Unsolved Mysteries Wiki

Tommy Heck

Real Name: Thomas Marshal "Tommy" Heck
Case: Lost Brother
Location: Council Bluffs, Iowa
Date: 1944


Details: When any family is torn apart, the scars can last a lifetime. The saga of the six Heck children of Iowa is reminiscent of a Dickens novel with an equally large cast of characters: Delbert Jr., Florence, Jim, Sharon Louise, Doris Jean, and little Tommy. These brothers and sisters were separated by adoption as children, but through force of will, five of them managed to reunite in adulthood. Today, they want to make sure that their life’s story has a happy ending. But they need help to make that dream come true.
In Summer 1944, the Heck family was living in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Ten-year-old Delbert Jr. was the "man" of the house. His father, Delbert Sr., worked as a road construction worker; as a result, he was often away from home and did little to support the family. Delbert Jr. recalls that times were very rough. They did not have any money for food or groceries. However, for the children, it did not seem like “hard times” because that was all they knew. They thought that they were doing just fine. They had each other and they had their mother, Maude. They made the best they could of it.
Delbert Jr. and Maude often went to drastic measures to provide for the family. He recalls that on several occasions, he would sweep kernels of grain out of boxcars into a burlap bag. He and Maude would then sell it to feed stores. It was the only way the family could afford to eat.
In August 1944, the family was visited by a social worker sent by the local welfare department. They had to stand by silently as she scrutinized their home. Florence recalls that the worker opened the cabinets to see what was there (there was nothing other than a bag of dry puffed wheat). They did not have dressers or clothes hanging in the closet. The house was not clean. There was a mattress on the living room floor where all six children slept. The worker explained to Maude that she was not able to care for them properly, and that they were going to be taken to a place where that would happen.
Three months later, the State of Iowa took the Heck children away. Florence recalls that the social worker told them that they were going to see a movie. They had never been to one before, so they were very excited. They willingly went with her. Maude stood on the porch and cried. Florence felt that something was not right. As they drove further and further away, she realized that they were not going to a movie.
The six children were scattered across the countryside like windblown seeds. Three were immediately adopted, while three languished in orphanages. Florence, then seven, was one of them. She was sent to Christian Childrens' Home. She recalls crying profusely once she got there. She cried for Maude and her younger siblings because she missed them and spent a lot of time with them. They were basically her whole life. A dorm mother lived at the end of their building. That night, she took Florence to the end of the dorm and put her in the closet, telling her that she would sleep in there until she learned to stop crying. She slept in there for a long time while she was at the orphanage.
Jim, then nine, and Delbert Jr. were placed in a different orphanage, the Annie Wittenmyer Home, in Davenport, Iowa. Delbert Jr. was farmed out briefly to foster parents. He thinks that what they wanted was a farm hand. He does not think they wanted a child. He had no contact with Jim at that time. Since he had no contact with his family, he felt that he had nothing to hold onto. Within a few weeks, he was ready to go back to the orphanage.
Maude later divorced Delbert Sr. and remarried. In 1948, she returned to Christian Childrens' Home to get her children back. By that point, only Florence was there. Jim and Delbert Jr. remained in the other orphanage until 1952, when the state sent them back to Maude. Sadly, she would never see her other three children again; she died in 1980. Unbeknownst to the Heck family, one-year-old Sharon Louise had been placed in the home of Wendell and Helena Jones of Jamaica, Iowa. She had been renamed Doresa. Five-year-old Doris Jean was sent to the home of Glenn and Gertrude West. Her new name was Sally. It is assumed that three-year-old Tommy was also adopted. His new name, if he has one, is still unknown.
Doresa later married and moved to Oregon. In 1967, she began searching for her siblings. In 1970, she and Sally were reunited. Both had been adopted through the same orphanage, which put them in contact with each other. The two then set out to find their missing family. Doresa had a lot of information about the family from the records that her adoptive parents had given her when she was sixteen. Sally, however, did not have much information. Doresa figured that if she could find out where they had lived, she could start the search there. Fortunately, Sally had that information because she had been sent her original birth certificate. She had been born at home, so the certificate listed their home address.
Doresa got on the phone and called information in Council Bluffs. She started making phone calls to people in the area. It was around 1:30pm on March 29, 1990, when Sally talked to Doresa about their birthplace. At around 11:30pm that same night, Doresa called her back. She said she had talked to an aunt, two brothers, and a sister. The siblings were spread throughout four states: Iowa, Oregon, Texas, and Arkansas.
On April 24, forty-five years after the Heck family had been torn apart, their day of reunion finally came. It took place in Arkansas. Sally and Doresa decided to drive together to the reunion, “kind of like a team.” By that point, they knew that the three oldest children had been raised together. They kind of felt like outsiders, so they wanted to be together. They were not sure what to do, as Doresa put it, “Do you walk up to them and hug them and tell them how glad you are to see them after forty-five years? Or do you stand back and shake hands?”
But the minute Sally and Doresa walked in, the bond was instant. Within five minutes, it was like they had grown up together. Sally says that the minute she saw her siblings, she knew she was in the right place; she knew she was home. There was no doubt that they were siblings. The reunion was a celebration, but there was still one person missing: Tommy. Delbert Jr. says that it is important for them to find Tommy. He feels that there is a part of his life that is missing.
Jim says that finding Tommy is like, “if you have a car, and part of the pieces are not there, it’s not going to run right… We have a family, but some of the pieces are not there.” Doresa says that they need to find Tommy to make the rest of their family complete, so that they can have all of them together and say “here we are. Here we are, world. This is the Heck family. Look at us, Iowa. You separated us, but we’re back together now.”
Because of sealed adoption records in Iowa, the family has not been able to find much information about Tommy. The last known photographs of him (shown above) were taken when he was four-and-a-half years old by his adoptive parents who sent them to the orphanage. He was adopted around the age of four through Christian Homes Orphanage in Council Bluffs, Iowa, most likely by a Midwestern family. He may not know he is adopted. His most distinguishing physical characteristic is a double earlobe on his right ear.
Extra Notes:

  • This case first aired on the September 26, 1990 episode. It was repeated on the December 26, 1990 episode. It was updated on a Summer 1993 episode.
  • It was submitted to the show by a reporter who had interviewed the siblings about their first reunion.

Heck siblings reunited

Results: Solved. As a result of the broadcast, the show received hundreds of tips from viewers about the case. One was from Myrna Strand, Tommy's adoptive cousin. She recognized a baby photograph of him and realized he was the young boy her aunt and uncle had adopted years ago while she was staying at their house for the summer. She contacted the show and left a message for Doresa, saying that Tommy was a teacher in Kenosha, Wisconsin. However, Doresa had more than 700 leads to follow up; she discounted Myrna’s as a “weak possibility”. Myrna initially did not tell Tommy about this because he had never mentioned wanting to find his biological family.
Then, on the advice of another relative, Myrna sent Tommy a letter marked “confidential” on March 27, 1993. It explained that his biological siblings were looking for him. He was overjoyed to learn that. Myrna gave him Doresa’s phone number and the two were reunited by phone. Within twenty-four hours, he spoke to all of his siblings. They learned that he had been adopted by Don and Della Wood of Whiting, Iowa, sixty-five miles from Council Bluffs. He had no memories of his siblings and a few ones of the orphanage. He had known he was adopted and was told he had several biological siblings; he had thought about searching for them but did not know where to start.
A few weeks later, on Easter Sunday, April 11, 1993, Tommy and his siblings were reunited at a relative's home in Council Bluffs. They spent four days together, talking about each other’s lives, visiting the graves of their mother and grandmother, and getting a family portrait taken.
Sadly, since the reunion, most of the siblings have since passed away. On July 3, 2003, Delbert Jr. passed away at the age of sixty-nine. On November 18, 2018, Jim passed away at the age of eighty-three. On May 17, 2019, Tommy passed away at the age of seventy-seven. Sally and Florence have also since passed away.