INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana (WTHR) – A 58-year search fraught with mystery, heart break and dead ends, ended Monday when brothers were finally reunited. They were split up as kids. They grew into men but never forgot and never gave up looking for each other.
Walking into a south side Bob Evans, they look like everyone else enjoying breakfast until you eves drop on the conversation between brothers.
“I still can’t believe this is really happening. I didn’t know if you were dead or alive,” Lee said, looking at his “little” brother, John. “I didn’t know you were looking for us, you didn’t know I was looking for you.”
The brothers have been looking since 1956 – 58 years ago. Tom did most of the talking.
“I thought I was going to my grave without finding out anything,” he said.
Tom and John, whose name was Robert Gordon back then, were two of eight siblings living in Kentucky foster homes until the day a child welfare worker rounded them up.
“I can close my eyes and see that black car pull into the driveway,” Tom remembered. “Him and my sister was already the back seat. They came to pick me up.”
“I remember him being scared,” John said quietly. “I remember my sister and I trying to hide, we were that scared.”
There were no goodbyes, no explanations. The kids split up to an orphanage and with adoptive parents.
John and younger sister Nancy were adopted together. They grew up in the Chicago area.
Tom was also adopted, kept in touch with his other siblings. But John and Nancy had vanished, despite everyone’s detective work.
“Courthouses, phone books,” John said, along with cemeteries, doctor’s records, the Vietnam Memorial Wall and old welfare records were all checked. “Across the top it said, in red, it’s stamped ‘Adopted.’ They closed it up and said, ‘Sorry, we can’t help you.'”
Frustrated by decades of dead ends, both were ready to give up until a recent Internet search tripped across an obituary. The first name, middle name, birth date and birthplace all matched sister Nancy’s.
It couldn’t be a coincidence.
Tom’s research turned up Nancy’s brother, but he didn’t recognize the name. Putting decades of frustration and false leads aside, Tom took a chance.
“The letter I sent off, I almost didn’t send because I’ve been down so many dead ends,” Tom said.
The letter and photographs led to a phone call. Years ago, Robert Gordon became John Heartt, adopting the name of his new family.
After reading the letter, John spent all morning deciding whether he, too, should take a chance and call the man who could be his brother.
“It took two minutes for the crying and tears to get out of the way,” he said. “We started talking and talked for an hour and a half.”
More letters and calls made strangers brothers again. Looking at John in person for the first time since they were kids, John laughed, “You’re still uglier than I am.”
Tom smiled, but disagreed.
“I’m the oldest and the better looking,” he insisted.
The two posed for pictures with their wives, who they praised for putting up with their brotherly search. They are all catching up, but looking ahead. Of the eight children, a sister is the only other surviving sibling.
The tale of brothers who grew up – but never gave up – are now looking for a life together, because together they kept looking for each other. Tom and John hope their family story encourages others to never give up searching for loved ones.