Real Name: Unrevealed
Case: Lost Family
Location: Addison, Illinois
Date: January 25, 1972
Details: Late on the evening of January 25, 1972, a lone figure crept into the town square in Addison, Illinois. He worked quickly, then reached for the precious package he had carried with him. Bundled inside was a newborn baby wrapped in paper towels, a blanket, and a plastic garbage bag. Today, that baby – Elizabeth Bagwell – is all grown up and living in Kingston, Tennessee. She says that she never got over the feeling of being abandoned, knowing that someone did not want her and “threw her away.” She is determined to find her birth parents.
For most people, who they are is a reflection of where they came from. But when Elizabeth looks back, she sees only ghosts – haunting images of disturbing events she was too young to remember. Today, she wants to reclaim her lost identity, but she needs help.
Snow had begun falling hard on that cold January night when, at around 11:30pm, local police in Addison received an anonymous phone call from a man who sounded nervous and scared. He said that he was walking past the front of a building in Addison's village hall when he heard what he thought was the sound of a baby crying from a nearby gazebo. With temperatures hovering near zero, police wasted no time. Fortunately, the gazebo was close to the police station. When the first officer arrived on the scene, he discovered a shivering infant hidden beneath the gazebo, exactly where the mysterious caller had said she would be.
Police Chief Chuck Gruber picked up the baby, wrapped her in his coat, and took her to his home. He picked up his wife and they took the baby to Elmhurst Memorial Hospital. Despite her frightening ordeal, the baby was okay, and the heart-wrenching story became front-page news. It was determined that she was a few days old and had been born at home based on the fact that sewing string was used to tie off her umbilical cord. Addison detectives immediately launched an investigation, but there was little evidence, and the trail quickly went cold.
Two-and-a-half months later, the so-called “Gazebo Baby” was adopted by June and Donald Stiles of Aurora, Illinois. They named her Elizabeth. The Stiles were loving parents, but still, their little girl grew up feeling like a misfit. June had told her from an early age about her abandonment, but tried to put a positive light on it, saying how much they wanted her and were happy to have her. Growing up, she was always afraid of being abandoned again. At school, other kids, including her adoptive brother, would call her “garbage pail kid.” She had dreams almost every night about her real parents. For many years, her dreams were about finding her mother. When she was about sixteen, it switched, and her dreams were solely about finding her father.
As the years passed, the feelings of fear and isolation only intensified. Elizabeth thought about searching for her birth parents, but June was against it, so she respected her wishes. Then, in 1996, soon after Elizabeth’s twenty-fourth birthday, June passed away. Two months later, while cleaning out the house with a friend, Elizabeth discovered her adoption papers tucked away in the back of the China cabinet. Although the documents did not contain any new revelations, she was suddenly overcome by a powerful desire to dig into her past.
Elizabeth went right to the Internet. She did a search for everyone that was listed in the Addison, Illinois area. In October 2000, she sent fifty AOL customers from Addison an email with a quick description on how she was found and asked if anybody had any suggestions. Soon after that, Officer Larry Stoll from the Addison Police Department contacted her by email. He told her about her abandonment and how some of the police officers wanted to adopt her. He noted that she seemed very sincere in her search for her birth parents. He decided that they would reopen the case.
No new leads were uncovered during the investigation. However, one crucial fact emerged that may encourage Elizabeth’s birth parents to contact her: the statute of limitations for child abandonment ran out several years earlier, so there would be no legal or criminal repercussions if they came forward.
It was a desperate act by desperate parents many years ago. However, Elizabeth is not interested in what happened then, only what happens now. She has no malice towards them. She forgives them and just wants them to tell her certain things about her life. She also wants them to meet her husband and five children.
It has been decades since that cold January night in Addison. And one question still haunts everyone involved with the case: why was Elizabeth abandoned? One thing is certain: if someone had not called police within minutes, she probably would have frozen to death. However, police believe that the caller was most likely Elizabeth's birth father; they believe that he placed her there and then made the call to make sure she would be found.
Elizabeth was abandoned in the cold on January 25, 1972, in the Chicago suburb of Addison, Illinois. She is anxious to find her birth parents, who need to know they will not be prosecuted if they come forward.
- This case first aired on the July 19, 2002 episode, along with The Parents of Kimberly Smith.
- It was excluded from the FilmRise release of the Robert Stack episodes.
- It was later featured on CBS' 48 Hours Investigates: Family Secrets.
- Similar cases include The Hatbox Baby, The Smoker Car Baby, and Miss Subways.
Results: Solved. In October 2001, Elizabeth registered onto the website "Bighugs.com" which helps reunite families. Her forty-eight-year-old birth mother, Sher Altenhoff of Lockport, Illinois, registered onto it six months later. In April 2002, Elizabeth saw a post by Sher on the website and they were put in contact. Sher apologized for abandoning Elizabeth, which she accepted and said that she had forgiven her a long time ago. She then learned that she has three half-sisters.
One week later, Sher and her other daughters traveled to Elizabeth's home in Tennessee where they were reunited with her. Elizabeth also was put in contact with her birth father, who lives outside of Chicago, and reunited with him. She also has two half-sisters by him. She learned that Sher was eighteen when she had gotten pregnant with her out of wedlock. Her birth parents married but hid the pregnancy out of shame. She was born on the same day of her abandonment. Her birth father confirmed that he abandoned her at the gazebo and also placed the call to the police to make sure she was found. Her birth parents split up two years after her birth.
In May 2002, Elizabeth and Sher had another visit. However, for unknown reasons, Sher later asked Elizabeth to cease contact with her. It is not known if they ever resumed contact. Elizabeth suspects that Sher may have ended contact because she feared public backlash from their story airing on national television.
- Elizabeth Bagwell on Unsolved Archive
- 28 years after she was abandoned, woman still haunted by questions (Page 1) (Page 2) - October 31, 2000
- Happy reunion turns bittersweet for abandoned daughter (Page 1) (Page 2) - October 24, 2002
- Reunion with mother bittersweet for daughter - October 24, 2002
- Abandoned baby story set to air - November 25, 2002
- Addison case on 48 Hours - December 6, 2002
- Family Secrets: Long Lost Daughter - July 18, 2003
- Scenes from domestic life - August 26, 2003