Georgia Tann: Baby Snatcher

Last week while discussing the unsolved missing persons case of then four-year-old Majorie West, I mentioned that when kidnapping theories were discussed in the early to mid 1900s, one name that was regularly mentioned was Georgia Tann.


Here is more on Ms. Tann.
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Georgia Tann was a woman of high-society who dedicated her life to helping orphan children.

Or so it seemed.


Tann was a nationally recognized children's advocate, and operated the Tennessee Children's Home Society in Memphis for decades (1924-1950).

Eleanor Roosevelt once sought her guidance on child welfare.

President Harry Truman invited Tann to be his guest at an official function.

But in 1950, Tennessee state authorities completed an investigation and closed Ms. Tann's agency.

She died of cancer a few days before the information about her agency was made public.

What was Ms. Tann really?

After her death and the truth about her child welfare activities were revealed, she became known as "The Hollywood Baby-Snatcher."

It was estimated that Tann sold through "adoption" nearly 5,000 babies--many to wealthy clients that paid her large sums of money.

Superstar actresses Joan Crawford and Lana Turner both used Tann to adopt infants.

Unknown to them or other want-to-be-parents, Tann acquired these infants through fraud, deception, and old-fashioned kidnapping.

She regularly targeted the poor, mentally ill, and women in prison--children that she could remove from families that could not fight back.

One of her common strategies was recounted in this article:


As she watched her baby coughing in her cot in a corner of her tiny apartment, Alma Sipple felt increasingly desperate. 


A single mother in Tennessee, she could not afford medical care for ten-month-old Irma. Suddenly, a knock on the door heralded a turn in her fate: there stood a woman with close-cropped grey hair, round wireless glasses and a stern air. 


She exuded authority as she explained she was the director of a local orphanage and had come to help. Alma rushed to show the lady her sickly child.  


Examining the baby, the woman offered to pass her off as her own at the local hospital in order to obtain free treatment. 


She warned Alma not to accompany her, explaining: 'If the nurses know you're the mother, they'll charge you.'  Lifting the child from the cot, the woman turned on her heel and disappeared. Two days later, Alma was told her baby had died.  


In fact, Irma had been flown to an adoptive home in Ohio. Alma would not see her daughter again for 45 years.  


For far from being her saviour, the woman who had taken Irma was a baby thief.  


For 30 years, Georgia Tann made millions selling children. A network of scouts, corrupt judges and politicians helped her steal babies. 


She also targeted youngsters on their way home from school, promising them ice cream to tempt them away from their homes.  Legal papers would be signed saying they were abandoned - most would never see their families again...

And, she did this for more than 20 years.

Tann's criminal activities led to reform of adoption laws in Tennessee and later the US.

And what became of the thousands of Ms. Tann's child victims?

Authorities in the 1950s made no effort to reunite birth families, and very few ever saw their natural mothers and fathers again.

In 1997 after a lengthy court battle, some of Ms. Tann's victims were allowed access to adoption records, but as one can imagine, many of those involved were deceased or the files had been falsified.

A sad ending to one individual's life of crime.

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So, could a little missing girl from Pennsylvania have been sold by Tennessee's Georgia Tann?

Yes, it is possible, but based on the information released about the case of 4-year-old Majorie, it is not likely.

Tann's "child grab" activities seem to be relegated to Tennessee, Mississippi, and Connecticut.

But, if a kidnapper contacted Ms. Tann and stated that he had a young girl for sale, I have little doubt that Ms. Tann would make that purchase with no questions asked.

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You can read more of my Missing Person Monday posts by going here.  

34 comments:

Miss Caitlin S. said...

oh crazy!!!! without the pervision factor: this is reminiscent of Sandusky. A child "advocate" who turned out to be anything but. So sad.

Interesting that I've never heard anything about this woman before your post.

chuckmullis said...

That's absolutely amazing and frightening. All I can think about are those children who were "duped" by this grandmother-like figure.
So sad.

messymimi said...

The losses to the biological parents were devastating, and it's sad she wasn't exposed while still alive. How would she have tried to justify what she did?

Frightening.

Pat Hatt said...

Wow, I never heard anything on her before. A real slime ball indeed.

Clarissa Draper said...

What a horrible story! I can't believe that woman was allowed to carry on like that for so long.

Miranda Hardy said...

So many children taken from parents who loved them. Sad story.

Jax said...

Omg, this is sickening!! Really? Someone made profit from kidnapping babies and selling them to high end customers?? That's gross. I don't know how people like this are able to live with themselves. Figures she died of cancer before her god like name was soiled.

Jax said...

P.S. I sent you an e-mail invite to our blogger fantasy team. Hope you can play along!! :)

Mommy Lisa said...

Wasn't there a movie about this deluded creepy woman?

Carol Kilgore said...

None of us want to believe there are people like Mrs. Tann out there. But I suspect there are many more than we can imagine.

And I'm SO GLAD your son got in the correct camp. Finally.

Kay G. said...

I knew about Georgia Tann because I knew that Joan Crawford had used her. I sincerely hope there is a special place in HELL reserved for this woman.
Did you ever see the movie "The Changeling"...I think that was the name of it, it was based on true events in Los Angeles where a missing child was returned to the woman, and even though the child was not hers, it brings ups the issues of corruption in the LA police department. The real story of what really happened to her missing child is heartbreaking.

Lydia Kang said...

What a terrible woman. Sometimes I can't believe what people got away with.

Secret Agent Woman said...

"A network of scouts, corrupt judges and politicians helped her steal babies." This may be the most horrifying part of the story.

Interestingly, the three states she targeted were all ones I've lived in.

BobKat said...

od research there. Rather stunned. I also find it hard to understand why no effort was ever made to reunite the children with their families?

Unlike today, the children were kidnapped and sold. Today they're murdered. Quite a, NOT, step up.

jodeeluna said...

What a sad but intriguing post. This is so well written.

Momma Fargo said...

Very interesting, Slam. Sinister lady.

Bob G. said...

Slamdunk:
THis is almost too chilling a story to be true anywhere but in Hollywood...

Amazing stuff.

Stay safe out there.

Maxi said...

This is horrendous. It's hard to believe a woman would do this today, much less in the nineteen hundreds.

Blessings - Maxi

Maxi said...

This is horrendous. It's hard to believe a woman would do this today, much less in the nineteen hundreds.

Blessings - Maxi

Elisa Hirsch said...

I keep staring at her picture. Why can't God just make evil people look evil, like Dorian Grey's portrait, so they'd have to wear sin upon their faces? Then people would think twice about committing crimes. If only . . .

Anthony said...

Wow! It is amazing that she was able to get away with it for so long...even considering her choice of targets.

susan said...

Tann was a monster that ruined many lives...including my own...I was one of those children...a lucky one cause Tann didn,t kill me like she did so may others...I was blond..blue eyed and cute fetching a pretty penny and although i went into wealth my situation was void of nurture and filled with abuse and belittlement..

susan said...

Tann was a monster that ruined many lives...including my own...I was one of those children...a lucky one cause Tann didn,t kill me like she did so may others...I was blond..blue eyed and cute fetching a pretty penny and although i went into wealth my situation was void of nurture and filled with abuse and belittlement..

Slamdunk said...

@ Susan: Thanks for the personal perspective. I cannot imagine your pain.

@ Kay G: No, I did not see that movie. Sounds interesting.

@ Messymimi: Since the accusations were coming out as she was nearing death, I don't believe she ever made any relevant comments as to motive.

Anonymous said...

Not so amazing she got away with it for so long when you factor in two of her, shall we say, silent partners included "Boss" Crump, mayor of Memphis, and Family Court judge Camille Kelly, who specifically used her position to aide Georgia Tann's child-laundering activities. I'm a lifelong Memphian, and its sad to say that this was kind of the rule as corruption in this city went in those days.

Shula C said...

I believe my mother was one of Georgia Tann's victims. She was born in 1933 in Muncie or Indianapolis Indiana.
Her actual birth date was listed as August 11 1933 and her alleged birth name was Rachael Deloris. She was given to a Stella and Noah Mathis who did not formally adopt her until 1944.
Any information would be helpful on how to begin to trace my mothers origins. WE are in the mist of DNA testing at present.

Shula C said...

I believe my mother was one of Georgia Tann's victims. She was born in 1933 in Muncie or Indianapolis Indiana.
Her actual birth date was listed as August 11 1933 and her alleged birth name was Rachael Deloris. She was given to a Stella and Noah Mathis who did not formally adopt her until 1944.
Any information would be helpful on how to begin to trace my mothers origins. WE are in the mist of DNA testing at present.

Ayn Maddox said...

I am posting this information any and everywhere I can. My brother was a Georgia Tann baby. The documents from the state of TN say that he was born Raymond Lewis Bradley on Sept. 14, 1947 at Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga, TN to a Vera Bradley of Chattanooga, TN or Sparta, TN and Cecil Cruse of Jamestown, TN or Detroit, MI. He supposedly was surrendered for adoption at the Florence Crittenden Home. Another document says that he was surrendered at the Vine Street Orphanage. Supposedly there are other relatives: Grandparents Everett and Callie Bradley, Uncles Bethel Bradley and James Bradley, and an unnamed male sibling that is 6 years older, all from the Chattanooga area. If this matches any information for anyone searching for a stolen baby boy, please feel free to email me at womayn@aol.com. Thank you, Ayn Maddox

axton said...

Alma Sipple is my maternal grandmother. And she sure as heck did not raise MY mother. She basically gave her away to another family. And NOT thru the courts.
So I have a hrad time believing that Tann stole my Aunt.

Marie said...

The true story about this woman was shown tonight,September 13th on a new episode of Deadly Women on the Investigative Discovery channel.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Tann, was a demon stealing, killing& destroying. She is now being held accountable for her deeds..

Kelly Dahlberg said...

I have just stumbled upon this post. In 1936 my grandmother, who was very poor, gave birth to a girl at St. Joseph hospital in Memphis. She was told the baby was born dead and was not allowed to see the infant. She was never given a death certificate. The next day a birth announcement was posted in the Memphis paper, as was customary for the time. My grandmother always believed that her baby had not died and had been taken. This was during the time of Georgia Tann. Unfortunately, there seems to be no way to find out the truth.

Jo Olsen said...

My mother and her younger sister were taken from Lenoir City TN in 1944 by Georgia Tann after the death of their mother while in the custody of their paternal grandmother. I have created a fb account dedicated to my mother for other victims looking for their roots. ALICE'S CHILDREN aliceschildren@facebook.com

Jo Olsen said...

My mother and her younger sister were taken from Lenoir City TN in 1944 by Georgia Tann after the death of their mother while in the custody of their paternal grandmother. I have created a fb account dedicated to my mother for other victims looking for their roots. ALICE'S CHILDREN aliceschildren@facebook.com