How does a life story unfold if it begins in a shoebox?

Lonny Cain

The one that got away.

I see it now, pinned on the corkboard in my office – a story I never chased. It could have been a book, and I immediately knew the title would be “Shoebox.”

This began Friday, Oct. 12, 1979. I was 31, a reporter full of energy – and myself. I was checking my articles in The Herald-News in Joliet when I saw a three-inch story under a two-column headline: “Baby discovered in shoebox.”

The Associated Press story was full of more questions than answers:

“A 12-hour-old girl was reported in good condition after she was found in a shoebox in a basement bathroom at a shopping center in suburban Schaumburg, authorities said.

“A woman, who was not identified, found the 7-pound infant, umbilical cord still attached, about 1 p.m. Thursday and notified authorities.

“Police quoted a doctor as saying the baby probably was born after midnight.

“The infant was reported in good condition in Northwest Community Hospital in nearby Arlington Heights.

“Police said the open-ended shoebox and a department store bag were found in the bathroom along with a woman’s stained jacket and paper towel with a similar stain.”

I got hooked on the questions. What forces a mother to leave her baby? What was ahead for the baby who someday would be told she was found in a shoebox? Would mother and daughter ever connect again?

Maybe it’s a selfish drive within reporters ... to tell a “good story.” But this one felt important, like it would be wrong to ignore. But ... that’s what I did.

I clipped the article and saved it for 44 years. It’s been lost and found many times and now is taped to a sheet of paper with my notes – my feeble attempts to find more details.

That Friday in 1979 I called AP and was told the reporter was Tim Fought. He was out but was working the coming weekend. But I wasn’t, so ... I didn’t call again.

I suspect Tim had little to add. He likely pulled the story from a sketchy police report and a follow story might not have been assigned. I tried to find Tim in January this year. I sent an email to WTHR-TV in Indianapolis where I believe he worked. There was no reply. I did not try again.

In 1979, I had this vision of working with authorities to follow Shoebox as she grew into a young woman. Someday it would be her story to tell, I thought. And I would help her.

Well, that baby girl would be 44 years old now. Perhaps she has told her story. Me finding her would be a challenge. Much of her life has been in the armor of privacy. And now I have other stories I must pursue, while I can.

What I can do is put her story out there for another writer to wonder about.

You could argue that what happened to Shoebox is none of my business. But if I had only a few moments with her now, I would tell her this:

“The day I read that tiny news item I felt a need to watch over you ... and your mother. To not let either of you fall through the cracks. I cared about what happened to you both. I think others would care also.

“Sometimes that’s why life stories should be told. And why I regret letting your story get away.”

Lonny Cain, retired managing editor of The Times in Ottawa, also was a reporter for The Herald-News in Joliet in the 1970s. His PaperWork email is Or mail The Times, 110 W. Jefferson St., Ottawa, IL 61350.