Unsolved Mysteries Wiki

Real Name: Unknown
Case: Lost Family
Location: San Bernardino, California
Date: September 17, 1947


Details: Dolores Valadez is a woman with no parents, history, or heritage. Although she doesn't know how old she is, she is believed to have been born on September 17, 1947. She was raised in San Bernardino, California by her stepmother, Maria Valadez. Maria always told her that she had been left on her doorstep in a suitcase one night with a black kitten. This story haunted her her entire life. Maria refused to tell her anything else about her past. As a result of her murky and undocumented past, she has encountered several hardships: she has not been able to obtain a passport; she is not allowed to receive money left for her in her stepfather's will; and her daughter could not qualify for Mexican-American college scholarships. She hopes that someone will be able to help her identify her real family.
During 1947, San Bernardino was a bustling city, filled with its new Mexican-American population. Maria was a midwife and a powerful "Curandera" or medicine woman who worked with potent herbs and ointments. She was considered something of a pillar of San Bernardino's Mexican-American community. She was told that she could not have any children of her own, so she adopted two: Vickie and Mingo. For some unknown reason, she never adopted Dolores. As a child, Dolores felt isolated. Although Maria told Vickie and Mingo who their biological parents were, she refused to answer any questions Dolores had regarding her birth family.
Dolores felt that Maria never really wanted her. As a child, she felt very afraid of her. Maria told her various stories about how she did not belong in the family. She almost always told the "suitcase" story, but Dolores did not believe it. She asked for the truth, but Maria refused to tell her. Vickie also recalled the "suitcase" story but did not believe it either.
When Dolores was in the fourth grade, Maria died. As a result, she was sent to various orphanages and foster homes until she aged out of the system in 1963. She finished high school, trained as a flight attendant, and got married. The birth of her own daughter, Erika, in 1970 renewed her interest in finding her birth family. She started searching at the San Bernardino Hall of Public Records. She pursued a paper trail which she hoped would lead her to her birth family. However, there was no record that she had ever been born.
Without a birth record, Dolores decided to search for a record of her baptism instead. She was eventually able to find one at San Salvador Catholic Church in Colton, California. It listed her birth date and Maria's name. It also listed her godparents as Rodolfo Minjares and Rufina Rodriguez, names she did not recognize. Teresa Quiroz, an administrative associate for the church, stated that it was in fact fairly common in the 1940s for the parents of children born of out wedlock to be listed as being the godparents.
Dolores was also able to obtain medical records from when she was hospitalized with diphtheria as an infant. They, dated April 2, 1952, indicated that Maria was in fact her aunt and that her mother, Esther Valadez, was deceased. However, no death certificate with that name was found in the San Bernardino Hall of Records. Furthermore, her birth date was listed as "September 17, 1947" which was not the one she always celebrated.
Dolores believed that "Esther" may have been an alias for another relative who gave her to Maria to raise. Such an arrangement was not unheard of in large Mexican families with multiple siblings if someone could not adequately care for another child. Once the exchange took place, the subject was never to be discussed again.
Dolores followed up on this possible lead. She recalled a family rumor which claimed that Maria had kept one of the babies that she delivered as a midwife. According to the rumor, its was a long-time family friend. She lived in the Valadez home around the time Dolores was believed to have been born. Dolores decided to talk to her, believing that she was her birth mother. she denied being her mother, although Dolores did closely resemble her other daughters.
Dolores had identified three women who could possibly have been her birth mother: Esther, the woman listed in the hospital papers; Rufina, her godmother; and the unnamed family friend. She felt that her last hope was her foster brother, Mingo Arriola. She recalled that as a child, he told her that he knew the truth about her birth family. However, when interviewed for the segment, he claimed he didn't remember ever having said such a thing and disavowed knowledge of her roots.
Dolores believes that Mingo and others who knew Maria are still afraid of her and are unwilling to tell the truth, even though she is long deceased and that someone has information about her birth family and hopes that those individuals come forward.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the December 21, 1988 episode.
Results: Unsolved. A web searcher located public records about Maria, which stated that she and her husband had several children. One was a teenager at the time of Dolores' birth. Interestingly, her name was Esther, which was listed in hospital records as Dolores' mother. The searcher speculated that she had Dolores out of wedlock and had Maria raise her. However, this information has not been confirmed. Note: The Maria who is the mother of Esther is not the same Maria this story is about, as she is found elsewhere in the same census records, along with the family members which are also known and mentioned in this story.