Kristin Smart was an ordinary 19-year-old girl who went to a college party with her friends one evening in May 1996. She left the California Polytechnic State University campus to go to a birthday party, and the events of that evening aren’t very clear. What we do know is that three other students walked her back to her dorms. Unfortunately, she was never seen after that. Her disappearance remained a mystery for nearly three decades.
Twenty-five years after Kristin disappeared, her parents still didn’t get answers. With more attention focused on Kristin’s case, law enforcement went in full swing, trying to find leads. With technological advancement and new evidence, is it possible that this mystery will finally be solved, after twenty-five years? Will detectives be able to get to the bottom of the case once and for all? Well, it seems as though an arrest could be on the horizon.
This is the case of Kristin’s Smart’s tragic disappearance.
Meet Kristin Smart
Teachers Stan and Denice welcomed their eldest daughter Kristin into the world back in 1977. The couple was in Europe on business. At the time, they were working with the children of servicemen, so Kristin was born in Augsburg, Germany. However, the family moved back to the United States and lived in Stockton, CA.
According to her parents, Kristin was ambitious and adventurous from a very young age. She was so loving and caring, especially when her little brother and sister came along. Even as a child, she showered her siblings with attention. She was family-oriented and developed a love for travel. She enjoyed planning little trips for her family.
The Heart of a Traveler
The older she got, the more Kristin used her vacation time to get out and see different parts of the world. For example: when she was in high school, she went to Venezuela and sharpened up her Spanish skills. She just loved to experience different cultures. Kristin landed a wonderful job in Hawaii, where she worked as a lifeguard at a camp in 1995 – just one year before she disappeared.
June of that year, Kristin also graduated from Stockton’s Lincoln High School, and she was ready for college. She traveled south to San Luis Obispo to attend Cal Poly and began her college education. She was a beautiful, ambitious student with her whole life ahead of her. Sadly, her dreams and life got cut tragically short.
A Fun Night Out
On Friday, May 24th, 1996, the country was getting ready to enjoy the Memorial Day weekend. Normally, Kristin would call her parents on Sunday nights, but this time she decided to give them a ring a couple of days early. Her parents weren’t home, so Kristin left them a voicemail. What nobody expected was that it was the last time Stan and Denise would hear their daughter’s voice.
That night, Kristin and her friends wanted to have a night out and looked for a fun party to go to. The social college freshman wanted to go to some venue off-campus, but the friends she was out with didn’t feel like leaving. She ultimately left her friends a few blocks away from where another student was hosting his birthday party.
Under the Influence
According to her friends, Kristen didn’t touch any alcohol at that point. But other reports stated otherwise. Apparently, some witnesses spotted the young lady drinking vodka throughout the night. However, contradicting claims stated that Kristin was completely sober. Either way, the witness reports from that party were unclear.
Whether or not it was at the party, it seems as though at some point, Kristin was indeed intoxicated. Two students, Tim Davis and Cheryl Anderson noticed Kristin at about 2:00 a.m. She was lying down, completely passed out in front of the neighboring property. The two of them picked her up and helped her get back to her dorm. They just wanted to help.
Sketchy Kid on Campus
However, Anderson and Davis didn’t get anywhere before Paul Flores joined them. He was another student who lived near Kristin. Later, it was discovered that he was already in trouble with the police because he supposedly tried to break into a woman’s apartment. For some reason, law enforcement didn’t notify campus police at Cal Poly.
Nevertheless, the four of them headed towards the dorms, and Paul picked up Kristin as they walked. When they finally got to campus, Tim left to go to his car, and according to Cheryl, this is when things started to get weird. Supposedly, Paul kept telling her to go away so that he can be left alone with the drunk Kristin.
Where is Kristin?
Cheryl and Paul both walked to her dorm and said goodnight to Kristin. After that, nobody knows what happened to the 19-year-old. Paul claimed that he walked with her to his room before going back to her room alone. But Kristin never made it back to her room. Initially, her friends weren’t too worried.
They were kind of wondering why she didn’t show up to breakfast for two days in a row, but they thought she was safe. They didn’t consider that something might have happened to her. Kristin’s roommate Crystal Calvin spent the weekend away, and when she got back on May 27th, the real panic was raised.
The Concerned Roommate
Crystal was confused when she noticed that all of Kristin’s things were placed exactly where they were placed when she left on Friday evening. The most concerning part was that no one had any clue where the young college student was. Crystal asked everyone in the dorm if they noticed her around, but no one could remember seeing her in days.
Subsequently, Crystal contacted the campus police. Since it was Memorial Day weekend, things were moving slowly. A lot of the students go away for long weekends; the officers figured Kristin is probably one of them. Investigators contacted her mother, who confirmed that Kristin did not come home. That’s when they realized they have a missing person on their hands.
Let the Investigation Begin…
The next day, a campaign was launched by Kristin’s family and friends to help find the missing girl. The police on campus, as well as in San Luis Obispo, began an official investigation, but it was almost a week after the party when they finally started questioning students. Among the students who got interviewed were Cheryl Anderson, Tim Davis, and Paul Flores.
At the time of questioning, it was obvious that Paul had a black eye. When detectives asked him how he got it, Paul claimed the injury happened during a basketball game – a teammate later denied this statement. Despite the bizarre circumstances and their strong suspicions, campus authorities never searched Paul’s dorm room.
Number One Suspect
The college police admitted defeat weeks later and asked for help from the San Luis Obispo district attorney. As the investigation continued, Paul was looking more and more suspicious. He told different stories about how he obtained the black eye on various occasions. He was also noticeably reluctant to take a polygraph test.
The investigation into Kristin’s disappearance proceeded, and Paul left San Luis Obispo for the summer to spend time with his parents. Once he was gone, police brought cadaver dogs to search his room. Apparently, the dogs gravitated towards the mattress, in particular, suggesting something terrible might have happened in the Cal Poly dorms.
Another piece of strong evidence was found in Arroyo Grande, about 17 miles from the Cal Poly campus. Reportedly, Paul’s parents owned property there, and it was empty at the time Kristin disappeared. But in the past few weeks, a new tenant had already moved in. One day, she found an earring in her driveway.
Since she was aware of the link between the home and the missing girl, the tenant gave the abandoned earing to detectives. Frustratingly, it was mysteriously misplaced. After hearing the description of the earing, Kristin’s mom Denise was certain it was her daughter’s. No matter how much the family pressured the police, this essential piece of evidence was strangely never found.
Six months after Kristin went missing, in November 1997, her family accused Paul Flores of wrongful death in court. The suspicious young man continued to deny playing a role in this strange mystery. With no solid evidence, he was never charged. Although they never stopped looking for their daughter, two years after Kristin’s disappearance, her parents made a heartbreaking decision.
In May 2002, Stan and Denise legally declared Kristin dead. By that point, a new law came into play, known as the Kristin Smart Campus Security Act. It mandated improved communication between local law enforcement and campus police. Unfortunately, that policy came too late to save Kristin’s seemingly botched case.
A New Lead
Seventeen years after the law was introduced, investigators discovered a new lead in the cold case. With the assistance of cadaver dogs, police searched an area located next to Kristin’s dorm. Reportedly, several interesting items were found during the search. However, details regarding the results weren’t released yet.
But in September 2019, Kristin’s case returned to the spotlight thanks to musician Chris Lambert. During an episode of his podcast, Your Own Backyard, Lambert discussed allegations that the missing teenager was buried under the concrete of that home Paul’s parents owned. Supposedly, witnesses even heard beeping from the Arroyo Grande property yard, and it was around the same time Kristin’s alarm would go off.
A Break in the Case
Lambert also mentioned that there had been a number of reports from women who say they have been assaulted or harassed by Paul. Thanks to the limelight suddenly returning to the case, the potential suspect seemed extremely suspicious. By January 2020, Kristin’s family got some unexpected news.
It was reported by CA newspaper The Record, that Denise Smart was told by the FBI that she “might want to get away for a while.” Apparently, a big break in Kristin’s case was about to come to light. Understandably, the family anxiously waited to hear the news. Is it really possible that this case can finally be closed after all these years?
Well, Maybe Not…
In the January 18th article, Denise stated: “I wish I knew when [the break is going to come] because it’s very anxiety-producing. It’s like, ‘Can you give me the flight plan? When is this happening?” Just a few days later, a statement was released by Kristin’s family that appeared to contradict previous claims.
The Smart family clarified that it wasn’t the bureau who reached out to them, it was a retired FBI agent who was a friend of the family. They went on to say that there is no expected announcement related to Kristin’s disappearance – it was delayed by authorities. I can only imagine what this poor family has gone through. They already lost their daughter. They just want to know what happened to her.
The Big Announcement
But all of that changed exactly one week later. On January 29th, a press conference was issued by the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office, confirming a development in the Kristin Smart case. At this point, detectives supposedly had their hands on two trucks that the Flores family owned at the time of Kristin’s disappearance.
In the press release, law enforcement did acknowledge that they had two vehicles in their possession; however, they didn’t say how long they have had them for. Still, they explained how since a new sheriff took over the investigation in 2011, there have been developments in the case. According to the police department, throughout the last nine years, 18 search warrants related to the case were executed.
In addition, police claimed to have traveled to nine different areas to look for physical evidence that may lead them to solve this tragic case. At the same time, detectives re-examined all the statements and information that they already had on record. Since technology has significantly improved since the ’90s, 37 items in evidence were sent for DNA testing.
Officers stated that due to this process, since 2011, they were able to acquire 140 pieces of additional evidence. On top of all that, investigators conducted over 90 interviews and documented over 360 new reports. Police estimate that about 7,500 hours and $62,000 were spent on trying to solve this case.
Secret Search Locations
In their statement, Law enforcement didn’t bring up any dramatic revelations, but a big announcement was about to come. The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s office released a second public message on February 5th. This time, they confirmed that they executed search warrants in four different locations in Washington State and California.
Understandably, the officers weren’t able to release exact locations being investigated. Either way, local news station KCAL-TV exposed a new dimension to the story. Supposedly, they were able to get ahold of one of the locations, and the address was a house in San Pedro, CA. It happens to be the home of now 43-year-old Paul Flores. Finally!
Looking into the Only Suspect
The news station didn’t stop there. They went on to report that police detained a guy who matches the suspect’s description outside the San Pedro residence. He was led into a police car wearing handcuffs and was eventually released after being held in custody for two hours. Meanwhile, investigators made their way to Arroyo Grande, where they stopped by Paul’s mother, Susan’s home.
According to The Tribune, a San Luis Obispo newspaper, detectives used caution tape to seal off the entire property as a small crowd watched. Some people allegedly started screaming, “Dig her up;” perhaps they heard Lambert’s podcast. Later on that day, police were seen leaving the house carrying multiple pieces of potential evidence. This included a storage container and a computer.
During the late hours of the night, the County Sheriff’s office spokesman, Tony Cipolla, released a statement. He confirmed that investigators did, in fact, find “some items of interest” during that search. During an interview with The New York Times, he added: “We will now analyze those and see how they relate to the case. We would like nothing more than to bring closure to the Smart family in this case.”
Kristin’s family thinks that Lambert’s popular podcast played a huge part in the latest developments of the case. Even before February 5th, the Smarts thanked the musician for speaking about their daughter’s case: “Your Own Backyard has been instrumental in renewing interest in Kristin’s investigation and generating many new leads.”
An Ongoing Investigation
Cipolla pointed out that the police department and law enforcement have always been dedicated to solving the Kristin Smart case. He explained in a statement, “This has always been an active investigation; it’s never been a cold case.” There is no denying that the investigation did not start off on the right foot. However, investigators seem more motivated than ever to solve the mystery.
They put a lot of resources and energy to figure out what happened to Kristin on that fateful night over two decades ago. With the recent searches and new evidence, we are praying a resolution is on its way. The grieving Smart family has been wondering where their daughter is for years. We only pray that the truth comes out, and they can finally start moving on.
Authorities got a warrant to search the home of Ruben Flores’ (father of long-time suspect Paul Flores) in Arroyo Grande. Without specifying what was found, the sheriff said: “Additional evidence related to the Smart investigation was discovered at that time.”
For decades, Paul Flores has been the prime suspect in the Kristin Smart missing person case. Officials stated that at the time of her disappearance, Flores was a 19-year-old freshman who walked Smart home and the last known person to see her on May 25th, 1996.
Items of Interest
Paul Flores’ home had already been searched a year ago, and investigators said they found “items of interest” on the property. Flores was detained in his California home at the time and released after the search. They conducted a massive search and re-interviewed the student who walked her home that fateful night. In 2002, Smart was declared dead.
In 2016, the clues and leads indicated that Smart’s body was buried somewhere on campus. The FBI flew in three cadaver dogs from their training facility in Quantico, Virginia and investigators dug up part of the hillside next to where the “P” (the school’s trademark) is embedded. Unfortunately, they found nothing.
More on this case once the trial begins and the evidence is released to the public.
Kristin’s disappearance was a tough case. She was so young and had her whole life ahead of her. This can happen to any college student. She just wanted a night out, but sadly she never came home. Unfortunately, people go missing way too often, but it’s not every day that a girl solves her own kidnapping.
When Carolina White was only 19 days old, she was kidnapped from the hospital. Carolina spent her whole life believing that the woman who raised her was her mother, when in fact, she was her kidnapper. When she was a young adult, she was finally reunited with her real family. This is how Carolina White solved her own missing case.
Carlina White was born on July 15, 1987. She grew up being known as Nejdra “Netty” Nance, and the young woman actually solved her own kidnapping case. When she was 19 days old, she was taken out of the Harlem Hospital Center in New York City, but it wasn’t by her mother. For years, the girl was living with and being raised by a woman who she could only believe was her mother. But in fact, it was her kidnapper.
Carlina only got to meet her biological parents when she was 23 years, which makes her case the longest known gap in a non-parental abduction in the United States where the victim is reunited with the family. Yes, it’s incredible. And yes, it’s a story for the movies. In fact, Carlina’s story was made into a television movie on Lifetime called “Abducted: The Carlina White Story.”
This is her remarkable story…
Nedjra “Netty” Nance
Netty Nance now 33 years old, and it’s been ten years since her story made headlines, and she was able to meet her real parents. She, too, is a parent, and in her words, “If it wasn’t for me getting pregnant, this never would have come out.” What Netty is referring to is the dramatic discovery she made that completely upended her life.
She spent a lot of time and energy, both embracing this revelation as well as trying to wish it away. In 2004, when Netty was a senior in high school, she lived in a poor neighborhood in Bridgeport, Connecticut, when she found out that she was pregnant. By that fall, she couldn’t hide it anymore. Nor did she want to – she was excited to be a mom!
How It All Began
Her cousin, Brittany, was also pregnant, and they spoke about being mothers together. But Netty needed prenatal care, and to get free services from the state of Connecticut, she had to show her birth certificate. And that’s when the story really began. Her father, a man named Robert Nance, was an occasional drug dealer who only saw Netty from time to time.
It was her mother, Ann Pettway, who did all the raising and support. But when the time came one day when Netty asked her mother for her birth certificate, Ann just brushed her off. “She said she was going to handle it,” Netty recalled. But Netty got tired of waiting, so she looked through her mother’s things. And she found something.
Accused of a False Identity
Netty found a document with her name and birth date on it, and she took it to the Bureau of Vital Statistics in New Haven. The clerk, however, couldn’t find her records. Netty wasn’t happy, and when she pressed on, a supervisor even accused her of trying to assume a fake identity.
The supervisor told the pregnant teenager that if she kept trying to pass off this document that she had as an I.D., she might be arrested. Netty was furious. “Keep it,” she said to the woman and stormed out of the office. When she got home, she told her mother what happened. Ann just shook her head and said, “I told you I was going to handle everything.”
The First Lie
Soon after, the Department of Children and Families called looking for Netty’s mother. Netty wasn’t in the know of their conversation. For all she knew, they told her that without proper I.D., Netty needed to enter their system and become a ward of the state. But whatever it was that they spoke about, Ann told Netty several days later, before she was leaving for work, that she wanted to talk to her when she came home.
When Ann came home that evening, she went straight up to Netty’s room, sat down on her bed, and started crying. In her whole life, Netty never saw her mother shed even one tear. “What are you crying for?” Netty asked her. “Your mom left you,” Ann told her, “and she never came back.” It was the first time Netty was told a lie that completely changed her life.
A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
It wasn’t until a full seven years later that Netty learned the rest of the story. She would eventually learn that her real name was Carlina White, and that was abducted as a newborn, 19 days after her birth, from Harlem Hospital only to never be seen again. And perhaps most shocking of all was for Netty to realize that this woman she called mom wasn’t even her mother.
Not only was Ann Pettway, not Netty’s real mother, but according to the police, she was her kidnapper. So who are her real parents? Their names are Joy White and Carl Tyson, and the couple had been the first among their friends to have a baby. The year was 1987.
Young, in Love, and Pregnant
Carl was 22, a truck driver who worked nights in a parking garage. Joy was 16 and still in high school. They each grew up in Harlem housing projects nearby one another. They had been dating for a year when Joy called Carl up at work one day, telling him that she felt sick. The pregnancy clearly wasn’t planned, but the couple chose to stay together.
Their baby girl, Carlina, was born at Harlem Hospital on July 15 and weighed a healthy eight pounds. Joy had the help of her mother, who took care of the baby at her home. Carl would come by every night after his shift. But on August 4, when Carlina was just 19 days old, she developed a dangerously high fever.
“The Baby Don’t Cry For You, You Cry For the Baby.”
Joy and Carl took the baby back to the hospital that she was born in. As they came in, Carl remembers being directed by a heavyset black woman, who looked to be in her 20s, wearing a nurse’s uniform. Carl didn’t really think twice about it at the time, but he looked for her name tag and couldn’t find one.
The doctor told the couple that they wanted Carlina to spend the night at the hospital for monitoring, and so Carl searched for a phone, so they could call their mothers. When he looked down the hall, he saw the young woman in the nurse’s uniform talking with Joy. “The baby doesn’t cry for you, you cry for the baby,” is what the nurse told Joy.
Little Did They Know
In essence, she was telling Joy that the baby was fine – that it was Joy who needed help. Carl remembers thinking it was a strange way to console a young mother. The couple then left the hospital together at around 12:30 a.m., at the same time as the nurses’ shift change. Carl then took Joy to her mother’s apartment, and he went home and went to sleep.
Carl’s phone rang at about 6 a.m. It was the police calling from Joy’s mother’s apartment. A detective told him that Carlina was missing. Joy grabbed the phone and screamed: “Please get here!” When Carl got there, police cars were everywhere, and detectives crowded the hallways. Little did either of them know that last night was the last time they would see their daughter.
An Inside Job
Inside the home, Joy was in a state that any mother would be in after hearing to such news; she was in pieces, sobbing. And soon Carl was, too. The hospital learned that Carlina was gone at 3:40 a.m. And whoever took her unhooked her IV tubes and left without being seen. The hospital claimed, though, that the baby was being checked every five minutes.
The police believed that the kidnapper knew the hospital routines really well and knew to take Carlina at just the right window of time. They suspected a heavyset woman whose staff members had seen around the hospital for the last few months. The woman wasn’t a nurse, the hospital said, but passed as one, even convincing other nurses that she belonged there. It was the woman Carl noticed right away.
No Sign of Them
Joy remembered that strange remark the woman told her that night in front of the hospital room. “She was trying to get rid of me,” Joy later said, “so she could take my baby away from me.” For a while, police thought they had a suspect – a 31-year-old woman by the name of Lucy Brockington. She was already wanted for car theft and fit the description.
Detectives even tracked her down in Baltimore and questioned her. But they ultimately decided that she had an alibi. And unfortunately, after that, they had nothing. There was no sign of the woman nor the baby. Carlina White was gone. And her parents were in shambles.
Everything Fell Apart
Joy was out of school for a year and had to take anti-anxiety medication to get through the day, also going to therapy several times a week. Carl said he “would hardly eat. I was angry with everyone. My temper was short.” He would go over that night at the hospital over and over again, asking why Joy didn’t just stay at the hospital.
He asked himself, “Why didn’t I stay?” His presence only reminded Joy of Carlina, as did hers for Carl. “It was so much to handle,” Carl recalled. They ended up breaking up about a year after Carlina vanished. It would take more than two decades, but Carl would later say, “I always felt that my daughter was going to come back. I didn’t know when, but I knew. Joy was the same way. She always had that feeling.” Carl, who’s large with bright eyes and caramel skin, had has a resemblance to Netty that is unmistakable.
Who is Ann Pettway?
Ann Pettway grew up in the East End of Bridgeport. She went to Warren Harding High School, the same high school that Netty would go to. Ann was a popular and fun girl to be around. “Everybody said she used to be bad,” Netty said about her. “She was out there with those Speedo shorts on, tube tops.” And she sure did have a bad streak.
As a teenager, Ann served a month in jail for larceny in a nearby town. Later, she would be caught in minor theft and forgery schemes, as well as one pot bust. But according to David Daniels, a Bridgeport police officer who knew the family, “she wasn’t a hell-raiser.”
She Said She Was Pregnant
In 1987, the year Netty was born, Ann told her friends and family that she was pregnant. Everyone figured the father was the boyfriend had been seeing on and off, a man named Robert Nance. One of Ann’s younger sisters, Cassandra Johnson, later told the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children that the first time she Ann with a baby was when Ann arrived with the infant one day on a Metro-North train.
One of Ann’s cousins said that Ann left town for a period of time, and it seems as though no one that Ann knew was with her when the baby was born. She has no witnesses of her giving birth. And considering her weight, they also couldn’t tell that she wasn’t indeed pregnant. People just assumed that she went away to give birth and came back.
Living With a Monster
For whatever reason, Ann wanted a child and felt that her only option was to take someone else’s. Sadly for Joy and Carl, that child was theirs. And Netty would spend the first 23 years of her life thinking the woman who raised her was her mother. But Ann was far from the ideal mom.
In January of 2011, when the story got out of the alleged kidnapping, Netty told the New York Post all about her “mother.” She said that Ann was “an addict,” who was often in a drug haze. “There were always drugs lying around… I used to see weapons.” When Ann came down from one of her highs, Netty would run out of the house before Ann became “a monster” again.
That’s Just How it Was
Netty came clean with everything that she endured living in a home with this woman. But despite the absolute injustice and heartbreak, Netty said that she is more forgiving, even saying that everything that happened in her childhood was standard for where she grew up. “Growing up in an urban family,” she told the interviewer, “you were going to get beat, no matter what it was.”
As sad as the story is, Netty doesn’t like to call it abuse. “That’s what people want to hear, the sob story. But I wasn’t abused. Everything that an average person would have I had.” Believe it or not, she considers Ann as responsible, but remote. Never cruel to her, but not exactly tender, either.
She Did Support Her, Though
Despite all the drugs and mood swings, Netty still had this to say about Ann: “I’m not going to say she was the best mom ever, but she did what she had to do to make me who I am. She was strict, but she was cool. All my friends used to say she was a cool mom.”
Ann did support Netty, though, by working as a janitor at a local civic center. Until she started high school, Ann sent Netty to live with her own mother, Mary, during the weeks. Mary lived in a slightly better part of town, which meant Netty could go to a better school. Then, when Netty was about ten years old, Ann had a baby, a boy named Trevon.
Netty spent a lot of childhood with her cousins and aunts, and was especially close to Ann’s sister, Cassandra, who she called her “bestie.” There was at least one cousin who admitted that people in the family would speculate (behind Ann’s and Netty’s back) about the discrepancy about their looks. Ann was dark-skinned, but Netty was light.
Netty remembers looking at pictures of Ann, later on, to see if they had any resemblance whatsoever. “Everybody called me Little Ann,” she said. “But I didn’t see a resemblance.” Ann recalls the moment when Ann confessed to Netty that she wasn’t her mother. “My whole stomach just turned up,” Netty said. All these thoughts and questions went through her head, like, “What are you saying? What the hell are you talking about? This is not my family? That’s not my grandmother downstairs? ”
“She Left You and Never Came Back”
But let’s not forget that Ann told Netty was abandoned by her mother, omitting the real truth. But still, Netty had questions, asking her who her real mother was and where she came from. Had she met her mother, or was she left on the doorstep? But to each question, Ann gave the same answer: “She left you and never came back.”
She insisted that there was nothing more to it. She gave her no names; nothing. For weeks, Netty would ask her these types of questions, but it always led to a dead end. “Even when a year passed by, I was like, ‘You don’t remember nothing?’ ‘No.’ ” With time, and frustration, they stopped discussing the matter and told no one about it.
But Netty’s curiosity never faded. Deep down, she didn’t believe that she just fell into Ann’s lap. And so as her suspicions grew, her relationship with Ann grew more distant. Netty asked the caseworker from the Department of Children and Families if her DNA could be crossreferenced with the DNA database of missing children.
But she was told: “That’s TV stuff.” Robert Nance, her “father,” was in jail at the time on a sexual assault charge, and called Netty after an investigator visited him. Netty took the opportunity to ask him what he knew about her mother. He told her that he and Ann weren’t together when she was born. If Netty wasn’t his and Ann’s, he told her, then he wouldn’t have known.
Missing Child 1987
Netty’s daughter, Samani, was born in 2005. Netty still got her high-school diploma and got a job as a motel desk clerk. When Samani turned one, she moved into her own place. And by 2009, she moved to Atlanta, where her aunt (and “bestie”) Cassandra moved a few years prior. Netty then found work in a hair salon, did a little modeling, and still had dreams of being in the music industry.
Ann would send cards and gifts to Samani. Eventually, Netty told Cassandra about her secret, and Cassandra encouraged Netty to keep searching for her birth mother. Late at night, when Netty had some alone time, she would find herself searching the Internet for stories of missing children. She typed into Google: “Missing child, 1987.”
Finding a Photo
But with all of her online searches, she never found anything. Then, in late 2010, Netty went to the website for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. There she found hundreds of pictures of kids from all over the country. Then it dawned on Netty that she could be from anywhere, not just Bridgeport.
She went through the photo archive and saw a picture of a baby girl, a newborn just 19 days old who went missing on August 4, 1987. The photo caught her eye, and so she dragged the photo to her desktop to save it. That little baby’s face reminded her of her own daughter, and everyone told her that Samani looked just like her.
A Call of Desperation
Three days before Christmas that year in 2010, Netty called the center’s hotline. She muttered the words: “I feel like I don’t know who I am.” But she didn’t mention the photo of the baby. She got overwhelmed at one point and passed the phone to Cassandra, who was with her. “She was agitated,” the center’s president, Ernie Allen said.
“She talked about how she’d been trying to get information about her identity for five years. My sense was this was almost a call of desperation.” In that call, Netty revealed her suspicions about Ann. In Ernie Allen’s words: “She said she believed the woman known to her as her mother abducted her near the time of her birth.”
Reaching Out to Joy and Carl
Cassandra reminded Netty of a birthmark she has on her right arm, which was a detail the center used to cross-reference its records of missing children. “We ultimately narrowed the search to two cases,” Allen said. “And one of those was Carlina White.” The forensic unit compared Netty’s baby photos with the photo of Carlina when she was 19 days old.
They appeared to be a match. “There was nothing to suggest this was not Carlina,” Allen said. And just after Christmas, the center called Joy and Carl. Joy was at work she got an e-mail with photos of Netty. She screamed and cried out. “Both of them were adamant, saying this was their daughter,” Allen recalled. The center then contacted the NYPD’s missing persons unit.
Their First Conversation
Before even getting the DNA testing from Netty, Carl, and Joy, Netty decided to call Joy. The first conversation ever between this mother and daughter was on speakerphone, with all of Joy’s sisters. One of the aunts shouted: “Come home!” Netty had tiny doubts that this wasn’t her real family, but once Joy mentioned the birthmark, Netty was overwhelmed. “I said, Wow. This is real now.”
Netty then called Carl, which was more awkward, but she was still happy to contact them. For two weeks, Joy and Carl spoke with Netty often. “We’re talking, and all of a sudden she’s calling me ‘Dad,’ ” Carl said. “And I’m sitting here saying to myself; I can’t believe it. This is my daughter. That’s my firstborn. And Joy would be trying to call, too, and so she would say, ‘Dad, Mom’s on the phone.’ And I was like, This girl is calling us Mom and Dad!”
Meeting the Family
By January, Joy flew Netty and Samani, her granddaughter, to New York to visit them. Joy and her sister came to pick them up, and obviously, there were many tears involved. Happy ones, though. All of Joy’s extended family were at the house waiting to meet them. Netty then met her sister and brother (Sheena, and Sydney), her aunts, cousins, and a grandmother – Joy’s mother, Elizabeth.
For the time being, Netty and Joy didn’t talk about Ann Pettway or about Netty’s childhood. Instead, they focused on the good things, looked for common traits, cooked together, and watched Samani play. “It felt like this is where I belonged,” Netty recalled. The next morning, Carl came to meet Netty.
The Results Came In
When Netty finally met her father, he couldn’t stop staring at her. She said, “Do I have something on my face or something?” He said, “No, girl, you don’t understand what me and your mother went through. Just to see you standing here is a blessing. ” a few days later, Netty and her daughter were at the airport, waiting for their plane back to Atlanta.
A man came up to her and said, “Are you Nejdra Nance?” He said a detective told him to tell her to call him. He told her they got the DNA back and it came back positive. The NYPD had been trying to reach them, not knowing they were all in New York together. Upon hearing the news, she still boarded her flight back home.
The News Broke
The next day, the news broke. Until then, no child in American history had been missing for longer before being reunited with their parents. It was a big story. The Post wanted to fly Netty to New York and put her up with Carl and Joy, at a hotel. Netty agreed to come but went without Samani, who stayed with Cassandra.
When Netty arrived at the hotel, the whole media was there. “They were booking rooms on the same floor. I couldn’t leave the room without someone seeing me. They had to lead me out of the kitchen to leave the hotel.” As for Joy, she was ecstatic. “I always dreamed this,” she told a reporter. “Now, I can sleep!” Netty tried to be happy, too, but the attention made her feel uncomfortable.
As For Ann…
Netty couldn’t stop thinking about Ann in all of this. It wasn’t just that Ann lied to her; she was an accused kidnapper now. The FBI was searching for her, as she was facing a federal prison sentence of 20 years to life. For a few years now, Ann had been living in Raleigh, North Carolina, apparently working as a kitchen prep cook.
When the Post first reached out to Ann, she vowed to make things right. “I’m coming, I’m coming, I’m coming back to straighten this all out,” she told them. “I raised her, and I was a good mom.” But then she up and left the state, and disappeared, just like Carlina had 23 years earlier.
She Wanted Her to Suffer
In New York, Netty was growing harsh, refusing to look at a police sketch from 1987, or even refer to Ann by her name. “When I look at [Joy], I can see me. With that other lady, I would always be searching for stuff we had in common, but I had nothing in common with her.” Joy said, “I want her to suffer,” referring to Ann. “I want her to do some time, like I suffered for 23 years.”
After Netty returned to Atlanta, she stopped calling her newly discovered parents as often. The media was really getting to her, causing her to recluse. She even checked in to a hotel in Georgia to avoid being seen by reporters at her house. But the calls didn’t stop.
A Call From Oprah
A few years earlier, when Netty was still searching for her real mother, she wrote to the ‘Oprah Winfrey Show’ but never heard back. But now, a producer from the show was on the phone, reading her letter back to her. Joy said she wanted to do the show, and Carl was fine with it. And Netty said yes at first, but then she changed her mind.
The weight of what was happening to Ann, and Netty’s role in it, started to sink in. She was also worried about her little brother, Trevon. Netty was lucky enough to have her real, new family. But Trevor only had Ann. What would happen to him if she went to jail for the rest of her life?
Joy and Carl were disappointed that they wouldn’t be doing the Oprah show and also that Netty was distancing herself from them. All they wanted was to see her more. But Netty was steadfast in her choices at that point. Then, on January 23, 2010, Netty saw Ann on TV, arranging her surrender to the FBI in Connecticut.
From the beginning, Ann’s lawyer, Robert Baum, was trying for a plea deal. He claimed that Ann wasn’t the monster that Netty made her out to be in the press. As for her motives, which were based on statements that Ann gave to the FBI after her surrender, Ann had miscarried during the summer Carlina was born. She was desperate to become a mother.
Ann’s lawyer said the evidence that Ann kidnapped Carlina is far from conclusive. He suggested that it’s possible that someone else took Carlina, but never gave an idea as to who or how Ann wound up with her. Carl went on TV, saying he didn’t think Ann was sorry. He also appeared on ‘The Early Show,’ saying, “I just got to move forward step-by-step.
Joy, on the other hand, went on ‘Today,’ saying Netty was actively distancing herself from both her and Carl. “I was on such a high when I first reunited with my daughter… And it really hurts me that it’s, it’s about money.” She was referring to the reports that surfaced of a trust fund. In 1988, a year after Carlina went missing, Carl and Joy sued the city for $100 million.
A Lost Trust Fund
In 1992, they finally reached a settlement of $750,000, which each parent’s share later reduced to $162,643. Carl and Joy then agreed to put half of their shares, a total of $162,000, in a trust fund for Carlina, in the case that she would return before her 21st birthday. But in 2008, after no sign of Carlina, the trust was liquidated, and Carl and Joy collected what they put in.
“I have two other kids,” Joy told ‘Today.’ “And I had to take care of myself. And I had to live.” According to Joy, Netty was less interested in reuniting with her real parents now that the trust fund was gone. But Joy also mentioned that she realized that Netty was indeed attached to Ann and her relatives.
Joy’s comments left Netty feeling betrayed. “How dare you go on TV and say something like that?” Netty asked Joy on the phone after seeing the show. “I never asked y’all for anything.” In May, Robert Baum, Ann’s lawyer, announced that Carlina White would testify on Ann’s behalf if needed. By July, Netty cut off all contact with Joy and Carl.
Ann Petway was then sentenced to 12 years in federal prison. The statements Ann made about miscarrying and wanting a baby so desperately essentially amounted to a confession in the court’s eyes. “This was not a crime of greed; this was not a crime of vengeance… it was an act of selfishness, a crime of selfishness that inflicted a parent’s worst nightmare on a couple,” Judge P. Kevin Castel of Federal District Court in Manhattan said.
Righting Her Wrong
Before sentencing 50-year-old Ann Petway, she apologized to the family and said, “I am here today to the right my wrong and ask for forgiveness.” Netty, however, didn’t attend the hearing after she chose to distance herself from the case. Joy and Carl made emotional pleas, asking for a prolonged prison term.
Ann Pettway pleaded guilty to one count of kidnapping, under a plea agreement that carried a sentencing guideline of 10 to 12.5 years. When Netty was asked if she would want to visit Ann in jail, she made a face. “I don’t really know,” she said. “I don’t like jails, and I don’t like hospitals. That’s not what I do, and I’m not going to get out of my comfort zone.”
Netty also said that she would eventually communicate with Ann again, “But it’s going to take a little while for that to just when I’m ready to, I know that I will. Just not at this moment.” The hard part for Netty is talking about Ann with Samani. “She’s very close with my daughter,” Netty admitted.
“She did more stuff with her than I think she did with me. She took her trick-or-treating. Christmas, Halloween, school. She provided like a grandmother’s supposed to… She doesn’t know the story. I just say she’s on vacation.” Netty explained that she went off the radar because she needed to get clarity. “I have bills to pay. I have to teach my daughter. I’m trying to build my own career. I can’t just sit here and dwell.”
Reconciling with Her Parents
A friend of Joy’s said that Joy is sad and terrified of commenting publicly again, fearful of driving Netty further away. Carl is enraged. “She says she’s got to live her life? Okay,” he tells me. “But you’re not spending any time with your family. None at all. You say you don’t know us? Fine. We don’t know you. But how are you going to get to know us? I’m frustrated.”
Netty is aware of the pain she has caused Carl and Joy. “I did what I did because I felt like when I’m ready to dip back in, it’s going to be on a different note. The approach has to be better than it was the first time. It was just too much commotion.” A few weeks later, Netty called both her parents. Her conversation with Carl was short, but she talked to Joy for three hours.
From Netty to Carlina
The trust-fund issue, Netty says, was “just a misunderstanding.” What put her and Joy at odds was Ann and her sentencing. “I know they both want justice. I would feel the same way if someone did that to my child. But at the same time, I have unconditional feelings for [Ann].” All in all, Netty is happy; she knows the truth now.
So, what about the name? Is she going to remain Nejdra Nance? “I’ve been trying to get my paperwork together. When I get my I.D. and everything, it will say Carlina White.” But old habits die hard. When someone asks her what my name is, she naturally says Netty. According to her, “Netty’s not what the Pettway family gave me or what the White family gave me. It’s what I gave myself.”