The horrific tale of the first infant abduction of New York finally came to an end, but was it a happy one?
Every year, about 800,000 kids are reported missing in the US, of which only a negligible number are infants. To many, 330 infant abductions in 56 years may seem small until their own family becomes a part of the statistic.
The White family, unfortunately, was one of them.
In 1986, Joy White, a 16-year-old teenager, found out that she was pregnant with her then-boyfriend, Carl Tyson. While the couple was shocked and unprepared, they were excited to have the baby.
On July 15, 1987, Joy gave birth to her beautiful daughter at the Harlem Hospital in New York. It was a joyous moment for the family, and they named the baby girl Carlina.
But on August 4, three weeks after she was born, Carlina fell ill with a high fever. Joy rushed to the hospital, where she was asked to leave the baby there for observation. Doctors diagnosed Carlina with an infection and told Joy it could take a while to discharge her.
Joy, overwhelmed by guilt that she couldn’t take care of her baby, started crying in the hallway. That’s when she met a young, kind woman. She consoled Joy and made her feel better.
Joy went back home to get some things for her and the baby. She also wanted to get some rest before she could go back to the hospital. But just a short time later, police officers knocked on her door.
Carlina is gone
Joy’s mother opened the door and was scared that the officers bore ill news. She thought Carlina had died, and they were there to convey the message.
The message Joy and Carl received was equally dreadful; someone had abducted Carlina from the hospital.
It shocked Joy and Carl to know that their baby was missing. They expected the hospital to be a safe place, and this piece of news was definitely not what they wanted to hear.
The police questioned every staff member at the hospital, but no one had any information. No one remembered anything suspicious, and the police weren’t able to retrieve any forensic evidence.
Yet, Joy had an inkling that the woman who consoled her at the hospital had kidnapped her child. Though the woman wore a nurse's outfit, Joy never saw her at the hospital after that day.
When she informed the police about her suspicions, they questioned the hospital staff again. This time, some witnesses claimed to have also seen the woman lurking around the Paediatrics Ward. They had assumed she was a volunteer there.
Now the police had a suspect. Abductors usually study the environment before planning the kidnapping. So the police believed the woman was roaming around the ward looking for her victim. Joy insisted that the woman knew her kid was alone, and she must have picked her as an easy target.
The police came up with a sketch and circulated it around the hospital neighborhood. They received information about a similar-looking person with a prior criminal record, but it was a false lead.
At this point, both Joy and Carl were terrified. Carlina was missing for weeks now, and they had no clue whether she was alive.
Let me remind you that this abduction happened in the 1980s when technology was at a bare minimum.
So, to spread the news, Joy gave many interviews pleading with the public for information. She also wanted the media to keep covering Carlina’s disappearance so that people wouldn’t forget her.
Joy and Carl also sued the Harlem Hospital for negligence. The couple argued the hospital’s lack of security aided Carlina’s abduction. After multiple negotiation rounds, the hospital agreed to pay the couple $750,000. But, the final payout was about $320,000, and the couple saved half of it for Carlina.
As Carlina was only three weeks old when she was kidnapped, she hadn’t developed her facial features, so it was difficult to come up with sketches of how she might look over the years.
Years passed by with no reliable information. The police even offered a reward of $10,000 for any information on the missing child. This announcement prompted increased random tips about the baby, but nothing accurate.
The case turned cold.
In the spring of 1987, Ann Pettaway, a young African-American woman from Bridgeport, Connecticut, left the city for a couple of months. She said she wanted a break from her life.
Her friends and family, while concerned about her, said nothing. They suspected Ann was pregnant, and that was why she wanted to go somewhere else. A few months later, when Ann returned to Bridgeport with a baby, their suspicions were confirmed.
They couldn’t have been more wrong.
Ann named her baby Nejdra, lovingly called Netty. Years passed, and even though she didn’t have a father, life seemed normal for Netty. She was a beautiful, sweet, caring kid who often helped others. People loved her entertaining attitude and even dubbed her as the star of the party.
When Netty was 11 years old, Ann gave birth to her son, Trevon. On seeing her brother, Netty grew suspicious. She noticed her brother looked like her mother, but she didn’t. But, Netty still believed Ann was her mother.
The red flag
In 2004, when Netty was still a teenager, she got pregnant.
Netty and her boyfriend were excited to have the baby. They wanted to take good care of it and provide it with everything it needed.
Netty didn’t have health insurance. And in America, without health insurance, medical and prenatal care can be expensive. So, she requested her mother to send her birth certificate and social security card to apply for insurance.
However, Ann kept coming up with weird excuses and never sent Netty the documents. Eventually, Netty got tired of waiting. She went through Ann’s possessions herself and found her records.
Netty then applied for insurance, and that was when she learned that her birth certificate was fake. The agency assumed she was trying to create a false identity and registered a complaint at the State’s Department of Children and Families.
The first confession
The department called Ann in for information on the case. While Netty didn’t know the investigation details, she just assumed it was a mix-up.
But days after Ann’s run-in with the State Department, Ann confessed Netty wasn’t her child.
Ann told Netty that her biological mother had abandoned her. While it didn’t surprise Netty to find out that Ann wasn’t her mother, it appalled her to learn the “truth” 17 years later.
Netty had a million questions. She wanted to know everything about her biological parents. But all Ann kept saying was, “She left you and never came back.” The confession and lack of more information strained the relationship between the two.
However, Ann didn’t admit to the entire truth that day, and it took Netty seven years to realize that.
The real discovery
Months passed, and Netty still had no clue about her biological parents. She went to the State Department requesting the officials to do a DNA cross-referencing. But the department refused to accept her plea, citing that it doesn’t do such tests.
Netty also tried to contact her alleged father, Robert Nance, who was in prison. He claimed that he and Ann weren’t together at the time Netty was born. so he also didn’t know anything.
Eventually, life caught up with Netty. She graduated from high school and started working some odd jobs. A couple of years later, Netty found a job at a hair salon in Atlanta, USA, and she moved there with her daughter.
But Netty never stopped searching for her parents. She went online almost every day to find any information on them. And in December 2010, she came across a missing baby girl’s picture on the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s website (NCMEC).
The baby girl resembled her daughter, Samani. And many people had told her that Samani looked just like her when she was a baby.
The picture made Netty nervous. For some reason, she believed that she was the baby in the picture. So she called the NCMEC and told the official that she believed her mother had abducted her when she was a baby.
It was unusual for someone to solve their own kidnapping. And for Netty, it was stranger. She was kidnapped when she was 19 days old. She had difficulty answering basic questions because she knew nothing about her biological parents.
The department then checked for birthmarks and concluded that she could indeed be Carlina White. They also contacted Joy and Carl for DNA samples. And in January 2011, the DNA results confirmed that Nejdra Nance was Carlina White.
The long-awaited reunion
Even before the DNA results came in, Netty spoke to Joy.
Joy invited Netty home, but Netty was undecided. She didn’t want to get her hopes up until the DNA results came in. But when Joy mentioned the birthmark, she knew it was her mother.
Netty’s joy knew no bounds. So, on January 15, 2011, Netty flew to meet her parents in New York.
Netty and Joy hit it off from the beginning. Joy wanted to know everything about Netty. She wanted to know what she liked, disliked, hobbies, ambition, etc. However, she tried to keep Ann out of the conversation.
Netty’s meeting with Carl didn’t go that well. It was awkward for both of them. Plus, there were some misunderstandings. To give you an example, Netty wanted to rent a car but couldn’t because she wasn’t 25 and Carl wouldn’t rent in under his name because it was illegal.
Ann Pettaway’s trial
Soon, Netty started thinking about Ann. Her crime was punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Initially, Ann was in North Carolina when the news broke out. She pretended to make things right, but left the state and disappeared. She surrendered on January 23, 2011.
Ann confessed she was pregnant when she left town in 1987, but she had a miscarriage and was heartbroken. She desperately wanted a baby, and when she saw Carlina, she couldn’t resist.
Yet, the defense lawyer claimed that Carlina’s kidnapping by Ann was a stretch. He argued Ann could’ve gotten the baby from someone else. He even requested Netty to support Ann, asking her to describe how good Ann was as a mother.
Eventually, after months of presenting information and evidence, Ann was found guilty and sentenced to 12 years in prison. But, she served only ten years and was released in April 2021.
Netty empathized with Ann, and that effectively started the fallout in the newly reunited family.
Even though Ann had abducted Netty, she still took good care of her. While she felt sour for having been lied to, Netty eventually forgave Ann and stayed in contact with her.
However, Joy and Carl weren’t that happy about this arrangement. They understood Netty had considered Ann her mother her entire life, but they still didn’t change their opinion of Ann and how she had destroyed their lives.
This case was the longest missing person’s case to be solved in American history. So obviously, the media was crazy about it.
The attention and the need to present herself made Netty uncomfortable. She didn’t know her biological parents for 21 years, but suddenly, she had to pose and kiss them in front of cameras. Understandably, it was weird for her.
After a point, Netty couldn’t handle the attention anymore. The pressure made her distance herself from everyone. All she wanted was peace of mind.
On the contrary, Joy and Carl were happy to do the interviews which further affected her relationship with Netty.
The trust money
Remember the money Joy and Carl had gotten from the hospital that they saved for Carlina?
When the abduction story became public, the media found out reports about the trust money. The trust was supposed to present the funds to Carlina on her 21st birthday. But the family found her only when she was 23 years old and had already spent the money.
Some claim that it might’ve frustrated Netty. She wanted to use that money to get her life on track. Netty claimed she felt betrayed by Joy. Joy declared that Netty despised her and Carl when she found out that the trust money was no longer available. Netty believed Joy was wrongfully accusing her after all that she’d done to find them.
Even though the family tried to clarify the misunderstandings and miscommunication, things were never the same between them.
Do you think this story has a happy ending?
Joy and Carl could have lived happily together, but the agony of losing their child drove them apart and broke apart the family. What could have been a beautiful family fell apart when one woman felt her needs were more important.
But did Ann fulfill her needs? No. I understand how painful it is to lose your child. But robbing another mother’s bundle of joy for your selfish necessities is not the solution. She may have given Netty the best childhood she could ever have, but it still wasn’t the one Netty was supposed to have.
As for Netty, She’s now more focused than ever on raising her child and making a life her own.