FBI Told Me My Parents Stole Me – But!!!.
Paul Fronczak was 10 when he went hunting for Christmas presents in his parents’ basement. He pushed aside a sofa to get into the crawl space. There, he discovered three mysterious boxes full of letters, sympathy cards and newspaper clippings. One headline read: “200 search for stolen baby.” Another: “Mother asks kidnapper to return baby.” He recognised his parents in the pictures, looking distraught and much younger. Then he read that their baby son, Paul Joseph, had been kidnapped.
“Wow, that’s me!” he thought.
It was a sensational tale. On 26 April 1964 his mother, Dora Fronczak, had given birth to a baby boy in the Michael Reese hospital in Chicago. She had nursed the baby throughout the day – when he wasn’t sleeping with other babies in the nursery. But the following morning a woman dressed as a nurse came into Dora’s room and took him to be examined by a doctor. She never returned.
Hospital staff realised something had gone wrong, and a frantic search was soon under way. However, the hospital didn’t notify the authorities – or the baby’s parents – until that afternoon. At 3pm they called the father, Chester Fronczak, at the factory where he worked as a machinist.
“My dad had to leave work, go to the hospital and tell his wife that the baby was missing,” says Paul. “You think you’re safe – you’re in a hospital – and that’s where your baby is kidnapped.”
The biggest manhunt in Chicago’s history was then launched, involving 175,000 postal workers, 200 police officers and the FBI. They had searched 600 homes by midnight, but to no avail.
Excited by his discovery, Paul ran upstairs with a handful of clippings to ask his mother if they were about him.
Dora reacted angrily, telling him off for snooping. Then she admitted: “Yes, you were kidnapped, we found you, we love you, and that’s all you need to know.”
Paul knew not to bring up the subject again, and he didn’t – for another 40 years.
But his curiosity was not satisfied and often, when he was alone in the house, he would sneak back into the crawl space to read more.
That was how he learned about the next part of the story – how he came to live with the Fronczaks.
After the kidnapping, Dora and Chester stayed in hospital for a week, waiting for news. When they returned home, they were hounded by the press. Despite all the publicity, there were no credible leads – their baby had disappeared without trace. The investigation was quietly shelved.
Then, in March 1966, nearly two years later, Dora and Chester received a letter from the FBI – a toddler had been found in Newark, New Jersey, who matched their son’s description.
The boy had been abandoned in a pushchair in a busy shopping centre the previous July and had been placed with a foster family, the Eckerts. They had baptised him Scott McKinley and were so fond of him they were considering adopting him.
Before they could, however, a New Jersey police detective had the idea that the boy might be the missing baby from Chicago.
The FBI began to test that hunch. There wasn’t much to go on – there was no record of Paul Joseph’s blood type, nor had the hospital taken the baby’s fingerprints or footprints. All they had was a single photograph taken on the day he was born – and the shape of the baby’s ear in that picture was very similar to that of the abandoned toddler.
“They ended up testing over 10,000 boys that could possibly be Paul, and I was the only one they couldn’t fully exclude,” says Paul.
The Fronczaks were elated to hear the news. “Back then the FBI was the elite authority, and when they tell you something you believe it,” says Paul.
Three months later they drove from Chicago to meet the boy who might be their son in the offices of the New Jersey children’s services. All three had been put through a series of psychological tests before the meeting. Dora and Chester had also had to be approved to adopt the child now officially known as Scott.
“An FBI agent walked me in and they let us get acquainted for a while,” says Paul. “My mum had only spent less than a day with her son before he was taken out of the hospital. And then, years later, she sees this child.”
Dora has since told Paul that she felt the world was watching her.
“She could either say, ‘I’m not sure,’ and put this child back into the system, or say, ‘Yes, that’s my son,’ – and even if it was not, save this child from what could be a horrible life.”
Dora said it was her son.
“She did what she thought was right, and I’m glad she did,” says Paul.
They took him to Chicago and formally adopted him.
The Fronczaks were loving parents, if – understandably – over-protective. Sometimes, that led to clashes. Paul was sent to a Catholic school with a strict dress code, but he liked rock music and wore his hair long.
Once, during a heated argument over the length of his hair, Dora said: “I wish they’d never found you.”
That stuck with Paul. “Even to this day just thinking about it, I feel it in my soul,” he says.
After graduating from high school, Paul left home to be a bass player with a rock band in Arizona. Five years later, when the band broke up, he returned to Chicago but soon got restless and joined the army for a year. Afterwards he moved around, working as a salesman and, later, as a model and actor. Eventually he settled in Las Vegas.
“I moved probably at least 50 times in my life and I’ve had well over 200 jobs. And no matter where I go or what I do, I’ve always had those paper clippings with me,” he says.
In 2008 Paul married for the second time and soon he and his wife, Michelle, a teacher, were expecting a daughter. Paul was delighted. But when the obstetrician asked about their families’ medical histories, it hit Paul that he wasn’t really sure how to answer.
Ever since finding out about the kidnapping, he had wondered if he was really his parents’ son.
“I actually thought: ‘What are the chances of me being this one baby taken from Chicago?’
“I was found so far away, it just seemed so unfathomable.”
He had always felt that he did not fit in. His parents seemed closer to his younger brother, Dave. They were all quiet and reserved, whereas Paul liked loud music and fast motorbikes. They looked different, too.
“Dave looked exactly like my dad – mannerisms, facial expressions, the body-build, everything. And I looked like neither.”