Real Name: Unknown
Case: Lost Family
Location: Dearborn, Michigan
Date: November 23, 1914
Details: Seventy-two-year-old Frances "Pat" Mealbach is searching for her birth family. She has begun to suspect that she is actually the daughter of John Francis Dodge, the founder of the Dodge Automobile Industry, and the twin sister of Frances Matilda Dodge. She has lived modestly in Detroit, Michigan for her entire life. She recalled as a young child, an unknown woman came and picked her up from her home. Her mother told her to go with the woman. They went to a beautiful mansion with a big staircase. She was taken to a bedroom and a woman was sitting on the bed. She did not recall what the woman said to her. However, she did remember that the room was beautiful, with pink and gold on the walls. Nothing was ever said about this visit, and she never saw the woman again.
For years, Pat was puzzled by the memory of the strange mansion. She became even more perplexed when she found a photo of herself as a baby with another similarly dressed one; it was one of the very few photos of her at the time. In 1959, her father, Robert Manzer, died. At the reading of his will, she was shocked to discover that she was adopted. She and her family began a search for her birth parents. To this day, that information has been kept secret. At the Wayne County courthouse, she was told that Michigan state law forbids disclosure of adoption records. Judge Thomas Murphy did reveal that her father was unknown and that she was born in Jackson, Michigan. When she contacted the county adoption agency, the records there indicated that she was born in Detroit and that her parents were not "unknown" but, instead, unmarried teenagers. When she learned that the records did not match, she knew something was wrong.
At a Christmas party in 1982, Pat's daughter, Brenda, made a startling discovery. A friend showed her a biography of John Dodge. When she saw pictures of John and his brother Horace, she immediately saw a resemblance between them, Pat, and her brother. She then saw a picture of a house that John had owned. It perfectly matched the house that Pat had been to as a child. She then began to suspect that Pat was a member of the Dodge family. When Pat saw the picture of the house, she knew it was the one that she had visited. When she saw the picture of John, she was certain that there was a resemblance to her. Finally, when they turned to the back of the book, she recognized names in it as the names of her father Robert's friends.
John amassed his fortune in the early days of Detroit's automobile industry. He built Model-A's for Henry Ford. In 1914, he and Horace formed "Dodge Brothers", the nation's fourth largest automobile company. When John died in 1920, he left an estate worth $40 million (in 1920). However, the money is not the issue for Pat; she is more concerned about finding the identity of her birth parents. If Pat had been raised in the Dodge family, she would have lived in the same mansion she visited as a child. As a teenager, her home would have been the Dodge country estate called Meadowbrook, which is now open to the public. She visited there several times. Her daughter Sharon felt that their family was cheated out of a "lifestyle" that they would have enjoyed had they been part of the Dodge family.
When Pat's claims were made public, most of Detroit, including the Dodge family, was convinced that her motive was simply greed. Though initially skeptical, author Jean Pitrone discovered the first solid link between Pat and the Dodge family. Her research revealed that a man named Frank Upton was a close friend of Pat's adoptive father, Robert Manzer. Both men were stewards at the same Methodist church. Pat remembered the Uptons frequently visiting her home. Frank also worked for John in a very personal capacity: he managed his business affairs. It is suspected that he may have arranged Pat's adoption. Shortly after the adoption, the loan on the Manzer home was paid off in cash. Mrs. Manzer began wearing mink and Robert began driving the first of many brand new Dodge cars.
Another link to the Dodges is the physical resemblance between members of Pat's family and the Dodge family. Pat appeared to have a close resemblance to John. She felt that her son William bore a striking resemblance to Horace Dodge Jr. She also felt that her daughter Sharon as a teenager closely resembled John's granddaughter Fredericka. Finally, Pat appeared to closely resemble John's daughter Frances Dodge. The two were both born in November 1914. There was some speculation that they were twins.
In 1982, Pat requested a copy of her birth certificate. By accident, the State of Michigan sent her the birth certificate of Frances Dodge. The original certificate indicated that she was the first in order of birth of an "other". This suggests that she was the first to be born of twins. Several witnesses came forward, claiming that it was a common rumor around the Dodge brothers shop that John had "Siamese twins" and that he kept one and gave the other away. Mabel Burgett was one of the witnesses that came forward. Her father-in-law was a hunting and fishing companion of John. In 1930, her mother-in-law revealed that John had Siamese twin girls that had been separated. He kept the one daughter, but it was not known what happened to the other. The story was kept "hush hush", allegedly because the twin either had brain damage or died, which would be considered a disgrace in a wealthy family.
The Siamese twin theory was met with widespread disbelief. However, Pat had unusual scars on her head and neck that might have been the result of a Siamese twin separation. As the controversy grew, a pediatric surgeon examined her scars. His report said that it was unlikely that she was a Siamese twin, but the age of the scars made it impossible to determine their exact origin.
In 1984, Pat returned to the same courthouse in Wayne County where her twenty-year search had begun. She petitioned the court to delay distribution of the Dodge estate and review her adoption records. Both requests were denied. In November 1986, her lawyers appealed the decision. As of yet, there has been no decision on the appeal. Pat and her family are convinced that they are members of the Dodge family. They hope to one day learn the truth about her past.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the January 20, 1987 episode. Pat was also interviewed for the "Third Anniversary Special".
Pat's story was researched in the book, "Tangled Web" by Jean Pitrone.
Results: Unresolved. In January 1990, the court ruled that Pat's adoption records should be made available. In February, she was finally given access to her adoption records and birth certificate. In the records, her biological mother was named as Emma Nelson, who had been a maid in the Dodge Home on Boston Boulevard in Detroit. It also revealed that she was not the Siamese twin of Frances Dodge. Strangely, it was filed in 1942, even though she had been born in 1914.
When Pat's birth certificate showed up, it listed her name as "Remilda May Bornalive". It was in very bad condition after efforts were made to alter it. Her father's name and birthdate had been erased and altered. The name Emma Jane Nelson from Jackson, Michigan was listed as her mother (although it appeared that another name was written underneath it). The name of the hospital where she had been born was listed as "Woman's Hospital of Detroit". However, the hospital had no records of her birth despite otherwise meticulous record-keeping. She also learned she had briefly lived in a Tuberculosis hospital in Niles, Michigan which was also John's hometown.
Pat later agreed to a DNA testing against her lawyer's advice. It was conducted at the University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor. The results were never disclosed or used in court against her. She has never been able to see them, hearing that the file was misplaced instead. This only led her to believe they were in her favor and the Dodge lawyers had stifled the results.
Sadly, Pat passed away on January 1, 2009, without ever learning the truth. Her daughter, Sharon, continued her search. In December 2017, she received an Ancestry DNA kit for a Christmas present. In 2018, she revealed that the DNA tests indicated that she and Pat were, in fact, related to the Dodge family. The results showed that they were related to John's mother and his first wife, Ivy Hawkins. Since Ivy had passed away in 1901, several years before Pat was born, this would suggest that Pat was the child of one of John and Ivy's children. The results also showed that they were related to Emma Jane Nelson's family. This would suggest that Pat's birth parents would be John Duval Dodge and Emma Jane Nelson. However, her birth parents' identity has never been conclusively determined.
- Tangle of heirs to the Dodge fortune develops a new knot - November 18, 1984
- Dearborn woman loses suit claiming she was Dodge heir - February 17, 1985
- Judge throws out claim on John Dodge fortune - February 17, 1985
- Judge Rejects a Claim To Part of Dodge Estate - February 18, 1985
- Dodge Heir- January 20, 1987
- Appeals Court Rules on Suit by Alleged Dodge Heir - July 29, 1987
- Court rejects woman's heir bid - April 10, 1988
- Woman claims to be Dodge heir - February 20, 1990
- Adoption papers can't link woman, 75, to Dodge auto magnate - February 24, 1990
- Papers back Dodge birth claimant, lawyer says - February 24, 1990
- "I Am a Dodge" a Candid Interview With Frances Mealbach - September 10, 2020