On July 9, 1945, 6-year-old Tom Martin and his 4-year-old brother, Jerry, were riding their bikes near their quaint Manhattan apartment when a strange woman approached them. She asked the children if they wanted some candy; Tom refused but Jerry couldn’t deny his sweet tooth. The woman took him by the hand and told Tom they would return shortly.
Tom never saw his brother again. Nor did their parents, Harold and Nancy. They were separated at the time and Harold was re-married with a 1-year-old daughter named Mary. Due to this, suspicion was immediately cast upon Nancy. She proclaimed her innocence, and her family supported her.
Months turned into years and within a blink of an eye, decades passed with no sign of Jerry. After Harold and Nancy passed, Tom continued the search for his little brother, even submitting his DNA using an ancestry test, in the hopes that someone out there could lead him back to Jerry.
More than 7 decades later, answers finally came.
In 2017, a 51-year-old woman from Long Island, New York, named Audrey Bell, took a 23AndMe DNA test. It came as a surprise when she discovered that she wasn’t Italian as her parents had made her believe all her life. In reality, Audrey was Irish, Scottish, and Spanish. She was puzzled, considering that her father, Richard Palmadesso, flaunted his Italian heritage.
Audrey asked her parents about the results but they were just as confused. She thought nothing of it and moved on with her life. That was until 2019 when Audrey’s twin sister, Cynthia McFadden, and their younger sister, Stephanie Palmadesso, took DNA ancestry tests of their own. They all received the same results; neither of them had any Italian ancestry. They had to know more. Sadly, Richard passed away earlier that year, and his parents, Isabel and Angelo Palmadesso, were gone as well.
Fortunately, there was someone else the sisters could turn to. The ancestry tests showed that they were related to a man named Tom Martin. They reached out to Tom, and it was then they discovered that their father had been taken as a child and that his real name, was Jerry Martin.
Although the brothers didn’t get the chance to grow up together, it turned out they were very much alike. Not only did they strongly resemble one another, but they both wanted to be actors and loved coconut cake.
The sisters were determined to find out more, so they started their own investigation.
In 1945, Angelo Palmadesso was serving in WWII, while Isabel was at their home in Long Island, New York. Isabel was in her 40s and although she had two grown daughters from a previous relationship, she did not have any children with Angelo. She allegedly took Jerry and brought him to their home two months before Angelo returned from the war in September. Isabel told Jerry his new name was Richard and that he was two, not four. She doctored a fake birth certificate, with a DOB sometime in 1943.
For clarity’s sake, I will now refer to Richard by his true birth name of Jerry, while Richard will refer to his “cousin” Richard Palmadesso.
Isabel passed away when Jerry was 12, at which time Angelo sent him off to live with his uncle Giacomo, and his cousin, Richard Palmadesso. Jerry finished school, moved away, got married, and started a family of his own.
The sisters reached out to their father’s “cousin”, Richard Palmadesso, and although this was a shocking revelation to them, it was old news to him. He claimed the entire Palmadesso family knew that their father wasn’t a blood relative; the only person unaware of his true identity was Jerry himself.
Although it’s impossible to know for sure, the sisters theorized that Isabel got pregnant before Angelo left, and suffered a miscarriage while he was gone; this could make sense of why Jerry’s birth certificate read 1943 when his real birth year was 1941. Angelo either likely found out that Jerry was not his biological son at some point, or he knew the truth all along.
Richard told the sisters that their father was treated like an outcast as a child; Isabel was distant and didn’t let him speak at the dinner table. As a result, Jerry became anxious and he carried it well into adulthood. When he finished school and moved away, none of his relatives attempted to stay in touch including Angelo, who passed away when Jerry was 26. This lined up since Jerry had always told his daughters that he never felt like he belonged, nor did he have anything in common with his family.
“Our dad was always kind, funny, and silly. Always dreamed of being an actor, but never actually acted in anything. Uncle Tom is very similar. He even had some headshots from when he was younger…Although our dad was very kind and we were close to him, there was always a disconnect with him and family. It now makes more sense why he may have been this way.” — Cynthia McFadden
Although Tom never got a chance to reunite with his long-lost brother, he was overjoyed that after 74 years, he finally had closure. Not only that, but he also gained three nieces in the process. The sisters soon met with their uncle Tom and from there, a new tradition was born. Since Tom didn’t have any children of his own, the sisters sent him a present each Father’s Day, to remind him that although he lost his brother, he would always have them.