Man believes he’s tot taken from family in 1955
John Barnes ‘confident’ DNA test will prove he has solved his own abduction
By Mike Celizic
June 18, 2009 / Today Show, MSNBC
It had been a big story, a tragic story, and it dominated local newspapers. A little boy, just shy of 3 years old, had disappeared from a Long Island sidewalk — and despite the efforts of law enforcement agencies and hundreds of volunteer searchers, he was never found.
It happened on Halloween 1955, and after more than 50 years, the case was colder than the Antarctic, the paperwork filed away and forgotten.
But now a 58-year-old man has come forward, saying that he is that little boy who disappeared so long ago. Today he awaits the results of DNA tests taken by the FBI to confirm whether he has solved his own 54-year-old kidnapping mystery.
“Right now I’m pretty confident those tests will come back positive,” John Barnes told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira from Michigan Thursday morning.
After 10 years of detective work, Barnes decided last year that he was indeed Steven Damman, the boy who had been abducted so many years ago. He tracked down Pamela Horne, the woman he thought was his younger sister — she had been 7 months old when he disappeared. After he sent her a letter, they talked and agreed to meet.
Growing up, Pam’s parents, Jerry and Marilyn Damman, hadn’t talked about her older brother; it was too painful a subject. But when John contacted her, she felt a connection. “When we first talked, it was just immediate friendship, like we had known each other for years,” Pamela Horne told Vieira in the TODAY studio in New York.
Both Barnes and Horne agreed to send DNA samples to a private lab. The preliminary test wasn’t 100 percent conclusive, but the lab reported that there was a very good chance they were siblings.
Armed with that information, Barnes contacted police in Suffolk County, N.Y., where the disappearance occurred back in 1955. They contacted the FBI, which is conducting its own tests and expects soon to be able to tell Barnes conclusively who he is.
‘Didn’t fit in’
The man who raised Barnes as a son, Richard Barnes, did not do a live interview, but he told NBC News’ Jeff Rossen that John Barnes is mistaken.
“He always felt he didn’t belong to us, but that’s false,” Richard Barnes said.
“There’s an investigation going on right now, and when that’s over with, I’ll know who I am and he won’t be able to dispute anything,” John Barnes said. “[The FBI is] going to tell us if we’re related or not.”
Barnes told Vieira that even when he was growing up, he didn’t feel as if he was the biological son of the family that raised him. He had a brother and a sister, but he never felt related to them. “I didn’t fit in with my family, I didn’t look like them. They were all dark-complected, brown eyes, dark hair, shorter than I was. They had different personalities. I’ve always known that, and that’s what got me started a long time ago,” he said, speaking very deliberately.
He said he began to feel certain that he wasn’t a Barnes 10 years ago, when his mother was on her deathbed.
He believes she tried to tell him that he was not her biological son.
“She was trying to tell me that, but she was dying of lung cancer and she was on a bunch of different drugs — morphine. That’s what she was trying to do, I believe,” Barnes said.
So he began his search in earnest, going through newspaper archives day after day, searching for stories about abducted children. The Steven Damman disappearance caught his eye. One of the stories had a picture of Marilyn Damman, and he was struck by the resemblance.
“I think she was about 21 or 22 at the time. I knew what I looked like when I was 21 or 22, and I looked just like her, and that’s what got me started on this case,” Barnes explained.
He has told newspapers that he has no interest in filing any charges against the Barnes family and that he isn’t bitter. Any criminal charges would come from the FBI, not him. Barnes just wants to know who he is.
“It’s important to me because I’ve always wanted to know who my real relatives were and where I came from and things like that,” Barnes told Vieira. “It’s real important.”