GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — There’s a new chapter in a bizarre and heartbreaking tale that began in a Chicago hospital room 56 years ago.
A man in the tiny town of Manton, Michigan, has been identified as Paul Joseph Fronczak, the baby who was kidnapped from his mother’s hospital room in April 1964 by a woman posing as a nurse.
Kevin Baty, a machinist and mold maker, grew up in Manton, a town of 1,200 or so in Wexford County 10 miles north of Cadillac.
Baty was in his mid-50’s in late 2018, still living in the Manton area, when he learned that the only name he’d ever known was not his first.
To lay out the stunning circumstances that led to Baty’s identification as Fronczak, it’s first necessary to go back to April 26, 1964 and a room at the now-shuttered Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago.
Story begins with massive search for missing Chicago baby
Dora and Chester Fronczak’s new baby boy – Paul Joseph – was just one day old when a woman dressed as a nurse said he needed to be returned to the nursery for testing.
She took Paul Joseph into her arms, walked out of the room and vanished.
The infant abduction sparked the nation’s largest manhunt to date, with 200 police officers going door to door around the city with a sketch of the mysterious woman.
According to the Associated Press, police at the time said “blood type and ear shape were about the only leads they had because the boy had no blemishes or birthmarks. Some 10,000 babies were examined and tested by 1966 to see if they could be the boy.”
Two years later, a toddler was found abandoned in a stroller at a New Jersey shopping center.
The FBI, believing the toddler could be the missing Fronczak baby, brought him to the still-grieving Fronczaks in Chicago.
Newspapers at the time quoted Dora Fronczak as saying, “that’s my baby.”
The couple raised the New Jersey toddler as Paul Fronczak, but early on, the boy sensed he was an outsider in his own family.
Nevada man looks for answers
As an adult, now living in Las Vegas, the man raised as Fronczak in Chicago convinced the only parents he’d ever known to take a DNA test.
Once he had the shocking results, he contacted investigative journalist George Knapp at News 8’s sister station in Las Vegas, KLAS-TV.
“’There’s no remote possibility that you are the Fronczak baby,’” he quoted the testing company as concluding.
“I was like, ‘wow,’” he told KLAS-TV’s Knapp in an interview.
That revelation propelled the Las Vegas man on a mission to find the “real” Paul Fronczak, as well as his own true identity.
At some point, as the Nevada man conducted his nationally publicized search, one of Kevin Baty’s adult daughters submitted her DNA to a genealogy website.
According to a stepbrother of Kevin Baty, it was the daughter’s DNA submission that later linked Kevin Baty to Chester and Dora Fronczak.
Baty and his family declined to speak to the media, and the Nevada man – who wrote a book on his search titled “The Foundling” – said Baty did not respond to his correspondence either.
“I’ve reached out to the real Paul and his children, and I sent the real Paul my book, and I heard from my tipster that (Baty) read the book. He liked it, he let his friends read it, but as far as communicating with me, nothing,” the Las Vegas man told George Knapp of KLAS-TV.
Fortunately, Baty did communicate with the mom he had never known.
Though Chester Fronczak died in 2017, Dora is still living in the Chicago area.
“(Baty) actually talked to my mom,” said the man raised as Paul Fronczak. “They actually talked quite a few times, and unfortunately, he passed away.”
On April 25, 2020, a year and a half after learning his true identity, Kevin Baty died of cancer.
Coincidentally, April 25 was also his true birth date.
Baty’s obituary listed the only name he had known most of his life, along with the birthday he’d always celebrated – March 14, 1964 – a month earlier than the kidnapped baby’s birthday.
“Kevin was born on March 14, 1964 and was raised in the Lake City/Manton area by his parents Robert and Lorraine Fountain,” read his obituary.
“He graduated from Manton High School and worked as a mold-maker and machinist since graduating. Kevin enjoyed spending time outdoors and in his garage and garden. He also enjoyed time spent with his close friends and family.”
A clerk at Manton’s lone gas station was stunned to hear about Kevin Baty’s true identity.
“I couldn’t imagine that,” said Amy Baldwin when Target 8 stopped in during a recent visit to Manton. “And then only knowing that a short amount of time before losing his life. That’s horrible.”
Baldwin said Baty, a regular customer at the gas station, was kind and generous.
“Always nice, always had a smile on his face. Would do anything for you,” recalled Baldwin.
“I know twice he helped somebody get gas. He was that type of person. Their card was declining, and they’d already pumped it, and he paid for it. He was always trying to do anything he could for anybody.”
Quest for answers continues
As for the identity of the mystery woman who dressed as a nurse to kidnap baby Fronczak, it may remain a mystery.
The woman who raised him as Kevin Baty in Wexford County, Lorraine Fountain, died in 2004.
Baty’s stepbrother told Target 8, as well as reporter Ben Bradley of News 8’s Chicago sister station, WGN, that Lorraine Fountain had been dating a doctor out of Chicago when she suddenly moved to Arkansas for a year and returned with the baby she raised as Kevin Baty.
It’s unclear to Target 8 at this point how Kevin ended up with the last name “Baty.”
Last year, the Chicago office of the FBI confirmed to Target 8 that it had reopened the 1964 kidnapping investigation.
But Friday morning, the same FBI official responded to Target 8’s email inquiry with “no comment.”
“This whole journey has been one step forward, two steps back,” the Nevadan who was raised as Fronczak told George Knapp in a recent interview. “You get close to something and maybe someone dies who they were supposed to meet.”
Working with genealogy and DNA detectives, the man who still goes by Paul has discovered that his birth name was Jack Rosenthal and he was likely abandoned by his own parents outside that New Jersey shopping center 50-plus years ago.
“We were able to find out who was actually my biological family,” said the man raised as Paul Fronczak. “All the dark, really tragic things that happened when I was in that situation before I was abandoned.”
Both Rosenthal’s parents are dead, but other relatives told him Jack and his siblings were abused and neglected as kids.
He also learned that he had a twin sister, Jill, who vanished around the time he was abandoned.
“Everything I’ve heard from other members of my family, pretty much made it clear to me that me and my twin sister Jill were abused, neglected and ultimately I was abandoned,” Fronczak said during a recent interview. “And if she wasn’t murdered by them, then she’s still out there.”
The Las Vegas man is still searching for his twin sister.