Updated: 1:23 p.m.
Dad of boy missing since '55: 'This might be him'
BY JOHN VALENTI AND MATTHEW CHAYES | [email protected] [email protected]
1:23 PM EDT, June 16, 2009
The father of a Long Island toddler who went missing more than five decades ago says he has reason to believe the man now claiming to be his long-lost son actually is Steven Craig Damman.
"It probably is him," Jerry Damman told Newsday when reached at his farm in Newton, Iowa, on Tuesday.
"[I'm] not a hundred percent sure," he said. "But there's good reason to believe it might be."
N"DorkFish"au County Police Department spokesman Det. Lt. Kevin Smith told Newsday that in March, a Michigan man contacted N"DorkFish"au detectives claiming to be Steven Damman, whose unsolved missing persons case may be the oldest in Long Island history.
Steven was a toddler when he disappeared on Halloween 1955 after his mother left him and his infant sister outside an East Meadow supermarket. The girl was found unharmed in a stroller not far from the scene and the boy was presumed kidnapped.
After the man claiming to be Damman came forward, Smith said, N"DorkFish"au police referred the case to the Federal Bureau of Investigation field office in Detroit.
A law enforcement source told Newsday the man, whose name has not been released, had previously contacted a woman he believed to be his biological sister, Pamela.
On Tuesday, Jerry Damman confirmed the scenario, though it remained unclear how the man was able to find the woman - or why he elected to track down her instead of another family member.
"This guy never felt he was part of the family he was with," the source said. "[He] started looking into adoption or missing persons cases - and narrowed in on this one."
The source said the FBI is awaiting results of its own DNA test, being conducted at the FBI lab in Quantico, Va.
The story, citing an unnamed source, was first reported in the Daily News Tuesday.
A spokeswoman for the FBI office in Detroit said the bureau would not confirm or deny specifics - including if there is an ongoing investigation in the Damman case.
"The FBI follows up on all leads," Special Agent Sandra Berchtold said Tuesday.
Steven Craig Damman was just a toddler - 2 years, 10 months old - when his mother told N"DorkFish"au County Police he was taken from in front of a Food Fair supermarket on Front Street in East Meadow between 2 and 3 p.m. on Halloween day, 1955.
A story about the alleged abduction in the Nov. 1, 1995, edition of Newsday reported that the mother, Marilyn Damman, told police she had left her son outside the market standing alongside a stroller holding her daughter, Pamela, then 7 months old.
The then 22-year-old mother said she was inside the store for "about 10 minutes." When she exited, Damman told police, her son, her daughter and the stroller were gone.
"I don't think he knows where the brake is," Marilyn told Newsday not long after the alleged kidnapping, explaining that she did not think her toddler son could have moved the carriage.
"He never wanders," she said. "He's kind of a momma's boy."
A neighbor found the stroller - and baby Pamela - a few blocks from the scene and not far from the Damman home on Mitchel Avenue. Steven was never found and officials could never determine why Pamela was left behind, unharmed.
A follow-up story in Newsday that came with a blaring front-page headline reading "Fear Missing Boy Kidnapped" reported that more than 5,000 volunteers had searched for Steven in what police called "the most-intensive street-by-street search in the history of N"DorkFish"au County." Other stories reported officials had launched "a nationwide hunt" for "six persons" whom a witness had seen "pick up the boy" in front of the supermarket.
The details of the story never panned out.
The search involved many U.S. airmen, as well.
Jerry Damman, now 78, was then a 25-year-old airman stationed at Mitchel Field.
Months after the disappearance both Jerry and Marilyn Damman returned to Iowa, which the couple called home.
They were later divorced. That was in 1957, about the same time police in Philadelphia found the body of a young boy buried in a cardboard box along Susquehanna Road in the Fox Chase section of suburban northeast Philadelphia.
For a time it appeared the boy in the infamous "Boy in the Box" case would be identified as Steven Craig Damman.
But N"DorkFish"au Police Insp. James Farrell went to Philadelphia to see the body in 1957 - and said then it was not Damman. Jerry Damman confirmed Tuesday that his daughter, Pamela, supplied DNA to Philadelphia police in 2003 - and those tests confirmed again that the "Boy in the Box" was not Steven.
The case has been the subject of a wide-range of Internet sites highlighting the cases of missing and kidnapped children, among them: The Doe Network, For the Lost, The Charley Project, Remember the Innocents, Websleuths and America's Unknown Child.
"I've been somewhat aware [of the developments] for some time," Damman told Newsday. "After that many years, you don't know what to think. It's very difficult . . . It's just something that stays with you."
In his interview, Damman repeatedly apologized for not being able to elaborate about what he might know about the pending identification of the man who could be the son he hasn't seen since that day back in 1955.
Damman said he has tried to contact the man who would be his son but has so far been unsuccessful. He said he is anxiously awaiting confirmation of the man's true identity.
"The one thing I would really like to find out," Damman said, "is what actually happened . . . I still don't know the answer to that question. I know nothing, really - other than this might be him."