DNA debunks Mich. man’s hunch he was snatched tot
By Melanie S. Welte
DES MOINES, Iowa — After five decades of silence about what happened to his toddler son, farmer Jerry Damman was hopeful that a Michigan man’s incredible claim to be the boy was true.
But DNA results released Thursday disproved the possibility, closing a bizarre chapter in a long-cold case of the New York toddler who disappeared on Halloween in 1955. The tests showed John Barnes did not have the same mother as a sibling who was in a stroller at the time of the kidnapping. That meant there was no way he could possibly be the kidnapped child.
Hundreds of miles north, the family members who raised Barnes in Michigan angrily rejected the suggestion he wasn’t theirs. They said they’d even be willing to submit to tests to disprove his hunch that he wasn’t their flesh and bone.
"He pretty much lost two families today," said Cheryl Barnes, a sister who grew up with the man in northwest Michigan. "We knew that was going to be the outcome. ... My dad feels the same way. Neither of us had a doubt. My dad knows who his son is. I’m angry at my brother for putting everyone through this, turning everybody’s lives upside down."
The case had raised the hopes of Damman — the missing boy’s father — and the Long Island community where crews fruitlessly searched after the kidnapping. From his farm in Iowa, the 78-year-old Damman said he was disappointed. He said reliving the experience has been difficult.
"It’s disappointing and it’s too bad we had to go through all of this for actually nothing in the end," Damman said. "I guess we don’t know any more than we did."
Authorities in Long Island had said a man came to them in recent months saying he believed he was Stephen Damman, kidnapped at 2-year-old more than 50 years ago. According to police and news accounts at the time, the boy’s mother left him and his 7-month old sister waiting outside a bakery while she went inside to shop. She came out 10 minutes later but could not find her children. The stroller, with only her daughter inside, was found around the corner.
Barnes, a laborer who lives in rural northwest Michigan, developed his suspicion that he could be the child after searching online for his family history. He had always suspected the couple who raised him weren’t his biological parents, and said photos he found of the missing toddler’s mother as a young adult looked like himself at the same age.
He even went as far to travel to Iowa to try and get a glimpse of the man he thought was his father, and connected with the sister of the missing toddler, Pamela Damman Horne. He said they took an at-home DNA test, and that’s when the FBI took a test of their own.
Barnes did bear a striking resemblance to a photo of the missing boy: He had the same chubby cheeks, the same round face and bright, blue eyes. And there was a faint line on his chin, possibly the scar the missing toddler was said to have on a missing persons flier at the time of the disappearance. But there were inconsistencies.
Barnes said he was born in 1955 — the same year a 2-year-old Stephen Damman disappeared — but only saw his birth certificate once and said he doesn’t have a copy. He wouldn’t explain the age difference and said only that the FBI was looking into it as part of his investigation.
The door to Barnes’ trailer home went unanswered Thursday, and he didn’t return a call seeking comment. He lives not far from his father, Richard Barnes, although the two had not talked in about a year.
After news reports of Barnes’ suspicion that he was the missing boy, his father called the idea "foolishness" and said that his son was born in a Navy hospital in Pensacola, Fla., on Aug. 18, 1955.
"We brought him home two days later, and he’s never been out of our sight," he said.
Dwight Damman, a son from Jerry Damman’s second marriage who would be the missing toddler’s half brother, said he always had been skeptical of Barnes’ story.
"We didn’t hold out a lot of hope that it was true," Dwight Damman said. "After the pictures came out it kinda made you think, but with DNA you have to wait for the results."