When a desperate single mother in Tennessee opened her door to Georgia Tann that fateful day, she didn't realize that she would not see her baby for another 45 years.
Georgia Tann was anything but the baby savior she posed as, she was a child thief, making profits from stealing and selling babies, and her tenure saw Memphis record the highest infant mortality rate in history.
Tann stole and illegally sold more than 5,000 babies, snatching the little ones from their unsuspecting parents and tricking desperate couples who were unable to have kids into illegally adopting the stolen children.
American actress Joan Crawford (1905 - 1977) with her daughter Christina (left), her son Christopher (1943 - 2006, left) and her adopted, identical twin daughters, Cindy and Cathy, circa 1949. | Source: Getty Images
RUNNING AN ILLEGAL BABY ADOPTION BUSINESS
One would expect that due to her rough upbringing, Tann would be empathetic towards toddlers and do all she could to find them a loving home. But Tann used her position working at an adoption agency to profit herself.
She had the protection of the powerful yet corrupt Memphis mayor Edward Hull Crump, and soon after, she set up her own orphanage.
With the help of her partner Ann Atwood Hollinsworth, she was able to ferry babies across the country, as far from their parents as was geographically possible. By the '30s, Tann was charging a whopping 100,000 euros for desperate yet wealthy parents to adopt children.
Joan Crawford and four children, Christopher, Cathy, Cynthia, and Christina romp on lawn following party given by Ann Rutherford for daughter Gloria's 5th birthday. | Source: Getty Images
Some of these children would be dropped off at school, but when their parents went to pick them up, they'd be told that they'd been taken away by child welfare officials.
A mother, Irene Green, remembers the fateful day her newborn was stolen, the nurses claimed that the baby had been stillborn, but the mother protested, saying:
"But I heard him cry!"
American actress Joan Crawford (1905 - 1977) in a promotional still from 'The Best Of Everything', directed by Jean Negulesco, 1959. | Source: Getty Images
JOAN CRAWFORD ADOPTS THROUGH TANN
Joan Crawford had reached the epitome of her fame in the '40s, having overcome a destitute childhood and rising to become one of the industry's highest-paid actresses.
She had starred in hit movies such as "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane" and "Possessed." In 1945, she won an Academy Award for Best Actress and lived in a huge mansion in Los Angeles.
Her strong personality and physical appeal saw her get everything she wanted. She could, however, not have children of her own. Her wealth enabled her to look for private brokers that would help her adopt without the rigorous adoption restrictions.
American actor Joan Crawford (1904 - 1977) hugs her adopted daughter Christina, wearing matching outfits, June 1944. | Source: Getty Images
And so, shehe adopted Christina in 1939, Christopher in 1943, followed by twin sisters Cathy and Cindy in 1947. She adopted the babies through Tann - illegally.
[Cathy] disputes Christina's claims that Crawford was an abusive mother.
FOUR CHILDREN, TWO DIFFERENT UPBRINGINGS
While Crawford adopted and raised her four children in the same home, their upbringings were day and night. Christina, who was the first child Crawford adopted, remembers a mother that was anything but loving.
American film actress Joan Crawford (1908 - 1977) in costume for her role in the western 'Johnny Guitar',1954 | Source:Getty Images
In her autobiography, "Mommie Dearest," Christina shed light on what her life was as Crawford's daughter, painting the picture of a mother that abused her and her brother Christopher both physically and psychologically.
Christina says Crawford was an alcoholic and that she would always get furious and punish them for the slightest mistakes with unreasonable force.
She recalls the first time she realized her mother hated her, saying that Crawford had held her by the neck, choking her, and with immense hatred in her eyes.
Hollywood actress Joan Crawford strides along the platform of London's Paddington Station with her adopted twin daughters, Cynthia (right) and Cathy, 8/3/56-London, England: | Source: Getty Images
Christopher seconds his sister's sentiments, saying that one time, he brought over his wife and baby to meet their respective mother-in-law and grandmother, who then only held the baby for at most ten seconds before handing her back and saying:
‘I'm nobody's grandmother. I'm Aunt Joan. She doesn't look anything like you!'"
ON THE FLIPSIDE - CRAWFORD WAS A LOVING MOTHER.
Crawford's adopted twins, Cathy and Cindy, however, have an entirely different recollection of what their mother was like while they were growing up. Cathy remembers a loving mom who would do anything for her children.
American actress Joan Crawford with her children Christopher and Christina, circa 1947. | Source: Getty Images
She disputes Christina's claims that Crawford was an abusive mother, saying that she was not only a loving mother to her and her twin, but a doting grandmother to their babies, even babysitting them and making them lunch.
And these claims have been supported by Crawford's ex-husband Douglas Fairbanks Jr, who, just like Crawford's daughter, says that she was a loving mother and described her as "firm but never abusive."
With the contradicting recollections of the Crawford children's upbringing, and with Crawford not present to dispute the claims, we may never know for sure whether she was the angel people in the show business knew her as, or she was the abusive mother some of her kids claim she was.
American film actress Joan Crawford (1908 - 1977) in her starring role in 'Mildred Pierce', circa 1944:| Source: Getty Images
THEIR LIVES NOW
Christina lives in rural Idaho, surrounded by a grassy mountainside and a heart full of bitterness and hatred for her mother, who she no longer refers to as "mother" but as her "adoptive parent."
Christopher, after his encounter with Crawford during his visit, never bothered reconciling with her. He passed on in 2016 after battling cancer. He was 62.
And while she disinherited Christina and Christopher, Crawford left behind a trust fund for her twins Cathy and Cindy. Cathy, an actress, went on to reconnect with her biological family in the 90s. She passed on in 2020 while her twin Cindy died in 2007.
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