Black Market Adoption - Katherine Cole

 

 
 Miami Herald
 September 12, 1993
 
 HUGS, KISSES END 48-YEAR SEPARATION
 
 Author: JOHN DONNELLY Herald Staff Writer
 
  At a Texaco station with wind swirling across the central Washington plain, mother and child stepped out of separate cars Saturday, hugged, cried -- and untangled part of a dark Miami mystery nearly a half-century old.
 
  Mildred McKenzie, 75, and her adoptive daughter, Dolores Rocker, 55, met for the first time since 1945. They were separated because of an abusive adoptive father. They stayed separated, due in part to a lifetime of
  secrets kept by a Miami doctor, Katherine Morris Cole.
 
  "Oh, let me look at you," Dolores said to her mother.
 
  "My stomach is just shaking," said Mildred. They embraced and closed their eyes.
 
  Cole arranged hundreds of illegal adoptions in Miami, leaving no trace of the children's roots and giving those children almost no hope of ever learning about their past.
 
  Mildred and Dolores met after they placed calls to this reporter one day last week -- less than three hours apart.
 
  At 8:15 a.m. Wednesday, Rocker called from Central Florida. She had read a Miami Herald story on Cole. Cole arranged her adoption, she said. She was born July 16, 1938.
 
  At 11:09 a.m., McKenzie called from Ellensburg, Wash., 110 miles east of Seattle. She had read the same story, sent by a Miami relative. She adopted a child through Cole. The child was born July 16, 1938.
 
  Just like that, the two found each other.  Just like that, new clues emerged about Dolores' birth mother. 
And just like that, one of Dr. Cole's secrets was no more.
 
  In July 1938, inside a two-story house on SW Eighth Street in Miami, Dr. Cole handed over a baby girl to an adoptive mother, Mildred. Upstairs, the birth mother wept uncontrollably.
 
  "Don't worry," the doctor said to Mildred. "Everything will turn out all right."
 
  It didn't. Seven years later, to shield the girl from an abusive father, Mildred put her in state custody.
 
  At the time, Cole ran an all-purpose adoption shop as part of her naturopathic practice, which stressed healing through diet and exercise more than reliance on prescription drugs.
 
  In homes along SW Eighth Street, Cole housed unwed birth mothers, delivered their babies, found adoptive parents and collected her fee.
 
  The fees ranged from $50 in the 1930s to a few thousand dollars in the 1960s. For whatever motivation -- whether greed or laziness or her well-known disregard for the law -- the doctor almost never arranged a legal adoption.
 
  In most cases, she falsified birth certificates by listing the adoptive parents as birth parents. But, as more Cole babies have come forward, it has become clear Cole doctored the arrangements in several creative ways.  In one case, she never bothered getting a birth certificate. In another, she took two babies from separate mothers and registered them as twins.  And in others, she held onto the birth certificate and never gave any documents to the adoptive parents.
 
  She held to one constant: Keep the birth mothers' names secret. Cole, who died in 1981, went to her unmarked grave with the names of the hundreds of birth mothers. While she ran into trouble with the law for performing
  illegal abortions in the pre-Roe v. Wade years, her adoption practice was low key.
 
  That was because, as long as everyone kept quiet, no legal adoption ever took place. But many parents eventually told the truth to their adopted children and, in recent years, those children have gone searching for
  their roots. One, Carole Landis Baker, a determined Georgia grocer, told her story to The Herald earlier this year.
 
  From that article in June, and two follow-up stories, more than 200 people have called to help or to ask for help. When Dolores Rocker called Wednesday morning, she was the 15th Cole baby to step forward. Two birth
  mothers also have called. 
 
  PIECES OF A PUZZLE
 
  Childhood memories were of violence.
 
  Dolores knew few details of her childhood. She knew her adoptive father, Everett March, and her adoptive mother quarreled. At age 7, she was adopted by another family. Dolores asked that they not be identified. She also asked that the location of her residence and identifying details of her life be kept secret.
 
  In 1945, Mildred, the first adoptive mother, fled Miami and Everett March. She wrote to Virginia Graham, the Florida social worker, asking for custody of Dolores.
 
  The state said no. It had placed her with another family.  
 
  In 1980, Dolores, herself a mother of three and now a grandmother of four, began researching her past. From various sources, she knew Dr. Cole delivered her and that her mother was probably from Pennsylvania and 19
  when she gave birth. "We have so few clues," she said.
 
  That's the fate of the Cole babies. And of the birth mothers and fathers. And of Mildred McKenzie, too.
 
  Wednesday morning, her husband, Al, left a message on this reporter's phone machine: "We may have some information on these babies passed out quite a few years ago. My wife's from Florida," he said. "She'd like to
  talk with you."
 
  'I GOT A LITTLE GIRL'
 
  Adoptive mother tells her story.
 
  On the return phone call, Mildred McKenzie explained.
 
  "In 1938, I got a little girl there from Dr. Cole. A neighbor got a little boy from there. We wanted a baby real bad. When I was 17, I had one and it died at birth. They fixed me where I could never have any more. With Dr. Cole, I had to wait five months to get her. I had to give her up when she was 6 years old."
 
  The birth date?
 
  "July 16, 1938."
 
  The name of the girl?
 
  "Mildred Dolores March."
 
  Your first husband's name? "Everett March."
 
  What else do you know? "Well, I know her birth mother's name. It was Anna Kost. K-O-S-T, I believe. She was Jewish. She was from the North. The baby was 5 days old when I got her. All I know is that I heard the mother
  crying upstairs. I didn't know what to do, she was crying so bad. The doctor told me that she'd be all right."
 
  This reporter told Mildred McKenzie that he believed he knew her adopted daughter.
 
  "You do?" she said and she began to cry.
 
  This reporter asked several other questions. What color were her child's eyes? Blue. Her hair? Dark brown. Weight at birth? Five pounds. Other distinguishing physical characteristics? "She was flatfooted, with long,
  narrow feet."
 
  This reporter then called Dolores, asked the same questions and got the same answers -- down to her feet. "I had skinny feet," she said. 
 
  Then he told her the news.
 
  And she began to cry.
 
  "What? She's still alive? She's trying to find me? You just talked to her? She thinks I'm Jewish? Does she have pictures? Do you have her number? I've got to call her."
 
  At 2 p.m. Wednesday, Dolores called Mildred. She called her "Mama."  Mildred called her "Deebee," the nickname she had given her so many years ago. They wept a lot. "We were bawling our heads off," Mildred said.
 
  DEATH NOTICE A CLUE
 
  1945 obituary may be a lead.
 
  Since that call, the two have remembered dozens of details of their lives together. And sources have confirmed details about the birth mother.
 
  Sources said her name was indeed Anna Kost, that she was from Russia, and that she was about 19 when she gave birth. The sources, who asked not to be identified in any way, also said a woman with that name died in the summer of 1945, according to a death notice in The Miami Herald.
 
  In the July 30, 1945, Herald, under "Funerals Today," this name appeared: Mrs. Anna Kost Oehlke. The "adoption" itself was a tangled affair.
 
  Mildred never formally had custody of Dolores. Cole had simply handed the baby over without any papers -- not even a birth certificate. In 1944, school officials wouldn't allow Mildred to enroll Dolores without one. Mildred approached Cole.
 
  "She hemmed and hawed. She didn't want to give me one," Mildred said. "I told her, 'I'll go to the law to see about getting one.' She finally gave in. She told me the mother's name and applied for a copy of a certificate." 
 
  But the problem of documentation was minor compared to Mildred's troubles at home. In 1942, after Mildred said she had stayed later than expected at a girlfriend's house, Everett March severely beat her. She was treated at
  Jackson Memorial Hospital for more than a week. And on Aug. 28 that year, case No. 15571, Judge N. Vernon Hawthorne found March guilty of aggravated assault and sentenced him to a year in jail, according to Tence Wolfe,
  county court records specialist.
 
  March could not be located; if alive he would be 91.
 
  March, a.k.a. Jack Taylor, a hard-drinking truck driver, had a prior record. From June 13, 1929, to April 10, 1940, authorities booked him into jail in Dade County nine times. The charges ranged from illegal possession of liquor during Prohibition and disturbing the peace to assault to kill, police records show. The outcome of the assault to kill charge was unclear.
 
  GIVING UP BABY
 
 Husband's threats push woman to act.
 
  Mildred said she knew about the charges, but married him anyway. She was 17, she said, anxious to leave home. Even in 1943, after Everett March served 10 months for brutally assaulting her, Mildred went back to him.
  For the next two years, they alternately made up and split up. In 1945, though, March turned even uglier, she said: He threatened to harm Dolores.
 
  That firmed up her decision to get a divorce and turn the child over to the Children's Home Society of Florida. She said a social worker, Virginia Graham, advised her that it would be in the best interests of the child.
 
  On their last morning together, in June 1945, Mildred gave Dolores a sponge bath as the girl stood on a toilet seat. She was getting her ready for school.
 
  "Listen now," Mildred said. "I am going to have to give you up. It's to protect you. You will live with another family. Do you understand?"
 
  Dolores nodded. "Mama," she said, "I'll see you again sometime."
 
  Saturday was sometime. Dolores had planned a vacation on the southern Maine coast, but Thursday she changed her airplane ticket for Seattle.
 
  At 3:46 p.m., Dolores called from the gas station. "Mama, we finally got here," she told Mildred.
 
  Then McKenzie drove to the station. After the hugs, all returned to the McKenzies' white ranch house. Mother and daughter wasted no time telling each other stories and talking about Dr. Cole, who had never interviewed the Marches or visited their home before giving them Dolores.
 
  And on an oval pine table, they spread out photographs dating to the 1940s. One of Mildred's pictures was cut in half to erase the image of Everett March. Other pictures were of her daughter. There was Dolores with her adoptive grandfather. Dolores with her cousin. Dolores in white boots.
 
  "I remember those white boots!" Dolores said.
 
  "You used to sleep in them," Mildred said. "You know, you walked at 10 months."
 
  "I did?"
 
   "You had two front teeth and two bottom teeth and one day you fell and almost cut your tongue off," Mildred said.
 
  "That's right! I couldn't suck a bottle. I remember," Dolores said. "Here, look at my tongue." She showed her scar.
 
  Dolores sank in her chair. "I can't believe this. I can't believe I'm here."
 
  "I'm sure glad you are," Mildred said.
 
  'COLE BABIES'
  * If you have any information that may help any of the "Cole babies," or information on Dr. Katherine Cole, please call Herald staff writer John Donnelly at 376-3441 any time. Leave a recorded message if he is away from his desk.
 
  The 15 "Cole babies" who have emerged, their birth dates and names on birth certificates:
 
  March 16, 1935, Sara Irene Martin.
  Aug. 29, 1936, Betty Jean Graham.
  Feb. 10, 1938, Annie Kay Harrison.
  July 16, 1938, Dolores Mildred Kost.
  Nov. 11, 1941, Loralea Elizabeth Heyder.
  Dec. 20, 1941, Elaine Dolores Clarke.
  Feb. 1, 1943, Michael Terrance McKown.
  March 3, 1946, Carole Ann Landis.
  Oct. 26, 1946, Deborah Anne McKown.
  Aug. 14, 1947, anonymous.
  Sept. 1, 1948, anonymous.
  May 16, 1951, Gary Henry Harper.
  June 6, 1957, Mark William Persky.
  March 19, 1962, Jeri Ilene Persky.
   Dec. 9, 1962, anonymous.
 
  PLAYING SHERLOCK HOLMES
  * It was one of those leads that a Cole baby needs.
 
  Every year, the state of Florida runs a newspaper ad with hundreds of names of people who own unclaimed property and trust funds.
 
  Sara Arnwine, Cole baby, victim witness counselor at Dade's state attorney's office, reads that list annually for variations of her name -- especially Sara Irene Martin or Sara Irene Pierce, which both appear on her adoption papers.
 
  In the ad, which appeared in The Herald Aug. 26, she found "Sarah P. Martin."
 
  She called the Miami number. An operator found two gifts under that name. The first: $673.04 in a Merrill Lynch saving account, from a Harold Martin, address 1420 NW 53rd St., Miami. The operator also gave Martin's Social Security number.
 
  Arnwine asked a private investigator friend to check it out. He ruled out Harold Martin. Martin was born in 1946 -- 11 years after her birth.
 
  The second gift: a $209.40 check, no name, no Social Security number.
 
  But it had an address: 2743 SW Eighth St., Miami.
 
   Dr. Katherine Cole ran a clinic on that block until the late 1930s. That was where Sara Arnwine was born.
 
  She is waiting for the state to send more information on the gift.
 
  "That may have a clue for us. We Cole babies always have to be sleuths, Sherlock Holmeses. We have to latch onto any lead we can get. If out of all of us Cole babies, if one of us finds somebody, it will all be worth it."