Decades After A Notorious Kidnapping Case, This Man Made A Startling Discovery About His Family

Image: Facebook/Who is Paul Fronczak?

In 2012 Paul Joseph Fronczak was residing and working in Las Vegas when he received the call that turned his life upside down. It re-opened the Pandora’s Box of his childhood and tied in with the story of a Chicago infant kidnapped in 1964. In fact, it made him question all the assumptions he held concerning his own identity.

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Dora Fronczak gave birth to her son Paul in Chicago during April 1964. Paul spent some of his first day in the hospital’s nursery napping alongside the other new-borns and the rest of it being cradled by his mother. The next morning, however, would change Dora’s life forever.

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That fateful day, a nurse entered Dora’s cubicle and said baby Paul needed to be seen to by a medic. Dora obliged and the nurse left with the two-day-old infant. Horrifyingly, though, it soon transpired that this woman wasn’t a nurse at all and didn’t even work for the hospital.

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Hospital staff desperately tried to find the baby and any clue as to the kidnapper’s identity. Wanting to keep things in-house for as long as possible, though, the hospital didn’t contact the police or Dora’s husband Chester until mid-afternoon. Chester Fronczak was in the middle of a factory shift when he received a phone call telling him his baby son had been kidnapped.

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Incredibly, the hospital informed Chester of the situation before they told Dora, who was still in her room thinking baby Paul was being examined. The adult Paul detailed the awful position Chester found himself in during a 2018 interview with the BBC. “My dad had to leave work, go to the hospital and tell his wife that the baby was missing,” he said. “You think you’re safe – you’re in a hospital – and that’s where your baby is kidnapped.”

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The largest search operation Chicago had ever seen ensued. Hundreds of police officers, close to 200,000 mail employees and the Federal Bureau of Investigation all pooled their resources. Come midnight that same day, more than 500 local residences had been searched. However, baby Paul was nowhere to be found.

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Dora and Chester remained in the hospital for several days, hoping against hope that their baby would be found. Their story was headline news at the time, so upon going back to their home, the couple’s privacy was constantly invaded by the media. Sadly, though, the search operation was soon called off as the investigators were unable to find any firm evidence. Paul had vanished.

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Fast-forward a decade to a ten-year-old boy who’s breaking his parents’ rules by searching in their home for Christmas gifts. He knew that under the sofa was an ideal hiding place, so he moved the piece of furniture and had a look. Instead of presents, though, he found a few containers packed with press reports, cards and letters.

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The newspaper articles were intriguing – and a little frightening. One read, “Mother asks kidnapper to return baby.” Another stated, “200 search for stolen baby.” Even more unnerving, though, were the photographs of the poor couple whose baby had been taken from them. They looked younger, but Paul Fronczak recognized them as his parents.

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As unbelievable as it seemed, Paul knew that he must be the kidnapped infant in question. Excited to find out the whole story about the incident and the details of how he wound up back with his parents, Paul immediately went to his mother. Initially, Dora berated Paul for looking in places that were off limits. But, next, she told him the truth.

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“Yes, you were kidnapped,” Dora told her son. “We found you, we love you, and that’s all you need to know.” According to Paul, that’s all she was willing to say about the matter at the time. And he sensed that he wasn’t expected to push for more information. In fact, they didn’t speak of it again for almost half a century.

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Paul didn’t let the matter go altogether, however, and would sometimes return to the boxes to learn about his secret early life. This was when he discovered the way in which he’d been returned to the Fronczaks. For nearly two years, they’d lived with no son. But in the spring of 1966, the FBI contacted them with news that would change everything.

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The Bureau had located a boy in New Jersey, and they believed he fit the details of their missing child. The toddler had been left alone in a stroller outside a store in the summer of 1965 and was presently in foster care. In fact, his carers had already chosen the name “Scott McKinley” for the boy and reportedly were looking into the possibility of adoption.

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Moreover, a cop involved in the case couldn’t shake the possibility that “Scott McKinley” might be the child who’d been kidnapped in Chicago. The FBI were brought in as a result, and they became convinced that Scott was indeed Paul Fronczak. This was mainly due to his distinctive ear, which seemed to match Paul’s ear in a hospital photograph taken soon after his birth.

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Reticent to base their conclusion on a single piece of evidence, though, the FBI looked at a huge number of potential Pauls. “They ended up testing over 10,000 boys that could possibly be Paul,” the adult Paul revealed. “And I was the only one they couldn’t fully exclude.” During an era with no DNA tests and in the absence of fingerprint or even blood-type evidence, the ear consequently took on huge significance.

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“Back then, the FBI was the elite authority,” the adult Paul explained. “And when they tell you something, you believe it.” So, a few months after receiving word from the Bureau, the Fronczaks traveled to New Jersey to see the child they believed to be their son. They’d previously passed various assessments and had consequently been green-lit to take custody of the boy.

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“An FBI agent walked me in, and they let us get acquainted for a while,” Paul recalled. He said his mother would later admit to him that she felt pressured by the eyes of the media being fixed on her. “My mom had only spent less than a day with her son before he was taken out of the hospital,” Paul explained. “And then, years later, she sees this child.”

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According to Paul, Dora felt like she was in an impossible situation. “She could either say, ‘I’m not sure,’ and put this child back into the system, or say, ‘Yes, that’s my son,’ and even if it was not, save this child from what could be a horrible life,” he said. In the end, Dora agreed that the boy was Paul. “She did what she thought was right, and I’m glad she did,” he admitted.

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Paul was adopted by the Fronczaks and grew up with them in Chicago. He said it was an affectionate household, although for obvious reasons his parents tended to be a little more watchful than he would have liked. And while he attended a conservative school, Paul still insisted on having long hair and listening to heavy rock.

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Paul’s free-spirited disobedience sometimes caused issues with his parents. In fact, he recalled that his mother once stated “I wish they’d never found you” when emotions ran high during a disagreement about his hairstyle. These hurtful words would never fully leave his mind. “Even to this day just thinking about it, I feel it in my soul,” he admitted.

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As he moved into adult life, Paul became something of a nomad. He played bass guitar in an Arizona group for half a decade but went back to Illinois after they disbanded. He then signed up to the armed forces, but only stayed for a year before switching from city to city while finding employment in sales and acting.

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While he finally made a life for himself in Las Vegas, Paul estimates that “I moved probably at least 50 times in my life, and I’ve had well over 200 jobs.” He never left his past behind him, though. “No matter where I go or what I do, I’ve always had those paper clippings with me,” he said.

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Moreover, throughout his life, doubts about his origins plagued Paul. How realistic was it that he was truly the biological son of the Fronczaks? “I actually thought, ‘What are the chances of me being this one baby taken from Chicago?’” he admitted. “I was found so far away, it just seemed so unfathomable.”

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In addition, Paul always sensed that he was different from his parents and from his brother Dave, in terms of his personality and his physical appearance. “Dave looked exactly like my dad – mannerisms, facial expressions, the body-build, everything,” said Paul. “And I looked like neither.” He wasn’t depressed with his life, but Paul did still long to find out the truth via DNA analysis.

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For a long time, though, Paul would decide against going through with the DNA analysis. “I had always found a reason not to do it – I didn’t want to hurt them,” he admitted. “But there came a point when I needed to know.” In 2012 he saw an affordable DNA test in a store and finally bought a couple. He then came clean with his parents when they next saw him.

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Dropping the bombshell before they left for the airport, Paul enquired of his parents, “Have you ever wondered if I’m your real son?” They answered yes, after some initial shock, and Paul produced the DNA tests. He took samples from his and his parents’ mouths and prepared the swabs to be sent away.

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Unfortunately for Paul, however, his plans were ruined when his parents landed back in Chicago and phoned him up. They didn’t want to know any DNA test results, after all, saying Paul was their child as far as they were concerned. The sealed test kits then sat in his home while Paul agonized over what to do.

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“I wrestled with that every day, because I love my parents,” Paul recalled. “I wanted to respect their wishes, but sometimes you just have to do what you feel is right. How can you be wrong, trying to find the truth?” Paul eventually went against his parents’ wishes and posted the kits for testing. The results were life-changing.

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In fact, the DNA showed there was “no remote possibility” that the Fronczaks were Paul’s biological parents. He was absolutely stunned, even though the results confirmed what he’d always suspected. “I just felt like my life as I knew it was ended,” he explained. “I felt the color drain from my face. I couldn’t think. I got all sweaty.”

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To Paul, of course, there were now some burning questions that needed to be answered. Who were his biological mom and dad? And if he wasn’t the real Paul Fronczak, what became of the kidnapped infant? Paul subsequently contacted George Knapp, a Los Angeles investigator – and his story quick generated headlines. Sadly, however, Dora and Chester were enraged and for a long time refused to even talk to Paul.

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Moreover, in 2015 Paul found out his true identity. His name was in fact Jack Rosenthal, his birth family lived in Tennessee and he was actually older by half a year than he’d always believed. The DNA Detectives, a team of volunteers led by a scientist named CeCe Moore, had spent two years analyzing DNA, combing through publications, internet posts and official records in order to find his family.

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Paul discovered that he had two sisters and a brother, as well as a cousin named Lenny who was, just like Paul, a keen musician. Incredibly, he was even told he had a twin sister named Jill who’d also gone missing. “I don’t think you could hear that you have a twin and not seek that person for the rest of your life,” he said.

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It became apparent to Paul that his biological parents had potentially failed to care properly for him and his sister. A cousin told him that they recalled the twins being in a cage, and other family members had strong recollections of them crying constantly. No one could tell him what happened to Jill, however. The story at the time was apparently that the twins had gone to live with a relation.

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As a result, Paul feared that “something tragic” could have happened to his twin and that this is what led to him being abandoned at such a young age. After all, it would’ve been harder for the family to justify to authorities why there was only one twin left in their home. “My real parents were really not very nice people,” Paul said. Indeed, he credited the Fronczaks with saving his life, and he did eventually reconcile with them after a couple of years of estrangement.

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“I know now that those events shaped my mom into the way she is today,” Paul revealed. “My mom has this never-ending guilt of handing Paul over to the nurse. Even though she knows that in a hospital that’s what you do: the nurse says, ‘We need your baby,’ you hand the baby over. But it’s something that she’s wrestled with her whole life.”

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Paul subsequently penned a book about his experiences, entitled The Foundling, and gained perspective on his nomadic tendencies. “The first couple of years of my life really shaped who I am: I’m able to walk away from anybody, any job, any situation and never look back,” he stated. “I think that’s part of having three childhoods, three identities at such a young age. It’s about adapting. It’s about survival.”

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Genealogist CeCe Moore wants to know the details of the FBI’s evaluation of Paul during the period before he was adopted by the Fronczaks. “What made them come to the conclusion that he was Paul Fronczak?” she asked. “Were there signs of trauma that perhaps were misinterpreted as a baby that had been kidnapped, rather than a baby that had a somewhat abusive life?”

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Chester Fronczak passed away in 2017, but Paul is still close with his mother Dora. He said she wasn’t the biggest fan of his book, though, as she felt uncomfortable with him being so unflinchingly candid within its pages. For his part, Paul still had a private investigator working his case and maintained that “the story is by no means anywhere near finished.”

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These words proved prescient, because in 2019 it was revealed by Chicago’s WGN-TV that the real Paul Fronczak had been found living in Michigan. He refused to be identified in the media, as he was still getting his head around the incredible news. The man also didn’t comment on whether he planned to seek out his biological mom Dora, simply telling WGN, “I have loose ends to tie up.”

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An FBI spokesperson also gave a statement to the news channel. “Several years ago, the FBI reopened the investigation into the disappearance of Paul Joseph Fronczak,” they said. “Our investigation into this matter remains ongoing as we continue to pursue all leads. We ask for privacy for the victims as we continue to investigate the facts surrounding this case.”

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