July 5, 1997 in Nation/World

Digging For Roots

John Affleck Associated Press
 

Like many adopted children, Jane Blasio wanted to find her parents. What she found was a baby-selling operation that operated for years out of a sleepy Southern town.

Blasio was among 200 children sold by a doctor who ran an illegal abortion clinic and peddled infants out his McCaysville, Ga., office in the 1950s and ‘60s to families in at least eight states.

She now wants to find them all.

“All those years there was no one else,” Blasio, 32, said at her country home about 50 miles south of Cleveland. “To make contact with others who want to find out the same thing is exciting because now it feels like I’m not alone.”

Blasio’s curiosity about her roots began when she was a child. She knew Joan and James Walters had adopted her, but her father didn’t tell her the rest until after her mother died in 1988: He had bought her for $1,000 and her older sister for $800 from Dr. Thomas J. Hicks, who died in 1972.

Blasio headed to Georgia, looking for more information.

The investigation got moving when Blasio became friends with Fannin County Probate Judge Linda Davis. Davis checked the birth records and discovered some 200 questionable births between 1952 and 1964. It made no sense to Davis that so many mothers listed out-of-state addresses.

“When it shows the mother drove eight hours to have a baby here - there’s no rhyme or reason for that,” Davis said.

When Hicks sold a baby, he listed the adoptive mother as the birth mother. He kept no information about the birth mother.

Hicks ran a clinic in McCaysville, across the state line from Copperhill, Tenn. He had practiced in Copperhill until he was convicted in the 1940s of selling narcotic painkillers.

Betty Culpepper and her late husband, Frank, found Hicks after adoption agencies rejected their application because Frank Culpepper was 52, which was considered too old. They paid Hicks $600 for their son Barry in 1964.

“I was a little nervous. It was a little like a job interview,” said Betty Culpepper, who lives in Delano, Tenn. “But he made you feel at ease, and he seemed like he cared.”

Blasio’s adoptive parents had a different experience. When they bought Blasio’s older sister Michelle in 1961, Hicks made Joan Walters don a clinic hospital gown and get into bed to bottle-feed the baby.

By the time they got Jane in 1965, things were rushed. Hicks had relinquished his medical license in exchange for prosecutors dropping an illegal abortion charge against him. He literally passed the child out the back door.

“My father had wanted a boy, but he (Hicks) said, ‘If you don’t take this one, you’re not going to get any. There aren’t going to be any more,”’ she said.

So far, Blasio and Davis have traced Hicks babies to Ohio - about 50 went to couples in the Akron area - Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, Tennessee and Arizona.

“We’re not blaming anyone for what happened years ago,” Blasio said. “But we’re not ashamed for wanting information about ourselves.”

Through a confidential registry she has organized, Blasio is finding that others who crossed Hicks’ doorway also want that connection.

So far, 25 adopted children and two birth mothers have been in touch. Seventeen adopted children, including Blasio, met for the first time a few weeks ago. They plan to undergo DNA testing to see if any of them are siblings. They also plan a reunion in Georgia this summer.

Not all Hicks babies are interested.

Barry Culpepper, 33, said he doesn’t think about his birth parents much.

“Sure, I still wonder every once in a while, but Betty and Frank Culpepper would be my parents - unless the others are rich,” he said with a laugh.

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