Growing up, Teresa Fuller always knew most of her father’s stories contained only a sliver of truth.
Before she was born, her father, Robert Malcolm Clark, told her mother he was sterile and had no surviving family. Twenty years, three DNA tests and dozens of public records later, Fuller has discovered she is one of five or more siblings spread across two countries and her father’s real name was Samuel Arthur Earnest McClain.
“I always knew there was more out there,” she said.
A few months after her father died in Nevada, Fuller said, the family learned he was using a stolen identity. That’s when they received a call from child support enforcement for a man living in the Midwest. Her mother requested a photo from the agency and realized they were not the same man.
Fuller, a Spokane police officer, asked the coroner’s office in Las Vegas to run her father’s fingerprints through the national law enforcement fingerprint database as she began investigating his background. Her father’s fingerprints weren’t in the system, and most of the other leads she followed led to dead ends.
Twenty years after his death, she completed a DNA test that connected her to a woman named Sharon McClain-Proctor who lived in Tennessee. After exchanging a few messages through genealogy website Ancestry.com, Fuller described her father to the woman, who told her he sounded similar to her long-lost half-brother, Samuel McClain, who most people knew as Rusty. McClain-Proctor, Fuller’s aunt, said the last time she saw her brother, law enforcement was knocking on the front door looking for him.
Fuller’s father had also left an infant daughter behind in Canada.
Now 61, Shelley Hrushka has spent most of her life looking for her father, who her mother knew as Rusty McClain. He was in his early 20s when he disappeared – her mother was 17 and she was 6 months old. Hrushka gave up looking for him about 15 years ago.
“I kind of thought he was still out there, somewhere,” she said. “At some point, I kind of said to myself, ‘I’m not going to find him, so should I keep looking?’ ”
Hrushka, who lives in Stony Plain, Alberta, sent letters to people who may have known him and tracked down a few of his family members who may have seen him after he left her mother. Most of the relatives she found described him as the black sheep of the family and didn’t know or weren’t interested in finding out why he disappeared.
During her search, Hrushka found two aunts, Sharon and Lois, who said the last time they saw their half-brother, he was in trouble with the FBI and the Canadian military. Both women were teenagers when they saw him last and never knew why law enforcement had been searching for him.
When Fuller contacted her a few months ago and showed her their family tree, Hrushka reacted cautiously at first. She took a DNA test to prove they were related.
Hrushka said she was apprehensive about meeting Fuller for the first time last week. She said they had talked on the phone before and in her head, she knew they were sisters, but it wasn’t until she saw Fuller’s red hair, the same shade as her own daughter, that reality sank in.
Fuller said so many little things about Hrushka remind her of their father: her blue eyes, thin hands and reserved demeanor. Hrushka’s daughters, who are close to Fuller’s age, also bear a strong family resemblance.
Hrushka said life without her father was difficult. She and her younger half-brothers grew up poor in a single-parent household and often traveled around British Columbia.
“It was a hard life,” she said. “But we survived.”
As a teenager, she imagined her father as both a bad and good man. She said she thought he probably was in trouble, but always imagined he would give her advice if he could.
McClain spent the end of his life in a motor home traveling around Arizona. Fuller said he was always nomadic and they communicated through pay phone calls and intermittent letters, the last of which she sent about nine months before he died.
“There were a lot of things I hadn’t had a chance to tell him and all the sudden, he was gone,” she said. “It means a lot to me to be able to reconnect with other members of the family I didn’t know I had.”
She said she knows her father lied and may have committed crimes in his life, but he also had a creative side. He was a craftsman and a performer, and she still has copies of the poetry, songs and a book based on side characters in J.R. Tolkien’s epic novel “The Lord of the Rings” that he wrote. Someday, she hopes to track down an album her father recorded so Hrushka can hear his voice.
Fuller has one full-blood brother named Max and two younger half-brothers who would be in their early 20s today, but she believes they may have more siblings in the 20-year gap between her mother Laurie’s marriage and Hrushka’s mother. She is using her training and police connections to determine what McClain may have been doing in that time frame, but much of it is still unaccounted for.
Fuller works as a spokeswoman for the Spokane Police Department, and has been interested in law enforcement since working in loss prevention at J.C. Penney in college. .
“It’s the police part of me that just is dying to know,” she said. “I want to put all the puzzle pieces together just so I know I can have this figured out.”
Laurie Herzig, Fuller’s mother, said most of the stories her husband told the family did not stand up to the passage of time. She said early in their relationship, they were confronted by a woman who claimed McClain, who was going by the name Robert Clark at the time, had left her and her children. He told her he was sterile, the result of a bombing he lived through while stationed in Korea and that he was only a father figure to the other woman’s children.
Several months later, Herzig thought she had come down with the flu. She later realized she was pregnant.
Their father had also told the family he was raised in Flint, Michigan, had graduated from college there and had been in the military. He said the horrors he witnessed in the military were the reason he could never pay taxes to the American government. Herzig, who has since remarried and become a school counselor, said she now believes his story was a way to avoid being caught with a stolen identity.
Most of McClain’s stories included a sliver of truth, Fuller said. Her father was in the Canadian armed forces and did spend his teenage years in Flint.
Fuller has contacted the FBI, military officials and her father’s childhood school to find clues about where he may have gone or what crimes he may have committed. Before she and Hrushka can access most of his records under the name Samuel McClain, they first have to link his two identities and prove to the Canadian government that he died. Hrushka said she has some military paperwork from her father, which indicates he was honorably discharged from the Canadian military and worked as a mechanic, but she believes it, like many of his other documents, may have been forged.
Even if family members are successful in linking the two portions of his life, Fuller said, some of the records were generated before digital record-keeping and may no longer exist. Fuller said she and Hrushka might never know if they have more family, or what her father may have done before she knew him.
“Bottom line is we found each other and I have found family I never knew I had,” Fuller said. “If that’s where it ends, that’s where it ends and I’m happy with that.”
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