A Story of Business, Black Market Babies, and Suspicious Deaths | Alabama News
By AMY HENDERSON, The Cullman Times
ATHENS, Alabama (AP) – It’s a story that has it all: a love story, a baby sold on the black market, family secrets, suspicious deaths and a group of women who come together to use DNA and family genealogy to solve a mystery.
It all started with a tale as old as time: a young woman meets a young man and nature takes its course. The young woman in this case was Marcella Holsapple, who was a waitress at a restaurant in Colby, Kansas, in 1937. In an old black and white photo, Marcella stands outside a restaurant advertising a 25 cent lunch and of “ladies’ tables”. She is striking: tall, slender, her dark hair pulled back, a hint of a smile evident as she looks into the camera. Mel’s Diner was the namesake of owner Melvil Wesley Bever, a young and handsome man with a reputation for being a ladies’ man.
They had a relationship – it is not known how long it lasted – and in November or December 1937, Marcella found herself pregnant. In April, Bever married his fiancee, another waitress at the restaurant.
Nineteen-year-old Marcella got on a bus bound for Denver, some 240 miles west.
‘A BAD CHILDHOOD’
Sheila Stickler and her older brother, Stan, didn’t know when they were kids that their parents, Grace and Ruben Delander, weren’t their biological parents. Sheila’s daughters Shari Wheeler and Susie Stickler say it wasn’t until adulthood that the truth came out.
Grace, by all accounts, lied – about her pregnancy, her name, her age – and abused her children. “She was just crazy,” Susie said. “Our mother had a very bad childhood.”
There were signs that something was wrong. The children had never had a birth certificate and Grace had a different story each time. She changed the names of the towns where the children were born; she even changed Sheila’s name several times. Stan remembers that at the age of 4 “he would go to a hot place in the summer to pick up a baby”, but they did not interview their parents.
Ruben died young, when Sheila was between 3 and 5 years old. Grace told her children that he died of cirrhosis of the liver, although Ruben has been described by his family as young, healthy and sober.
Grace, a schoolteacher, moved frequently and eventually married Lynn Cole, a man Susie and Shari described as “very, very kind” and who would become the grandfather they knew and loved. He adopted Stan and Sheila.
When Shelia went to college and around her 21st birthday, she received a letter from Ruben’s old friend, John D. Ebert. In it, Ebert said Ruben asked him to wait until Stan and Sheila were older to tell them the truth, and then he told the story of Grace and Ruben buying the two children on the Denver black market. Each baby cost the couple $ 25, about $ 450 in today’s dollars.
Stan confronted Grace, who denied the story. Grace said John made up the story and asked to see the letter.
Then she and Lynn drove to Ebert’s house in Kansas. He had never married and had no family. According to Shari and Susie, Lynn waited in the car while Grace entered Ebert’s house. About 45 minutes later, they said, she came out running, her face pale, shouting at Lynn to start the car, “We have to get out of here, the old man is dead!” ” she told him.
Shari said that over the years she and Susie would encourage her mother to seek her family back. “They’re all dead,” Sheila said.
Three years ago, however, she relented. “She was really hesitant,” Shari said. “So I logged in as her, and found out there was a girl living in DC and she was up there (online).” The woman, however, was not interested in connecting. Her grandfather, she said, was a famous womanizer in Kansas and that wasn’t something the family wanted to talk about.
Shari contacted another known relative, Kim Clark, via Facebook. Clark, who lives in Huntsville, submitted his DNA around the same time as Sheila.
Shari told Kim the whole story.
“Kim’s exact words were, ‘I’ll help you figure this out,’” Shari said. “And I didn’t know how we were going to do this because we had nothing to do. All we had was an August 1938 postcard showing these people (Reuben and Grace) were in Denver.
Kim said she started digging and asked for help from her first cousin, Wanda Carwile, who lives in Athens. Wanda is the “genealogy guru” for the family, with photo albums and newspaper clippings and family history pieces collected over generations.
There was an ancestor they thought was Sheila’s mother. “I had an ancestor who loved being around men,” Kim said.
“She was a little rambunctious,” Wanda added.
His son’s DNA, however, refuted their theory.
By that time, Susie had submitted her DNA to 23 and me and Shari had sent hers to Ancestry.com. “We just kept going through our list on Ancestry and 23 and Me,” Shari said. Wanda researched family information she provided to Kim, who scoured social media for names and clues.
Eventually, Shari heard from a woman in Washington, the mother of the woman they had contacted previously. Her father was Melvil Bever, and according to DNA testing it was possible that she and Sheila were half-sisters. “She was so excited to have a stepsister,” Shari said.
On this side of the family, they learned more about Sheila’s biological father, but the search for her biological mother continued.
Meanwhile, a Colorado woman received a DNA test kit from her daughters for Christmas. “All of a sudden it appeared I had a new match on Ancestry,” Shari said. “He said it was Sue Munn.”
Shari immediately called Kim. “I looked on his Facebook page and some of the last names on his friends list were my parents,” Kim said. “They were unusual last names, so I knew they had to be related.”
Wanda, too, was familiar with this branch of the family and had corresponded with Marcella over the years.
They bonded with Sue, who wasn’t surprised Marcella could have another daughter. An only child, Sue remembers her mother filling out a government form and answering the question “how many births have you had” with “two”. Sue questioned her mother, who said she had had a child but was stillborn. Throughout her life, there were other instances where Marcella mentioned a stillborn child.
Marcella died in 2016 at the age of 98. No one knows if she knew the real fate of the girl she gave birth to in the summer of 1938, or if she was one of the many young women at the time who were told their babies were dead, just for the sake of it. be sold on the black market.
THE “SELF-DISCOVERY JOURNEY”
Recently, 83-year-old Sheila and her daughters decided to meet the family they never knew. Sue and Sheila met and bonded instantly. “It was like they had always been sisters,” Shari said. “And they look a lot alike.”
They also saw the similarity with Marcella. “There are pictures of our teenage mother that look a lot like Marcella,” Shari said.
A photo of Melvil’s sisters shows that Sheila also looks like this aspect of her heritage.
Sheila, whose health has deteriorated in recent years, feared she would die before she could meet all of these new family members. “We said, let’s do it. Let’s go on this journey of self-discovery across the country, ”said Shari.
They left their Idaho home in a small RV, visited cousins in Michigan, and traveled to West Virginia to visit family on their father’s side. While there, Sheila contracted an infection and her daughters sent her home to recover.
On October 18, the sisters met with Wanda and Kim in Athens to review family records and determine the new family tree.
“It’s an amazing story and it would never have been known without this work that you all have done,” said Shari, pointing to the family history provided by Wanda and the detective work Kim did.
Susie said they’re not quite sure what Sheila thinks about all of this. “I think she’s really excited to have all of these new sisters,” she said.
And Wanda, the only one in the group who knows Marcella, thinks their parent would have been delighted her daughters had reunited. “She would have been thrilled,” Wanda said.
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