DNA test could identify child found abandoned in Amarillo airport, close 1977 California missing child case

Vickey Vanderford, a security guard at the Amarillo Terminal Airport, came across a baby girl around 11 p.m. on Sept. 27, 1977, sitting between the airport’s sliding glass doors. The blonde, brown-eyed baby was swimming in an oversized T-shirt and grasping a bottle of soured juice.

 

A fresh diaper was fashioned from a janitorial cloth, a search for her parents began and when the last flight of the day had cleared out, Vanderford said she realized the little girl had been abandoned.

Vanderford guessed the child was between 16 and 18 months old. After the abandonment was reported, the baby was taken to Northwest Texas Hospital for observation. She seemed healthy aside from some faded bruises on her face and body and a dark purple bruise inside her ear.

Amarillo police opened an investigation and the baby was placed into the custody of Potter-Randall County Child Welfare.

This child became known as Jane Doe 927. Her real identity is still the subject of debate 40 years later.

One month after her abandonment, Jane Doe 927 was thriving in her foster home, according to Globe-News files. She was described as “sharp” and was not too bashful to say “hello” to every new person she met. Hamburgers became her favorite food.

“Blonde and frequently described as pretty, the baby girl has caught the attention of media and many citizens of Amarillo,” said a Globe-News article in December 1977. “About two weeks after her plight was published, more than 100 persons had filed with child welfare authorities to adopt her.”

The investigation faded that month after a hopeful New Mexico couple decided Jane Doe 927 was not actually their missing daughter. Parental rights were terminated in January 1978 and the adoption process followed.

A ‘perfect match’?

Four years later and a thousand miles west of Amarillo, Rosalee Webster arrived back in her Long Beach, Calif., home. She — along with her daughter, Bonnie — had left her husband, Charles Webster, in 1977 to go to a wedding in Idaho.

Rosalee came back after the mysterious yearslong absence, but Bonnie did not. Upon her arrival back on the West Coast, Rosalee began telling her family varied stories about what happened to her daughter.

She said the child had died and was buried in the mountains of Idaho; she also said Child Protective Services had taken Bonnie away from her.

“I didn’t know what to believe,” Charles Webster recently told the Globe-News.

Rosalee said she had traveled between Idaho and Texas. She called her family once during her absence, saying she had succumbed to substance abuse and couldn’t remember what happened to Bonnie.

Rosalee also told a story about her live-in boyfriend who allegedly threatened to kill Bonnie, and her decision to leave Bonnie at a bus terminal or an airport in Nampa, Idaho.

Rosalee never allowed the family to push any further into the story. She said she couldn’t remember and refused to speak of it. A missing person report was never filed.

“That was the end of it as far as we knew,” Webster said. “I had released my concern for Bonnie into God’s hands because I didn’t have the wherewithal to look for her.”

Rosalee was disowned by her side of the family, and every May 19 — Bonnie’s birthday — she grew extra quiet until her death in 2008.

In 1998, Pattie Whitaker, Rosalee’s sister, posted on a genealogy forum searching for anyone who had information on Bonnie’s whereabouts.

“I am looking for a person, who is alive, she is my niece, born May 1976, in Long Beach, Calif.,” the post said. “Was abandoned in a bus terminal in Nampa, Idaho, at the age of 18 mos (months) birth name ‘Bonnie Lee Webster’ anyone out there has info please contact me, she is 23 now and I have been searching for years and will not give up.”

Ronda Randall, a genealogist and blogger in New Hampshire, stumbled across the post years later while she was sifting through missing persons posts.

Whitaker’s post made Randall pause because she was researching New Hampshire serial killer Robert Evans, who had lived in Idaho and Texas.

So Randall began helping Whitaker in her search. They couldn’t find any news articles regarding an abandonment in Nampa, but they did find the Amarillo Globe-News file that matched the time and description Rosalee had spoken about in her stories.

Then they saw the photo of Jane Doe 927, taken by John Ebling, a staff photographer with the Globe-News at the time.

“As time passed and I’ve heard more about the circumstances of the abandonment from the family, then it’s hard not to look at the pictures and think, ‘Wow that child really could be that child in a year,’” said Randall. “Until I saw the picture, I assumed Bonnie was dead.”

When Webster saw the two photos side by side, he said, it looked nearly like a “perfect match.”

Doe’s new name

If there’s a link between these two stories, the first step is administering a DNA test with the woman who claims to be Jane Doe 927: Shelley Schooley.

“I identify as a born and bred Texan, and I always will,” Schooley told the Globe-News.

The 41-year-old is currently “raising two young men to become gentlemen,” and enjoys attending high school football games. Schooley blogs about parenting and life after divorce, and sometimes crochets.

She also proudly identifies as a Schooley — her “forever name.” The child who was deserted at such a young age now has a large extended family and a strong mother-daughter bond.

“My mom truly is my best friend,” she said.

Schooley always knew of her abandonment. Her family told her as early as she could understand, and even collected a stack of yellowed Amarillo Globe-News clippings.

“We have them all; that’s my first baby picture,” said Schooley, referencing Ebling’s photo.

Schooley’s adoptive parents were living in Odessa at the time. They had adopted their son a few years prior and the same social worker contacted them about Jane Doe 927.

After spending a weekend with the little girl, the Schooleys finalized the adoption, chose the name “Shelley” and gave her a birthdate of June 22, 1976.

Along with the newspaper clippings, there’s a stack of adoption documents detailing those pivotal months at the end of 1977.

“There’s a lot of the story we have pieced together from psychological evaluations when I was going through the adoption phase,” said Schooley.

These evaluations, explained in Schooley’s Adoption Summary, indicate her biological family used adult language with Shelley, trained her to sleep in the back seat of a car and read to her a lot.

“She will pick up a book, even one without pictures, and sit down and start ‘reading’ it to herself,” the document describes.

Social workers also recorded a fear of men in the young girl, describing her cries when she met new men.

Unlike other adopted children, Schooley said she never had a desire to search for her “missing link.”

“The only thing I was concerned about was medical — what if I’m a carrier of something? What if there’s something I’m going to pass on to my kids?” she said.

While her relationship with her adoptive parents is stable and secure, Schooley said she has always battled a feeling of not being “good enough.”

“How do you raise a child for that long and then be able to separate from them? Those are the questions I have that nobody’s going to be able to answer,” she added.

Schooley said she’s come to peace with the circumstances of her abandonment, remaining hopeful that her biological parents had her best interest in mind. High above it all, she said she shapes her life around gratitude.

“Back in the ’70s, unwanted babies were thrown away and I wasn’t,” Schooley said. “I wasn’t bounced around from foster home to foster home like my brother was. I was never put into group homes. I was never bounced around. I was welcomed into a loving family and that never changed, even to this day.”

Last month, Randall found Schooley through the friend of a Facebook friend, living in Newfoundland. After multiple social media and blog posts searching for clues of Jane Doe, Randall was sent the link to a YouTube video posted by Listen to Your Mother, a celebration of Mother’s Day through live readings by various authors.

“My first baby picture appeared in the Amarillo Globe-Times on Sept. 28, 1977,” Schooley said in the video, standing at a podium.

And the story was relayed, once again, not in a newspaper platform, but from the lips of the woman who was raised hearing about her early days sitting alone between airport sliding-glass doors.

“Especially that part about the spoiled juice, it was just heartwrenching,” Randall said. “That line just got me.”

Since discovering the video, Schooley and the Websters have connected and conversed about the “what ifs” in each of their stories. But with proms and college in the near future for Schooley’s two sons, she cannot justify spending the money on a DNA test to determine whether she is Bonnie Lee Webster or not.

“I would go through with that if it provided closure to somebody who has been looking for their lost relative for 40 years,” Schooley said, “but that would be the only thing I feel I have to offer.”

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