Real Name: Unknown
Case: Lost Family
Location: Phoenix, Arizona
Date: December 24, 1931
Details: Around 8 pm on Christmas Eve 1931, Sharon Stieg Elliott, a seven-day-old baby, was found concealed in a ladies hatbox and abandoned on an Arizona desert near Florence, Arizona. Ed and Julia Stewart's car had broken down 150 feet from where the tiny baby, wrapped in a blue blanket, lay in the hatbox, its little legs drawn up to its chest and whimpering from the cold and hunger. As Ed repaired a broken fuel line and Julia's 15-year-old twin cousins John and Betty Mansfield huddled in the back seat, Julia strolled out into the desert and came upon the box. She heard a tiny sound from it and thinking it might be an abandoned kitten or puppy, she called for her husband to come and open it. They were horrified to find a tiny, red-haired baby in the box. As soon as Ed got the car running again, they rushed the infant to the Mesa, Arizona police station where Chief of Police Joe Maier received her and transported her to a local maternity home in Florence run by a woman named "Ma Dana". A doctor determined that the baby was healthy.
The discovery of the young baby in a hatbox soon became national news. It was a symbol of hope for those suffering through the Great Depression. The child was put up for adoption. On February 16, 1932, a hearing was held at the Pinal County Courthouse in Florence, Arizona. Seventeen couples had expressed interests in adopting the baby. By that day, the search had been narrowed down to two. Sharon was subsequently adopted by Faith Morrow and her husband.
It wasn't until 1986 that Sharon learned the truth: that she had been adopted and was the "Hatbox Baby". Sharon began a search for her birth parents. Soon, an organization called "Orphan Voyage" became involved in the case. Investigator Alice Syman helped Sharon get the court records released about her case. Reading through the records, they became skeptical of the Stewarts' story.
According to the records, the Stewarts and the Mansfields left at dawn on December 24, 1931, to drive to the mountains. They only stopped once, at Roosevelt, Arizona. Alice believes that in either Roosevelt or another city the couple picked up Sharon.
Alice Syman, now living in St. Augustine, Florida, and John D'anna of the Arizona Republic Newspaper in Phoenix, Arizona, continue to investigate the case, hoping that someone is still living who might help them solve it, and Sharon will finally know whether it was a Christmas miracle that she was found or whether she was placed there someone knew that she would be found.
Extra Notes: This segment was featured as part of the December 20, 1989 episode. If you have any information that may help solve this case please contact Alice Syman, (firstname.lastname@example.org) or John D'anna at his address in the link below.
The book, "The Hatbox Baby" by Carrie Brown, is not about the above Hatbox Baby, Sharon Elliott.
Results: Solved. Alice Syman was able to locate the Stewarts and Betty Mansfield. All of them remembered the incident very well but refused to appear on Unsolved Mysteries because they were offended by the skepticism surrounding the case. Ed passed away in 1992 and Julia in 2002. Betty has also since passed away; her brother John was discovered to have died in 1945.
Sharon's adoptive mother Faith had told her that she had given all of Sharon's adoption documents to a friend. In 2011, the documents turned up; among them was a handwritten note from Faith. It stated that her "friend" was actually Sharon's biological cousin. It also stated that Sharon's biological mother was apparently Edna Sherman Roe, who had Sharon out of wedlock at age fifteen. Reports state that Edna died in a plane crash in 1951. However, it was discovered that Edna had a niece living in Tucson. Sharon attempted to contact the woman so that DNA testing can be done; however, the woman later stated that she did not want to be involved. It was later determined that Edna was not Sharon's mother.
In 2017, a forensic genealogist named Bonnie Belza began investigating Sharon's case. Through DNA testing and genealogy websites, she was able to identify Sharon's biological parents. Sadly, her biological mother Freda Strackbein Roth died in 1991 and her biological father Walter Roth died in 2005. Her biological brother James died in 2017. However, Sharon was able to get in contact with her grand-niece. Interestingly, it was discovered that Freda and Walter had married a few months before Sharon's birth. It is believed that they abandoned Sharon or gave her away because she was conceived out of wedlock. A journalist who investigated the case believes that Sharon's adopted mother had connections to the Roth family and helped to arrange the "abandonment" and adoption.
On December 1, 2018, Sharon passed away; she was eighty-six.
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