Sunday, March 2, 2014

Decades-long search reunites Dave Hickman with "Roseann Wayne" the infant he rescued back in 1955...

RICHMOND, Ind. -- Dave Hickman remembers it like it was yesterday, the day 58 years ago that changed his life forever.
The 73-year-old Tennessee man was then a 14-year-old Richmond kid, hunting with his grandfather Clay Smith in woods just west of Boston, Ind.
He and his grandfather had just finished hunting and began skinning the squirrels in a field off Indiana 122.
It was shortly after 6 p.m. on Sept. 22, 1955.
A noise interrupted their post-hunt reverie; like a soft cry or coo. They heard it again.
Hickman decided to find out what it was. It was a fateful decision that saved a human life.
He walked the fence row for about 25 yards to where the noise seemed to be emanating. Then he started to climb over the fence.
"When I was on top of the fence I saw her," Hickman said.
It was a tiny baby, alone, chilled, drenched from the overnight rain; wrapped in a towel, her umbilical cord coagulated to the fabric of the towel.
Later, police said they believed she had been there for 12 to 24 hours. Doctors said she was no more than five or six days old.
There was no doubt, she had been left there to die.
"Every day I see that vision of her laying in the brush and sticks and she was looking up at me. She wasn't crying. It was more like she was cooing," Hickman said.
"I remember thinking, 'What kind of person would do something like this?'"
The two men called the Wayne County Sheriff's Department and the baby was whisked away to a hospital.

She was named Roseann Wayne, Roseann because the people at the Wayne County Welfare Department, in whose custody she was placed, liked the name, and Wayne for Wayne County.
Authorities never determined who dumped the baby along the roadside. The welfare department fielded a dozen calls from couples wanting to adopt the baby. Applicants were recorded and told no plans for the baby's future would be made until she was strong enough to leave the hospital.
The child survived and began to grow.
Hickman, a man of strong Christian faith, has been haunted by the memory throughout his life, including his recollection of the day months later at Dennis Middle School when he was called to the office to find two nurses and Baby Roseann.
"She was being adopted out and they brought her so I could hold her, to say goodbye," Hickman said. "She was so beautiful, sound asleep, wrapped in a blanket. My emotions just took over."
Hickham's search
Flash forward 58 years to Dec. 9, 2013. John Catey of Richmond opened a letter from Hickman asking Catey's help in finding Roseann. Hickman said he and his wife, Gaile, have been searching for the infant he found in the woods for 40 years.
"He said he continually wondered what happened to Roseann and how wonderful it would be to just talk to her and find out what her life has been like," Catey said.
Hickman had written to officials at Wayne County, the hospital and the Palladium-Itemseeking information. He got nowhere.
Finally, he wrote to Catey, the retired two-term Wayne County Sheriff and former county commissioner and councilman. Catey was up to the task.
He immediately called Hickman, who lives in Vonore, Tenn., west of Knoxville.
"He told me, 'I'm going to do everything I can to get you two together by Christmas,'" Hickman said. "I thought that would be a miracle."
Catey found that court records on adoptions and welfare records concerning juveniles remain sealed and not open to the public, so he resorted to old fashioned dogged police work to find clues. He used his contacts in the county and in county government, his knowledge of the area and his own determination.
He was stymied much more often than rewarded with solid information. People were deceased. They didn't remember or their memories strayed.
Still, he moved systematically from one clue to the next.
"I'll bet I talked to 75 people, bankers, attorneys, nurses, physicians, veterinarians. I knew they had to be old to remember this. They've got to be 80 or better." Catey said.
"I got lucky," he said.
At 9 a.m. Dec. 22, Catey called Hickman at home in Tennessee.
"He said, 'Write down this name and write down this phone number.' He said, 'Dave, that's your Roseann.' I had been trying to find her. It was truly amazing."
Hickman called.
"When I heard her voice I couldn't talk, the emotions overcame me," Hickman said. "I gave the phone to my wife and she talked to her. After a little bit then I could talk to her. There was an instant bond between Ellen and me. It's almost as if she was my baby," he said.
Catey's search
In less than 30 days, Catey had found Mary Ellen Suey. It was like a police investigation.
"That's my background," he said. "You just keep digging until you find something to build on."
For instance, Catey wanted to talk to Julian Benner, former Boston town marshal, who helped with the rescue and the investigation, but Benner was deceased.
So he talked to Benner's widow, Meta Jane who remembered that the last name of the family who adopted Roseann "might" have started with the letter "T." Meta Jane also told Catey that a woman had come around in the early 1990s, looking for the two who had found the baby.
Another source said the family who adopted the baby was a prominent one in Wayne County.
Retired Cambridge City contractor Jim Sweet gave Catey the name of Everett Test, a veterinarian who lived in the area in the 1950s, but moved to Maryland. Sweet told him to talk to veterinarian Mark Woodward, who knew Everett Test.
Woodward gave Catey the name of Test's son and his wife, Merwin and Marga Test.
Catey used that information to establish a family relationship that landed him on the door step of Kevin Shendler, who lives south of Richmond. Shendler actually works for Catey's son Mike at Contract Industrial Tooling in Richmond and the Shendlers live down the road from the Cateys.
"(Shendler) said that Merwin and Marga Test had adopted the baby girl known as Roseann Wayne and her name was now Mary Ellen Suey and she was living in Riverside, Calif," Catey said. "I was pretty surprised."
He asked Shendler to contact Suey to find out if it was all right for him to call her. Catey then called to confirm that she was the baby Roseann Wayne and to ask if it was all right to give her number to Dave Hickman.
"She told me she had been looking for him for years and that she very much wanted to talk to him," Catey said.
Since that day
Suey's family had moved to Silver Springs, Md., when she was an infant and in 1964 moved to California.
She worked for 30 years as an executive assistant at the U.S. Defense Department in California, but she has come back to the Richmond area every year to visit her aunt Ruth Shendler.
Hickman graduated from Richmond High School in 1960, served for three years in the Army, moved to Florida with his family and worked his whole life in construction. He retired to Florida and then moved to Tennessee eight years ago.
He returns to Richmond regularly for reunions with five close friends.
Suey married, had two children, divorced and has been married to her second husband, Bob Suey, for 19 years. They had four grandchildren, though one died tragically in January.
"She's a very lovely lady," Hickman said.
Hickman and Suey have become close friends and stay in contact almost daily. When Suey's grandson died the Hickmans called and sent cards and flowers.
They plan to meet in Richmond in May.
"He's my hero," Suey said of Hickman. "If he hadn't found me I would have died."
But Hickman refuses to be called a hero.
"I'm just very fortunate I was there," he said. "I found her because God allowed me to save her life."