Decades After His Adoption, This Man Found His Face On A Missing Person’s List
It’s the question that adopted children will eventually ask, and their adoptive parents will eventually have to explain: where do I come from? For Steven Carter Jr., those questions had increased in intensity as he grew older. His life story before his adoption was unclear — and even more bizarre, his birth certificate had been issued a month after his supposed birth date.
But when he heard a unique missing person story as an adult, he decided to take matters into his own hands and investigate. What he would discover would unravel one of the longest missing child cases in the United States: his own.
1. Breaking News
It was a typical work day early in 2011 for Philadelphia local Steven Carter Jr., a medical software salesman living in Bella Vista in the city’s south end. He was on his lunch break, and was casually scrolling through his phone when he got a breaking news notification from CNN.
It seemed intriguing enough, and clicking on those flashing news tickers is something people constantly do, even absentmindedly. But little did Steven realize that by opening that particular news notification, the story he was about to read would set him on a path to questioning everything about his past, his present, and his own identity. And the answers would make headlines.
2. A Unique Missing Person
The breaking news story was about a missing person case involving an Atlanta woman named Carlina White, who had gone missing after having been kidnapped as a newborn baby in hospital in New York. She had just realized as an adult what had happened to her and ended up solving her own case.
At just 19 days old, she had been taken back to the hospital while suffering from a fever. Under mysterious circumstances, in the middle of the night, a woman dressed as a nurse – but was not an employee – took her away. Carlina White had no idea she was missing until she was an adult. It was this account that made Steven Carter Jr. wonder about his own past. Little was he prepared, though, for what he would discover.
3. Tropical Beginnings
Steven’s confusing life story had begun on the utter opposite end of the nation, in the lush humid tropics of the Hawaiian islands. Not all of the details of the first years of his life were clear to Steven, but he knew he had been born with the name Tenzin Amea on January 16, 1977.
The way Steven had always understood his earliest years was that as a tiny infant he had been given up. He had then been in the care of the state, at an orphanage and later in foster care on the island of Oahu since he was but a few months old. But eventually his luck would change.
4. The Orphan
From what adult Steven could piece together from his few memories of such a young age, life at the orphanage wasn’t terrible. But little Tenzin yearned for a family, just like any parentless child at his age would. He had never known what it was like to have a ‘normal’ family.
One of his caretakers at the orphanage during that period of time, a woman named Caridad Balcita, would later remark on what a good boy he was. And when a local couple strolled into the orphanage on a visit in 1980, he immediately caught their eye. They knew they had to do something.
5. Prospective Parents
Steve Carter Sr. was a United States Army officer who was stationed in Hawaii on the island of Oahu with his wife Pat, a teacher. They were in a stable enough time of their life that they were looking to take it to the next step and enrich it by having a child.
That’s what led them to an Oahu orphanage, where they stumbled across a three-and-a-half-year-old boy who enchanted them from the moment they laid eyes on him. It was Tenzin Amea. Little did they know, however, what the truth was behind his history — one that the boy himself would only later find out.
6. Becoming A Family
Steven and Pat decided to make it official. On September 23, 1980 they filled out and turn in the necessary paperwork, and adopted the little boy. They had been told by the staff at the orphanage that Tenzin was half Native Hawaiian, which definitely raised an eyebrow because of his features.
The boy was quite pale, with blond hair and blue eyes, which seemed to contradict what they had been told about his heritage. Nevertheless, they took it at face value. Little was known about how the young child had come to be in the foster system in the first place. But they were determined to give him the best life they could going forward.
7. Charmed Childhood
The Fosters loved the little boy who had come into their lives. As they welcomed him into their little family they renamed him, granting him his adoptive father’s name — Steven Jr. They also honored his identity before adoption, naming him in full William Steven Tenzin Carter. Soon however, the family left Hawaii and moved to south New Jersey to the upscale community of Medford Lakes.
There in suburban New Jersey, Steven Jr. had the best childhood that his adoptive parents could provide. It was a privileged, charming, relatively ordinary upbringing, filled with sports, activities, games, and friends. And his parents made sure not to gloss over the key details of his early life, to make sure he would always remember.
8. Pieces Of Information
Though they had been told Steven’s birth father was ethnically Hawaiian, that was just about the only thing that the Fosters knew about their child’s past before he was admitted to the orphanage on Oahu. Besides his birth date and the date on which his birth certificate had been issued, they had scant little information.
Because Steven didn’t look even remotely Pacific Islander, the notion that he had Hawaiian roots even turned into an inside joke within the family. But Steven’s parents wanted to be as transparent as possible, and they knew they had to make sure their son knew as much of the truth as they did. So they took some pretty creative measures.
9. Adoption Celebrations
Many adoptive parents struggle with how to explain their child’s status as having been adopted, and at what time in their lives. Steven’s parents decided to embrace the uniqueness of his identity straight on. They chose to honor the anniversary of his adoption, September 23, every year by holding a celebration.
In the family, they dubbed the holiday, “Came To Be Our Boy Day.” They didn’t want to shy away from talking frankly about how Steven joined their family and what his past had been. But despite their best intentions, they had no idea what the truth behind Steve’s identity really was. Eventually, though, that would all change in an astonishing revelation.
10. Wanting To Learn More
Like any adopted child, as Steven grew up, he began to ask more and more questions about his biological parents. It was a highly unusual situation — and what’s more, his birth certificate had been issued a year after his birth. Why would that be so? Unfortunately for him, Steve Sr. and Pat barely knew anything.
They had the mere few grains of information that the orphanage in Oahu had told them. Steven carried the questions about his origins with him through his time in college at Penn State, and afterward as a young professional. It was only then that Steven would discover a big secret about his past that would shock not only him, but the nation.
11. Genetic Secrets
When Steve Jr. was already an adult, the advance of genetic technology finally caught up with the pace of his thirst for knowledge about his past. Once Christmas, when he was married and in his early 30s, he got a DNA test as a gift. Receiving the results would be the first piece leading him towards discovering the mystery of his past.
Steve discovered that he had Scandinavian roots, which wasn’t too surprising given his looks. More curious, however, was that the DNA test proved that he was not, in fact, Native Hawaiian, as he had been told. But this only left with him a desire to know more. His interest had been piqued. And this was merely the tip of the iceberg.
12. Carlina White
It was precisely at this moment, as Steven Jr. had become most curious about his past, that the CNN news ticker with the story of missing person Carlina White came up on his phone during his lunch break at work. As an adult, White had suspicions about her identity. After a great deal of digging, the woman who had raised White that she was not in fact her mother, but her kidnapper.
Although Steven didn’t necessarily think that something as dramatic as this could have happened to him, it opened a veritable Pandora’s box of possibilities. On a fluke, Steven decided to toy around and do a search on his own name. Because of the murky nature of his origin story, it couldn’t hurt to try.
13. The Search Begins
Steven was cautiously intrigued, unsure of what he might find. As directed by the news clip he had seen about Carlina White, he went to the missing person database at missingkids.com, which was administered by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. He then entered the birth date he had always been told was his own.
He proceeded to narrow the parameters of the search by looking for missing person results just from Hawaii, holding his breath as the page loaded. His eyes scanned the page for his birth name, and while it did not pop up, he found something far more incredible, something he had never expected in a million years.
14. Marx Panama
Steven’s birth name as told to his parents by the orphanage, Tenzin Amea, was nowhere to be found. Instead, his search on the missing person website came up with a name he’d never heard before: “Marx Panama Moriarty-Barnes.” The boy Marx had been listed as missing ever since July 1977.
The details for Marx’s case matched the time and place of Steven’s own arrival at the orphanage in Oahu. What’s more, there was an artist’s rendering of what Marx might have looked like after having aged more than 30 years. Steven’s heart skipped a beat. The drawing chilled him to the core.
15. Unbelievable Portrait
The artistic rendering was nothing short of uncanny in its familiarity. For Steven, seeing the time-altered drawing of the missing person Marx presented on the website was precisely like looking into a mirror. It was as though his eyes had been playing tricks on him. He had chills all over.
Despite his burning curiosity, the whole thing was just too bizarre to believe at first glance. Refusing to believe the coincidence at first, he quickly sent the image off to several close friends to ask their opinion. Did they think this looked like him too? Or was he just imagining things that weren’t there?
16. Keep Digging
Steven’s friends were all just as flabbergasted as he was from the picture he’d sent them from the missing person website, and they encouraged him to continue his search. He sent the picture to his parents and consulted with them to keep them involved in the process. His wife, Tracey, also urged him to push forward.
Though he was merely acting on a hunch, the coincidences were too striking to be ignored. Steven simply had to trust his gut feeling. This was the biggest lead he’d ever had in trying to understand where he had come from. He picked up the phone — and dialed the Honolulu Police Department.
17. In The Hands Of The Law
The police in Hawaii wanted to corroborate the details of the missing person Marx Panama Moriarty-Barnes’ case with Steven’s own details. It was quite extraordinary to suddenly hear from someone out of the blue like this, a full three-and-a-half decades after the child had gone missing, so they were skeptical.
Nonetheless, the Honolulu Police Department gave Steven the benefit of the doubt. He had already done one genetics test to determine his roots, and now he would have to do another DNA test — to potentially determine his true identity. He would have to wait another eight months, however, for the results.
18. New Parents In Paradise
The missing person case of Marx Panama Moriarty-Barnes had all started on June 21, 1977. Vietnam War veteran Mark Barnes, a native of Santa Cruz, California, was working in Hawaii at the time as a journalist. He and his girlfriend, Charlotte Moriarty, were living there with their baby Marx, who was just half-a-year-old, in the town of Hau’ula on Oahu’s North Shore.
Mark was building roots for his young family and was satisfied with how his home was coming along. With his neighbor’s help, he’d just completed building a deck out front. Now he was busy at work, filling it with flowers. It was one day while gardening that his girlfriend Charlotte told him she’d take the baby for a walk around town. He didn’t give it a second thought. But the two were about to disappear from his world.
19. Never Came Home
As Mark Barnes continued gardening, planting birds-of-paradise to decorate his newly-completed front deck, Charlotte prepared the baby and put him in a stroller. She calmly said they were on their way to just go shopping at a store a mere three blocks away from where they lived. Mark didn’t think anything out of the ordinary as they all went about these commonplace activities.
Hau’ula was a small residential area, so it was bound to just be a leisurely stroll. But as the minutes turned to hours, Mark realized something was terribly wrong. Neither she nor baby Marx returned home from that walk on that June day.
20. Vanished In Thin Air
It’s unclear precisely where Charlotte Moriarty went with her baby on that June day. She was described as having a reputation for being a free spirit with a capricious nature, but this disappearance came totally out of the blue. Had something happened to them? Could they have got lost? After three weeks, Mark involved the local police and reported his girlfriend and son as missing.
There were no clear motives nor an abundance of information. Had they been kidnapped? Or had Charlotte absconded with her and Mark’s child? The police on Oahu looked for them all over, and posted missing person flyers across the island. But they had no leads whatsoever. Quite simply, the pair seemed to have vanished.
21. A Father’s Heartbreak
Mark Barnes was heartbroken and torn apart. For a year-and-a-half he searched for his partner and his baby. His desperate quest led him all across the Hawaiian Islands. He had no information whatsoever. Could they be in Hawaii? Could they be in the mainland US or another country? Were they both alive? And if so, in what condition?
For decades, there wouldn’t be any answers to fill the void that had opened on the day the two had vanished from his life. It forever haunted and devastated him. Over the years, he still expected that there would be a phone call, or someone would come knocking on his front door. But the truth was far more crazy.
22. True Whereabouts
All that time, though, Mark’s baby boy Marx was still in Hawaii, on Oahu itself. When Charlotte had walked out of the Hau’ula home with the baby, she had ended up stealing away with the infant to the other end of the island. After an unclear amount of time, they were spotted trespassing in a stranger’s home, and the cops were called.
When the authorities came, Charlotte invented names, calling herself Jane Amea, and the boy Tenzin Amea. So that they wouldn’t make the connection that the baby was a missing person. She even made up his date of birth and told the police his father was Native Hawaiian. That way, unknowingly, she had further blocked Mark from ever finding them. But why?
23. Forever Separated
Charlotte was ultimately separated from her baby and put in a psychiatric hospital. Marx, under the name of Tenzin, was surrendered to the state and placed in an orphanage, at just six months old. Neither the staff at the orphanage nor the police were any the wiser about the fact that he was actually a missing person.
Worst of all, Mark didn’t know his baby boy was all alone in custody, with just 30 miles separating between them from the other side of the island. When Charlotte was released from psychiatric evaluation, she disappeared into thin air, never to be heard from again. But there was one more character in the tragic tale — one who catapulted everyone closer to the truth.
24. A Sister’s Love
One other person had not given up hope on finding baby Marx. It was the boy’s older half-sister, Jennifer Monnheimer. Eight years older than Marx, Charlotte Moriarty was also her mother. At the time of her baby brother’s disappearance in 1977, she had been living with her father in New Mexico.
Growing up having both her mother and her baby brother as missing persons was indescribably challenging. Their sudden and unexplained disappearance traumatized her terribly, and all throughout her childhood, she would constantly look for her mother and brother in crowds. So in 2001, Jennifer stepped forward and did something crucial.
25. Jennifer’s Mission
To find answers, Jennifer would have to investigate the place she had spent her earliest years. She turned to the authorities in Hawaii, asking them to reopen the missing person’s case for her little brother. This was what led to the fateful and realistic sketch that Steven Jr. had stumbled upon, 10 years later.
Without realizing it, Jennifer’s refusal to give up and the fact that she had started the search up again was about to completely change the direction of this missing person case. Without Jennifer’s insistence, Steven would have never been shaken into thinking Marx Panama Barnes-Moriarty might be him. And the test results were in.
26. Confirmation Day
The DNA results from the Honolulu Police Department were the final link in the chain. The circle had been officially closed, and the missing person case solved after more than 30 years, by its very own subject. William Steven Tenzin Carter was blown away now knowing that he had, in fact, been born Marx Panama Barnes-Moriarty.
As it turned out, for almost the entirety of his life, Steven Jr. had been a missing person, and neither he nor anyone in his adoptive family had even an inkling that this was the case. The news was electrifying and it was quickly making headlines in the media. It was up to him to make the next move.
27. A Bitter Pill
For Steven Jr., the story was a lot to process. His parents, Steve and Pat, took the entire story quite hard. As the people who had adopted him and taken him out of the orphanage, learning that their baby was in fact a missing person was very rough on their spirits.
As press began to catch wind of the extraordinary story, Pat remarked that she felt gutted. “I felt like we’d taken someone else’s child, though that wasn’t true,” the Daily Mail quoted her as saying. It was clear to everyone that this was not going to be the kind of story resulting in a parent-child reunion where the pair meet the day after the discovery. Several months later, though, Steven was ready.
28. Connecting Two Worlds
He had closed the case with the police, and now, after taking several months to acclimate to his new reality as a former missing person, Steven Carter Jr. felt he was prepared to finally close the case with his biological family. He picked up the phone and made first contact — with his older half-sister, Jennifer.
She was absolutely floored, experiencing the most incredible elation coupled with the feeling of finally being able to let go of that trauma, that fear from the past, constantly searching the crowds. Over a series of hours-long phone calls, they got to know each other, to discover their similarities, their likes and dislikes. And she pushed him to reach out to one more person.
29. Father And Son
Now living in California with two other daughters, Mark Barnes picked up the phone. On the other line was a grown man who told him he was his son Marx. The missing person case was over. It was a moment he had waited for all of his adult life. It took Mark’s breath away out of total shock. All he could say was “Wow.”
Trembling, he asked Steven Jr. where his mother was. But Steven posed the same question back at him, because naturally he himself had no idea. His father had assumed that Charlotte had gone and raised Marx by herself. Now the journey was nearly complete. But there were still some unsolved questions.
30. Piece By Piece
Steven Jr. took the whole saga of his discovery at his own pace before trying to meet his long-lost biological relatives in person. He still has so many questions that remain yet unanswered. For instance, what happened in the three-week period between his disappearance from Hau’ula and his arrival at the orphanage?
But even more glaring were the questions about why he even became a missing person, Charlotte’s motives and rationale. What could have possessed his birth mother to do such a thing? Was it postpartum depression? Another form of mental illness? Regardless, and despite the fact that he may never find her and never know, he’d solved one of the most incredible and longest-running missing child cases in American history.
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