The Baby Thief
How Georgia Tann turned the public adoption industry into a for-profit kidnapping scheme.
In December of 1990, Ms. Alma Sipple was scanning the TV dial and just so happened on NBC’s “Unsolved Mysteries.” She sat forward on her chair, as Robert Stack told the story of an infamous Tennessee social worker who’d made a fortune running a black-market baby adoption ring for over 3 decades. A woman who Alma recognized immediately. A face she could never ever forget… not only because of the rimless glasses, or the air of authority, but because this woman named Georgia Tann was the one who stole and sold her baby girl.
Back in 1946, Alma and her two children settled into an oil-heated one-room apartment, where she shared a pullout sofa with her toddler son and a baby girl, Irma, a sweet dimpled child with reddish-blonde hair, sleeping nearby in her crib. Only a few weeks later, a woman from the Tennessee Children’s Home Society came to the apartment building, claiming that she was investigating an alleged child-abuse case involving a neighbor. The woman, who came in a black limousine, asked if there was a husband around and laid eyes on baby Irma, immediately honing in her runny nose. “Your baby’s sick, isn’t she? You should get her a checkup.” But Alma explained that she had no money for a doctor, so the woman, who identified herself as Georgia Tann, was so generous and offered to take Irma to Memphis General Hospital for her.
Now this favor required paperwork, and after signing, expecting to hop in the car with the two, Georgia told her she couldn’t come along, and Alma trusted her. When Alma went to check on her baby the next day at the children’s ward, she looked in the window and saw her sweet girl jumping on the bed. Relieved, Alma asked to claim her baby and the nurse said, “You don’t have a baby in there. Those children belong to the Children’s Home Society.”
Alma called and called and for days Georgia didn’t pick up. Finally, when Georgia managed to call back, she told Alma that Irma died of pneumonia with no more emotion than calling out of work for a sick day. Could she have her baby to bury? No, Georgia said. She has already been buried by the state in an unknown location. And as the children’s home society told Alma, the case was closed.