The Hatbox Baby


It was Christmas Eve 1931, when a couple driving through the Arizona desert encountered car troubles. They pulled over and as they were examining the damage, they heard a sound. 150 feet away they found a little girl, seven days old in a woman's hatbox. How had she got there? Where were her parents? Who was she?

It's a heartwarming story of a Christmas miracle, what would have happened to Sharon if the Stewarts hadn't found her?! You have probably heard about this at some point, especially if you're an Unsolved Mysteries junkie like myself. But turns out there's a lot more to this story than the headlines

Episode: File 0055: Deep Sea Diwali Roos and Other Holiday Miracles Pt. 2

Release Date: December 17 2021

Researched and presented by Cayla

Baby Sharon

So let's go over the details

It was around 8pm that Ed and Julia Stewart's car broke down in the desert near Florence, Arizona. Ed worked on repairing the car as Julia's 15-year old twin cousins John and Betty Mansfield huddled in the back. Julia heard a whimpering, thinking it might have been an abandoned kitten or puppy, she cautiously stepped off the road, finding a hatbox about 150 feet from the car.

She called her husband to open the box to find the baby girl who would later be known as Sharon Elliott. Wrapped in a blue blanket in a hatbox, baby Sharon was cold and hungry and was only a week old.

Soon as the car was running again, they rushed Sharon to the Mesa, Arizona police station where Chief Maier received her and brought to a local maternity home where a doctor looked over and confirmed that she was healthy.

They named her Marian, a reference to the Virgin Mary

This discovery soon became national news, a symbol of hope during the great depression. Lawmen from three counties tried to find the baby's mother, but they never did.

In 1931, Mesa AZ was a sleepy square-mile Mormon farm town, miles from the nearest community. With a population of just 3,000, it was the kind of place where everybody knew each other, so it was hard to fathom someone from this tight knit community would abandon their child in the desert.

The cops had no idea what to think and everything was on the table, even the possibility of homicide. They poured over the area where Sharon was found and couldn't find a single shred of evidence. At one point they were investigating a teen mom that live in the small mining town of Miami 25 miles away, but nothing came from it.

Two months after her miraculous discovery, Sharon was put up for adoption. No one could've anticipated that she would receive hundreds of applications and on February 16 1932 a hearing was held in Pinal County Courthouse in Florence in an attempt to narrow down the pool of prospective parents. Only two couples managed to show up for the hearing due to the severe weather. In the end Sharon was adopted by Faith Morrow and her husband. 

Arizona papers had followed the baby's story closely until Sharon was adopted in Feb 1932 and seemed to disappear off the face of the earth. Years later, newspapers and national Sunday magazines repeatedly asked whatever became of the baby

You Are the Hatbox Baby

It wouldn't be until 56 years later, that Sharon would learn that not only was she adopted, but she was the hatbox baby.

She'd grown up away from Arizona in South California with her mother, stepfather and stepbrother. She had already lived a full life, she had been married, had a daughter of her own and since divorced. But now everything she knew about herself was completely turned upside down

"Everybody in my family knew the story except me. My mother didn't want me to find out. It was such a shock after all these years - I couldn't believe that during all that time it had been kept form me" >> Spokane Chronicle 1988

Sharon still lived in California, but her daughter and grandchildren has just moved to Mesa Arizona and she was thinking of retiring and moving out there to be near them. This notion triggered something in Faith and she called Sharon, telling her that they needed to talk in person.

Faith and Sharon had always been close, and Faith's health had been failing, she had recently recovered from breast cancer but the radiation had done a number on her and she'd recently fallen and broken her hip, so naturally, Sharon was concerned and hurried out to meet with her as soon as she could

When she arrived, Faith gave her a manila envelope and inside Sharon found dozens of newspaper clippings, all about the hatbox baby. This is when her mother told her that this was actually her, and that she wasn't her biological mother.

Faith would go on to tell Sharon that she'd been listening to the radio on Christmas day 1931 when she first heard about the hatbox baby. Faith and her husband were in their 20s had been trying to conceive for some time with no success, but now the answer to their prayers was right before them on Christmas Day. They left their turkey in the oven and rushed to Mesa to put their names on an already growing list of couples who wanted to adopt the foundling.

They were chosen and they took in Sharon, the rest is history. Or so it would seem

6 months later Faith would pass, leaving Sharon to bear the burden alone

"When she told me, I cried. She was the only mother I ever knew, the only one I ever wanted. But now that she's gone, I'd like to find out more." >> Spokane Chronicle 1988

In 1988, a small suburban newspaper called Mesa Tribune receives a call from Sharon, who is looking for more information about her history. The story lands on John D'anna's desk a 28 year old assistant editor.

Like any journalist, D'anna wanted to solve the mystery, but as he grew to know Sharon, his perspective changed and it became a much more personal mission to help this woman find her roots.

As the story spread, Sharon had the opportunity to speak with the now retired Chief Meier, who had been the constable to receive Sharon the night she was found. she told Maier that she was struggling with the fact that "I was just dumped in the desert to die."

What Maier said next, stuck with her for the rest of her life and gave her some comfort

"There's a lot of questions about where you came from that night, questions that may never be answered. God knows, a lot of folks had theories about what did and didn't happen.

"Was somebody hiding in the sagebrush and watching to make sure you'd be found? Was that good-hearted couple who brought you in telling us the whole story? Nobody knows for sure, but this much I am certain of. The baby put into my hands that night was clean and well-cared-for. You were meant to be found and given a good home."

Orphan Voyage a research and communication center for adoptees, adoptive parents, and birth parents got involved to help with the search. Investigator Alice Syman helped Sharon acquire court records on her case. But reading through the records, they became skeptical of the Stewart's story

According to the records, the Stewarts and Mansfields had left at dawn on Dec 24 1931 to drive to the mountains. They only stopped once, at Roosevelt Arizona. But from there, there were inconsistencies, that bothered Alice

Alice contacted the show Unsolved Mysteries to see if they'd be interested in featuring the story and they were on board

Alice went on a hunt and managed to locate both the Stewarts and Mansfields, who remembered the story clearly, but refused to go on Unsolved Mysteries, offended by the criticism the case had recently begun to receive

Unsolved Mysteries

On December 20 1989, Sharon's story would be featured on Unsolved Mysteries and thousands of tips poured in, and Alice ran each one of them to ground.

Dozens of them involved people whose family lore included siblings who disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Others were sure that Sharon was the illicit child of red-headed movie star Ann Sheridan or silent-film cowboy actor Tom Mix, who died in Arizona in 1940. One person even insisted that Sharon was the sister of the Lindbergh baby.

The Stewarts

But the tip line wasn't the only phone ringing that night. The show didn't portray the Stewarts in the best light, and implied that they knew more than what they'd originally said. As soon as it ended on the East Coast, Ed and Julia Stewart's phone started to ring with calls from friends, who wanted to express shock.

Had they really found a baby all those years ago? Were they worried the show implied that they knew more than they were telling about the case? That Hatbox Baby herself even said she thought the whole thing was a setup.

The calls left Julia Stewart in tears.

An hour later, the episode aired in the Central time zone, prompting another wave of calls and another wave of tears. A third wave came when the episode finally aired on the West Coast.

To their dying days, Ed and Julia Stewart maintained that their car really did break down seven miles west of Superior on Christmas Eve of 1931, and that they really did stumble upon an abandoned baby in a hatbox

From the beginning, they felt the authorities had pointed an accusatory finger at them. Even if the investigators didn't come right out and say it, the implication was there: Surely there was more to their story. Surely they must be covering up for some friend or loved one's indiscretion.

A month after finding Sharon the Stewarts had been ordered to testify in court and they told their story: the car broke down, it was Christmas eve, they found the baby and headed straight for Mesa

But who even were the Stewarts? Both Ed and Julia had grown up in troubled homes, each losing a parent at an early age and each growing up in households plagued by hardships. But they found each other

Julia was 17 when they got married. Coming into the 1930s times were hard, Ed drove truck and to help make ends meet the couple would drive out into the desert, looking for wild horses they could catch, so Ed could break them and sell them

Shortly after they got married Julia got pregnant and they had their first child. Eight months later they would find Sharon.

They lived in Phoenix, but were staying with Julia's mom in Mesa for the holidays. They'd driven up the Apache trail to see Julia's friend Mrs Houser and they were on their way home when they found Sharon.

They were 40 miles from Mesa, but only 7 from Superior AZ, which was bigger than Mesa. One of the many unanswered questions about their story is why they made the drive all the way to Mesa instead of just heading back to Superior?

Also in the very same testimony Ed and Julia's stories varied. According to Julia they had left Roosevelt and hadn't stopped until the car broke down, but in Ed's, he said that they stopped between Miami and Superior for 15-20 minutes, he said to look at the snow, but looking at historical weather data, the temperature hadn't dipped below freezing that week with highs of 60. It's possible they could've been looking at the mountains, but they would've had a much better view of snowy mountains in Roosevelt

There's no record that the police verified Julia's visit to her friend Mrs Houser, but D'anna did his own investigation: Census records, voter registration rolls and city directories show no Mrs. Houser - or any other variation of that spelling - in Roosevelt or the surrounding area. The only Houser listed is 30 miles away - in Miami.

A year later Julia would be interviewed for an anniversary story about the hatbox baby. In this story there would be many inconsistencies with their original statement. One being that in court they said it was the fuel line that broke on the car, but in this newspaper article they said it was a flat tire.

Julia in newspaper:

"We had an eight-month-old baby of our own back in Mesa with my mother, and Ed and I were anxious to get back ... But I made him come anyway. When we went closer, we saw it was a ragged hatbox...It was closed, and a piece of cloth hung out. Ed opened it, and something inside moved! Then I did get scared. I clutched at Ed's shoulder. We heard a little noise. We carefully pulled back the cloth, and as Ed struck a match we saw it was a teeny baby! I never felt so queer in all my life."

So what's the truth with the Stewarts' story? Did things really happen how they said, but details got mixed up? Or had something else entirely happened, and what was their involvement and reasons for keeping it secret?

In 2003 D'anna decided to contact the Stewarts and was able to interview their only surviving daughter: Wilma Ervin. D'anna would speak to her many times over the years and her story never wavered

Wilma had never even heard of the case - or her parents' involvement - until she read about it as a teenager in her grandmother's journal. When she asked her mother about it, Julia said it brought back the terrible memories, that what should have been a joyous miracle was clouded by the shadows of suspicion. This would've been before Unsolved Mysteries or even Sharon knowing the truth, so who was treating the situation as suspicious? From the court records, not even the judge asked them about their inconsistent statements. Or did they just not want to talk about it and why?

If the Stewarts knew something else they likely took it to their grave and we may never know. Or maybe they were just as they claimed, good citizens trying to do the right thing

Alice would end up moving to St. Augustine, Florida, but she and D'anna never stopped the search on behalf of Sharon

The Continued Search


Sharon's mother Faith had told her that she'd given all of Sharon's adoption documents to a friend, Dorothy, who they had since lost contact with, making them impossible to retrieve. But in 2011, the documents turned up! It was nearing Christmas and Sharon's 80th birthday. D'anna wanted to do a follow-up piece with her and she agreed. They got together in her home in Arizona, and she'd pulled out a box of all things "hatbox baby" they were going over the newspaper clippings, photos, folders and books when they came across an envelope

D'anna had never seen it before and Sharon wasn't familiar either. Inside they found a single page with a series of notations, written with almost no punctuation in a woman's hand that Sharon identified as her adoptive mother's.

"Mother Edna Sherman Roe," it said.

"Born 1914 Died 1949 Plane crash."

And then this: "1935 - your mother saw you she was 21 then."

Had the truth been under their noses the whole time?

"That's my mother's handwriting," Sharon said. "How could I have missed it?"

D'anna checks with Alice who seemed to recall it. In her detailed notes Alice found that she had tracked down the relatives of Edna Sherman Roe, but none of them knew anything about her having a baby. Her files even contained a picture, but Alice didn't believe there was a family resemblance.

D'anna thought it was worth looking into again and began his own research. One of the first things that he found was that Edna and her husband had died in 1951 not 1949

Turns out that Dorothy, the woman that Faith had given Sharon's adoption papers to, was a niece to Edna, which would make her Sharon's cousin. Sharon said that growing up, Faith had always told her how much like Dorothy she looked because they both had red hair.

D'anna tried to track down Dorothy, with no success, but did find another niece to Edna and proposed they do a DNA test to confirm if they and Sharon were related. She initially was game and D'anna organized a test with a lab, DNA self-testing wasn't really a thing at a time, so the test came with a hefty cost, but it was worth it if this gave them some answers. But the niece later changed her mind and wanted nothing to do with the story

This crushed Sharon, but D'anna promised to keep searching for Dorothy

Eventually he was able to make contact and they talked on the phone for over an hour. She'd grown up poor in Oklahoma and spent a summer with Edna in Odessa. She painted Edna's life as lavish and important.

Dorothy knew all about the story of the Hatbox Baby, but no, she wasn't related to Sharon, and Sharon wasn't related to Edna Sherman Roe. Dorothy and Faith had become friends in the 1970s, when Dorothy was working as a real estate agent and had helped Faith with a home sale.

Dorothy said Faith must have "borrowed" the Edna Sherman Roe story because she thought it sounded romantic and would make Sharon feel better about being abandoned as a baby.

Had Faith really stolen the story to make up a background for Sharon if she ever asked? Why?

A Case for Faith

D'anna uncovered some interesting things when looking into Faith and the origins of Sharon. Among the things he found were the court records of Faith's adoption application. Nothing incriminating, but definitely interesting

As we know, when Sharon was first found the town called her Marian after the Virgin Mary. When Faith adopted her, she had her named changed to Mary Elizabeth. Sharon doesn't recall when her name was changed to Sharon, but she believes it had something to do with the Rose of Sharon, a flowering vine that is mentioned in the Bible, and the fact that Faith's father was a minister.

Seems strange to change your child's name. Why had she done it? Was it to help prevent Sharon from being found again after the adoption?

D'anna dug into Faith's history and things got more interesting.

When Faith applied for Sharon's adoption, she painted a pretty picture of a newlywed couple that loved each other dearly but just hadn't had luck on their side when trying to make a family. But things were much more complicated than that. And this wasn't even her first husband

In 1925, when Faith was 22 and working as a stenographer (verbatim typist) for the Veteran's Bureau at Fort Whipple, she married a man named Sigmund Ingersoll, a man 10 years older than her and also worked at Fort Whipple. 3 short years later in March 1928, she divorced him citing non-support and the fact that he didn't want children.

In Faith's divorce complaint, she alleges that "for more than one year last past (Ingersoll) has neglected and failed to provide...the common necessaries of life, he having the ability to provide the same but has failed by reason of his idleness, profligacy and dissipation," even though he was a "strong, able-bodied man, able to provide a living for himself and is now earning more than $150 a month. I worked all the time we were married and gave him practically every penny I made"

Ingersoll never bothered to answer the complaint or show up in court. Faith said it was probably because he was afraid he'd be hit with the court costs.

By the time her divorce was granted, Faith had already moved to Phoenix. The 1928 Phoenix City Directory shows a woman named Ingersoll working as a typist at the Veteran's Bureau, but she is listed as Fanny, not Faith.

On Oct. 25, 1928, Faith would marry Henry Stieg in Los Angeles. She could not legally marry in Arizona because not enough time had elapsed since her divorce. Stieg was an up-and-coming grocery executive, a classic rags to riches story and by all appearances, they were happily married, they owned their own house and Stieg made good money, even after the stock market crash, one of the few, so they made for a compelling application for Sharon's adoption

The day of the adoption hearing, due to severe weather, only Faith and one another couple made it to the courthouse

"The judge called them first, and the woman didn't say anything but the man said, 'We have one adopted daughter and I'll say right here she's been raised in the fear of the Lord, and I don't believe in sparing the rod and spoiling the child,'" Faith wrote in her 1986 motion, recounting the testimony of the other couple. "I prayed - Dear God don't let that man have my baby!"

Sure enough Faith won the right to adopt. It sounded like a happily ever after story, this young couple unable to conceive on their own finally given a child, a delayed Christmas Miracle.

But all was not as it seemed. Seven months after Sharon was adopted, Stieg filed for divorce, by which time Faith had moved to Prescott AZ.

In his petition, Henry accused Faith of "cruel treatment," saying that for more than a year, "she constantly and without reason found fault with and quarreled with (him), both in private and before his friends and acquaintances."

She also mocked his "manner of speech" and "lack of education," causing him "constant discomfort, annoyance and mental pain and anguish."

Lastly, Henry said that Faith "consistently disturbed (his) peace of mind and the enjoyment of his home, by constantly urging and insisting" that Henry quit his job and move to California, where she preferred to live.

The divorce was granted, their settlement calling for Faith to have sole custody and control of Sharon (now identified as Mary Elizabeth Stieg) and in return, she agreed to forgo any alimony or child support

She returned to work at the Veteran's Bureau at Fort Whipple. Not even 20 months later she married for the third time, this time to a tuberculosis patient named Charles Francis Cook, a WW1 vet

Cook was a widower. His wife had died of tuberculosis several years earlier, leaving behind a young son, Jack. Almost a year to the day after he and Faith married, Charles Cook died, leaving Faith with a daughter, his son and his pension

Prescott city directories from the late 1930s show Faith Cook, Jack and Sharon, living in a home owned by a Vera Morrow, and her brother Arthur

On March 7, 1939, a marriage license was issued in Arthur's name in Yuma. He married a woman named "Esther Cook," whose age and birthplace match Faith's.

A year later, Faith Cook is listed in the 1940 Census as a widow, living in Los Angeles with her children, Jack Cook and Sharon Stieg; along with Vera and Arthur

For all intents and purposes Arthur was Sharon's father, and even gave her away at her wedding. He passed in 1979, it's unknown if he knew the truth of Sharon's origins or not

Faith's inconsistent documentation raises many questions, why had she used so many different names? Why had she changed Sharon's name? Why had she claimed to be a widower still living with her husband?

Sharon had never indicated anything but a wonderful relationship with her mother. So what do we make of this?


Between 2011 and 2017 D'anna encountered many other promising avenues that led to dead ends.

In 2017 D'anna was attending a storytelling conference where he shared the story of his and Sharon's continued search for the truth. Bonnie Belza would happen to be in this audience, a DNA genealogist. Touched by D'anna's story, Bonnie offered her services.

With a combination of Bonnie's knowledge and an ancestry service they were pretty quickly able to find a number of third and fourth cousins in Arizona, but this proved to be less straight forward than hoped, with many of the families seeming to intertwine making it very difficult to determine the primary source.

With Sharon aging and her failing health, D'anna and Bonnie knew time was limited and pushed even harder to find an answer. Bonnie could identify German heritage in Sharon's genetics and used that to narrow the pool of prospective relatives down to Freda and Walter Roth.

D'anna and Bonnie had kept their recent revelations to themselves, not wanting to get Sharon's hopes up until they were sure

The Roths were married on August 1, 1931, about five months before Sharon was born. Digging deeper into their family history, there was a record of a second child born two years later in 1933. Bonnie being fairly confident she'd found the right couple, turned the information over to D'anna who began to make phone calls. As expected the Roths had passed by now, but so had their son, just two weeks before this discovery.

D'anna found that a lot of the family didn't want anything to do with the 'hatbox baby', their aversion seemingly rooted in a archaic notion that something like this exposed would "ruin the family heritage" regardless, D'anna respected their wishes.

But D'anna's questioning did turn up something. D'anna had gone to Iowa, the home state of the Roths and was knocking on doors looking for information, and was lucky enough to knock on the door of someone that had known the Roths personally, and not only that, they were directly related to the Roths and they were willing to give a DNA sample. This information was enough to cause all the pieces to fall into place, proving beyond doubt that the Roths were Sharon's parents.

D'anna finally felt confident in bringing his findings to Sharon. When he told her, he'd found her parents, her reaction was quiet and somber. When he asked why she wasn't excited, she said she couldn't understand it herself, but maybe it was just the conclusion that these were the people that abandoned her all those years ago

But there was a light in the darkness and her name was Emily. D'anna's and Bonnie's efforts had uncovered Emily Dodds, Sharon's great-grand niece. Sharon still had living family! And not just that, it turned out that Emily had been adopted as well, and was seeking out her family too. The lost women found each other

As D'anna' puts it

"a story like this may seem like just a feature story about an old mystery case, but the impact it made on the lives of two people particularly, Sharon and Emily, it sort of shows the power of what we do and the power of storytelling."

As for Emily? She did find her birth parents before Sharon passed, but it didn't go as hoped. She'd tried multiple times to contact her family to no avail, her letters all returned to sender unopened. Emily accepts this, even if it isn't easy, at the end of the day they gave her chance at a second life by giving her up and the family she does have cared about her deeply


Emily and Sharon connected, chatting on the phone and Emily sending her a card with photos of her children. In November 2018, D'anna told Sharon he would be going to Iowa at the end of the month to find out more about Walter and Freda. She was more interested in whether he was going to see Emily, which he was.

D'anna's journey with Sharon had been full of coincidences, but the most random and bizarre was one that happened right before he left for Iowa. He had attended an early morning fitness class and ran into a fellow class member at the nearby Starbucks. They got to talking about their jobs, D'anna mentioned a couple of his stories, including the Hatbox baby.

As they parted, he gave D'anna his card as he wanted D'anna to email him on of his stories.

Later that day, D'anna was going over story from a Davenport newspaper about Walter and Freda's wedding, looking to see if there was anything else he could glean from the article.

The article mentioned Freda's maid of honor, a Mrs. Floyd Benshoof, who was Walter's sister.

The name was so damn familiar, then he grabbed the card from his gym friend and on it, it said his name was Steven Benshoof

Benshoof was an unusual name, so what were the odds? He called up Bonnie and had her look up Floyd Benshoof. Sure enough, there was a descendent named Steven.

D'anna called Steven

"You're not going to believe this," I told him. "But remember that story about the Hatbox Baby I told you about? You're related to her."

Marian Meyer - Photo by John D'anna
Marian Meyer - Photo by John D'anna

As expected, at first he couldn't believe it, but D'anna explained how all the pieces fit together and Steven offered to put him in touch with his brother who was the family genealogist . His brother put him in touch with a cousin that had compiled an extensive genealogy on the Roth family and spent time in Iowa with people who knew the family.

He referred D'anna to Paul Barnes, long time mayor of Blue Grass Iowa. Paul grew up with James, Walter and Freda's son and knew the parents as well.

D'anna prepared to leave for his trip and went to see Sharon who was still in the ICU from a recent turn of health. She was sleeping so he didn't want to wake her and left her a note.

In Blue Grass D'anna met with Paul Barnes and a handful of other locals that had known the Roths. One woman, Marian Meyer even had photos of the family and let D'anna take pictures so he could show Sharon later

"It's very, very interesting," Marian said. "I'm sure Freda would not want us to find out about this."

D'anna had made arrangements with the Special Collections department of the Davenport Public Library before leaving Phoenix who were excited to help

D'anna had underestimated how excited. When he arrived they took him to a room in the basement, where they had a constructed a board with pictures and files on all the principal characters in the story. The reviewed all the files together

But one thing in particular was of note. They had a come across James Roth's birth certificate, Sharon's brother. On it is a line

Number of children of this mother (at the time of this birth and including this child)."

On the certificate,

"(a) Born alive and now living" is the number 1.

"(b) Born alive but now dead" is also the number 1.

Born alive and now dead. Did Freda give the child away and tell her family the baby had died? Was Freda's child taken away from her by someone who told her the baby had died? Or did Freda, knowing the doctor needed her medical history, just tell him her baby had died to avoid any questions?

D'anna met up with Emily and her family and had a wonderful visit. Emily said that while her search for her family hadn't panned out the way she'd hoped, she was delighted to have found Sharon, and Sharon delighted in calling Emily the niece she never knew she had.

Born alive and now dead. Did Freda give the child away and tell her family the baby had died? Was Freda's child taken away from her by someone who told her the baby had died? Or did Freda, knowing the doctor needed her medical history, just tell him her baby had died to avoid any questions?

D'anna met up with Emily and her family and had a wonderful visit. Emily said that while her search for her family hadn't panned out the way she'd hoped, she was delighted to have found Sharon, and Sharon delighted in calling Emily the niece she never knew she had.

D'anna had wanted to get Emily and Sharon together over Skype, but with Sharon's health, she was self conscious and didn't want to appear in a hospital gown, and wanted to wait until she got better. So D'anna had an idea for the next best thing and helped Emily film a video for Sharon. It was loving and sweet. She wished Sharon a happy birthday and Merry Christmas and said she hoped she would bounce back soon.

D'anna never got to show it to Sharon. She died the day he got back to Phoenix

Even with Sharon gone, D'anna still keeps a case file open, hoping one day to be able to find all the answers in tribute to Sharon.

And he has found more since: During the 1930s stories of doorstep babies were prevalent. There was even a travelling musical variety show called "Shoot the Works" which featured a song by Irving Berlin called "Doorstep Baby." It played in Davenport in the summer of 1931, two weeks after Freda and Walter were wed.

Papers across the state carried a weekly serialized fiction story about a doorstep baby named Vivian Matthews who, after a series of glamorous adventures, learns that she is the daughter of a wealthy banking tycoon.

In a 1930 Iowa paper there was an ad for a movie called "Hell's Heroes," which is described as "a great story...laid in the West where-in three tough characters discover an abandoned baby in the Arizona desert and undertake to care for it."

The landscape in Iowa was particularly harsh for unwed parents. Unwed mothers who wanted to turn their babies over to an orphanage underwent an almost ritual public shaming before their children were accepted, and not even the fathers were exempt from this, D'anna found countless newspaper articles shaming unwed fathers

And a baby that was turned over to an orphanage wasn't guaranteed a better life.

A front-page story in the Davenport Democrat from 1929 reported there were more than 500 orphans in Davenport waiting to be adopted

Could that climate - and her mother-in-law's scorn - have led Freda Roth, a woman who herself was abandoned as a baby, to give her own child away?

Or could Emma Roth, Walter's mother, have arranged to have Freda's baby taken from her against her will or without her knowledge? Could she have told Freda her baby had died?

There were black-market baby theft rings during that time. One was run by the notorious Georgia Tann in Tennessee, and another by a woman named Gertrude Pitkanen in Montana. Both women performed illegal abortions but also would take live newborns from unwed mothers and sell them to willing parents

If the baby was taken against Freda's will you would think there would be family lore or a even police report about it, but if there is D'anna and Bonnie are yet to find it

But the question still lingered: What did the Roths have to do with Arizona?

Well they found something eventually. George Washington Kautz was born in Blue Grass, Iowa and ran off, without telling his family, to enlist as an artilleryman in the Spanish American War in 1899. No one knew what became of him until months later when an uncle received a letter from the Philippines, which generated the headline "Long Lost Is Located" in the Moline Daily Dispatch in January 1900.

In 1931, he was a tuberculosis patient at the Veteran's Bureau hospital at Fort Whipple, near Prescott. The very same Fort Whipple that Faith had worked at for so much of her life

George was first cousin to Emma Roth, Walter Roth's mother. He was cared for by a niece named Lillie Sprott, who had lost her own husband to tuberculosis and had lived in Prescott since 1924.

D'anna was able to tracked down Lillie's daughter, Fritzi Collins in Phoenix.

Fritzi doesn't recall if she ever met Uncle George, a TB wing isn't a place for a small child. But she remembers the generosity to her mother and the dolls from the Philippines he gave her to play with

Fritzi had never heard of a family connection to the hatbox baby, but to her it made sense that her mother could have been involved.

Lillie was a public health nurse with maternity experience, and after G.W. Kautz died in 1933, she worked extensively with unwed mothers in and around Prescott, helping them place their babies for adoption.

We know from Walter and Freda's wedding announcement they were going to have a honeymoon in Sioux City and travel west. Prescott was west.

Faith was a clerk typist at the Fort, while they had 900 patients, it was still a small installation. It's entirely possible that she had known Lillie Sprott, who would've been about the same age. And certainly possible that she knew GW Kautz. Some two years after she adopted Sharon, she did meet her 3rd husband in the TB wing at the Fort. Had she met him through Lillie?

If someone in her circle knew Faith desperately wanted a child in 1931, and if that person knew of someone who was desperate to not have a child, some sort of arrangement could have been made.

Even though it was the heart of the Great Depression, Faith and her second husband, Henry Stieg, had the means to make something happen.

Henry worked in the grocery business, and Ed Stewart, whose wife stumbled upon the Hatbox Baby in the desert, drove an ice truck.

It's not hard to imagine that their lives could have intersected.

In her plea to have Sharon Elliott's adoption records unsealed 55 years later, Faith said that she and her husband were personal friends of Gov. George W.P. Hunt and that she and Henry had asked him to intervene with Judge E.L. Green on their behalf at their adoption hearing.

A researcher at the Arizona State Archives was unable to find any correspondence related to the Hatbox Baby in Hunt's papers, but such an arrangement could have been handled on the telephone.

And that could explain why the authorities did not question the Stewarts about the inconsistencies in their testimony.

It doesn't answer every question and there is little to no evidence to support this version of events, but as of now, it seems like the most likely theory. But who knows what might come out in another 10 years. If anything else does, you know that D'anna, Bonnie and Alice will find it


Sharon's only child, Jan, was able to say goodbye several days before Sharon died. She kissed her mother on the forehead and told her she loved her.

Jan's life has not been easy these last few years. She recently had surgery and is unable to work. She does not have a car and is living with a friend until she gets back on her feet.

She could not afford a funeral for her mother and neither could other members of the family

Nearly three weeks after she died, Sharon's body lay at an East Valley mortuary. If she was not claimed for funeral rites, the county would cremate her and spread her ashes unceremoniously

D'anna knew this wasn't the legacy that Sharon deserved

I could not let that happen.

I called Bonnie Belza, the DNA genealogist who solved Sharon's case. And I called Alice Syman, the private investigator who took on Sharon's case in the early days. We agreed that the three of us would handle the financial arrangements for a simple cremation and urn.

I called a friend who is a minister and who has told me many times how deeply touched he was by the Hatbox Baby's story.

We made arrangements to hold a simple service a few days after Christmas, a few miles outside of the town of Superior.

The Hatbox Baby's story would end exactly where it began

Sharon's survivors include her daughter, Jan Elliott; a grandson, Steven Olsen; granddaughter Stacey Clark and her husband, Dustin; and two great-grandchildren, Erik and Analise; and longtime friend Alice Syman. And of course Emily

Full Source List