television presenter, asking for help in establishing her true identity.

It was the internet that eventually provided the key to resolving the mystery of her identity and, in particular, the website of a group called The National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children.

Looking at pictures from missing baby cases that matched her own age she soon saw a photograph that looked very much like others she had seen of herself as a baby. She was looking at Carlina White. Or rather at herself.

It was with help from the Centre that she was then able to trace her real mother, separated nowadays from her father, in New York. She travelled to see them for a first time last weekend before returning to Georgia. After DNA tests confirmed on Tuesday what she already knew in her heart, she flew back to New York again on Wednesday.

"I'm overwhelmed. I'm just happy. It's like a movie; it's all brand new to me," she told a reporter from the New York Daily News after emerging from La Guardia airport. As the second meeting with her daughter got underway, Joy, Carlina's birth mother, could only say: "Is it really happening? I always dreamed this."

Only Carlina deserves the credit for solving the riddle of her birth insisted Ernie Allen, the president of the Centre whose website had led to the reunion. "This young woman gets all the credit," he said "She felt it. Now she could have been just wrong – but in this case, we were able to help her get to the truth."

The woman who raised her, first in Connecticut and then Georgia, was identified as Cassandra Pettway.

She has refused to speak with reporters and so far the police have not said if they plan to lay charges in the case or even if they are certain that it was Ms Pettway who took the small baby from the hospital crib all those years ago.

"We have our suspicion, but not enough probable cause to make an arrest," NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne told reporters.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable