Jerry Damman, his wife, Marilyn, and their two children – 2-year-old Steven Damman and 7-month-old Pamela – lived in Long Island, New York. At the time, Jerry was an airman at the base at Long Island’s Mitchel Field while Marilyn was a stay-at-home mother.
On the 31st of October, 1955, Marilyn and the two children went to a bakery in East Meadow, New York, to pick up some fresh bread. While Marilyn popped into the bakery at 2:45PM, she left Steven and Pamela, who was in her stroller, outside the store. There were several other strollers parked outside and Marilyn told Steven to be good and that she would be back in just a few minutes. “It was something which I had done a thousand times, and other women still do,” Marilyn recalled. It was a decision she came to regret forever.1
When Marilyn exited the store, she found the stroller and Steven missing. Eventually the stroller was found a few blocks away. Pamela was safe and sound inside the stroller but Steven was nowhere the be seen. Marilyn had to be rushed to the hospital to be treated for shock while a search party consisting of around 2,000 volunteers as well as personnel from Mitchel Field, Boy Scouts, police officers and firemen was set up. They searched the area surrounding the bakery and fanned out searching parks, golf courses and waterways.
A missing person poster described Steven as 38 inches, 32 pounds, blonde hair and blue eyes, with a scar under his chin and a birthmark resembling a mole on the back of his lower calf. He was last seen wearing blue overalls, a blue polo shirt, a red sweater with white and blue ships on the front and brown shoes. Posters were distributed across the city while locals were asked if they had seen Steven or witnessed anything suspicious. Police officers drove Marilyn throughout the city in a sound truck. As they drove, she called “Stevie, where are you?” into the speaker.
Marilyn said she didn’t believe that Steven would have been able to move the stroller himself, stating: “He never wanders. He’s kind of a momma’s boy.” She and Jerry pleaded on national television for their son to be returned to them. They said that Steven suffered from anemia and that he needed to take medication including vitamins, aspirin and a tonic. 2
Over the forthcoming years, FBI followed tips all across the country. In November of 1955, three letters were sent to Steven’s family demanding ransom for his safe return. Each letter requested a larger amount of money: the first one requested $3,000, the second requested $10,000 then the third requested $14,000. Steven’s family attempted to comply to the demands but would soon discover the letters were from a fraudster who knew nothing about Steven’s disappearance and were simply trying to con them out of money.3
One popular theory was that Steven was “The Boy in the Box” – a young boy who was found murdered in a box in Philadelphia two years after Steven disappeared. Using Steve’s sister’s DNA, this theory was ruled out in 2003. There were also several reports of a female hitchhiker with a small boy resembling Steven in Minneapolis. There was another claim of a woman and a boy who looked like Steven in a tavern in Kansas. However, none of the leads ever panned out: “It was a never-ending fruitless search,” recollected Detective Matthew Bonora.4
A promising lead came to the surface in 2009, when a man in Michigan went to police and relayed the belief he was Steven. The man, John Barnes, looked strikingly similar to Jerry and gave Steven’s family hope. Jerry stated: “It’s a possibility… It’s not 100 percent yet. It would be nice to find out he’s still alive after all those years. It’s been a very hard time.” He said that he had given up hope that he would find out what happened to his son but this new lead had given him a glimmer of hope. “After all those years, you partially give up. You kind of figure that it won’t be solved after all is said and done.”5
Jerry spoke with John who said that he was too young to remember anything from around that time frame and said that the family that raised him had never suggested that he was anything other than their biological son. However, he said that he had never felt as though he was part of the family he was brought up in and started looking into missing person cases, eventually zoning in on the disappearance of Steven.6
John’s claims were taken very seriously and he provided a DNA sample which was taken to the FBI lab in Quantico, Virginia, to see if it were a match with DNA from Steven’s family. Unfortunately, however, DNA tests proved that he was mistaken. John’s father, Richard, would come forward to say that John certainly was his son and that he believed his son was disgruntled over the fact that his father divorced his mother in 1972. His sister, Cheryl, said that John had long believed that he was adopted or that he had been switched at birth.7 John spoke with the media following the DNA test and apologised for any heartache that he had caused, stating: “I honestly thought I was that kid that was kidnapped…”
The whereabouts of Steven and what happened to him on that fateful afternoon still remains a mystery.
- New York Daily News, 16 June, 2009 – “Lead in Sensational 1955 Kidnap”
- The Guardian, 17 June, 2009 – “Man Claims to Be Missing Child Who Disappeared in New York 50 Years Ago”
- The Charley Project
- Newsday, 18 June, 2009 – “I Was Always Bothered by 1955 Disappearance”
- The Detroit News, 16 June, 2009 – “Michigan Man Claims to be N.Y. Boy Who Vanished in 1955”
- Newsday, 16 June, 2009 – “Dad of Missing Boy Since ’55: This Might Be Him”
- The Des Moines Register, 19 January 2009 – “Michigan Man Isn’t Boy Abducted in 1955”