My sister and I have uncovered a fascinating story about our father and his life of crime. Our father passed away in 1989. Thirteen years later, we were contacted by an adoptee, age thirty, searching for her birth parents. The limited physical description and medical information she provided regarding her birth father matched our dad. We were puzzled because our father was in prison at the time of her conception. He was incarcerated just ten miles away from her Wheeling, West Virginia birth place.
Our father was in prison most of our childhood years and as his family, we served his sentences with him. Our mother raised us as Jehovah’s Witnesses. Growing up our childhood was different. We tried to keep it a secret. Things happened that we did not understand. Some children were forbidden to play with us because of him. While he was incarcerated in West Virginia, we visited on Sundays and wrote letters during the week. When we were older, he was sent to an Atlanta penitentiary and the distance prevented visits.
All we had left of his belongings was in a small box. It contained our letters, newspaper clippings and an old bank book showing monies deposited while in prison. Oddly, there was a withdrawal just days after the adoptee’s birth. We obtained his prison visitor’s list and found that a female, listed as a friend, often visited during that time. When we broke this news to the adoptee, she was mortified and cancelled a scheduled DNA test. She did not want to be the daughter of a prisoner.
A 1960 newspaper clip was in the box about his counterfeiting operation. It referred to him as an ex-convict, previously sentenced to seventy years. This was jaw-dropping news to us. We obtained his arrest record and were stunned it was so lengthy, dating back to his first arrest in 1938.
Our father was abandoned in his youth along with his sister. He was a creative and mischievous boy. Known as an intelligent lad, he graduated high school early with an exceptional artistic ability. He could have been anything he wanted to be, yet he chose a criminal path.
We accumulated more than a hundred newspaper articles covering his life of crime obtained mainly from our research at the Library of Congress. We conducted countless interviews with judges, lawyers, wardens, prisoners, accomplices, victims, friends and relatives. We apologized to the man our father kidnapped and developed a bittersweet relationship with him. In addition, we reviewed trial transcripts, court documentation and our childhood correspondence with our dad. We even spent a night in his old West Virginia prison, now closed but opened to the public.
We now realize the adoptee was merely a conduit to our past. Because of her, we uncovered the sad beginning of a boy abandoned in his youth who grew up to become a career criminal. Along the way we learned in order to know who you are, you need to know where you come from.
Appropriately titled, Our Father Who Aren’t In Heaven: A True Story of a Career Criminal is written by first time authors, both are ex-CIA. This is an amazing story of a man’s secret life uncovered years after his death by his daughters. This is a refreshing look at a light hearted criminal, unlike many of the true crime stories on the market today. It is a book about a boy who was told he “had more brains and guts than he knew what to do with.” He grew to become a notorious opportunist whose crimes netted more money than many legendary outlaws. Our father was different; a carefree and jovial man who once said, ” I could tell you stories that would sell a book!” Unfortunately, we never asked him to elaborate.