Georgia Tann Abducted Children And Sold Them To Celebrities And Pedophiles, Making Millions
People | November 8, 2019
Have you ever wondered why someone would get it into their head to steal babies and flip them like so many houses?
Well, you’re in luck, friend. Buckle up, and hold onto your babies, because it’s time to learn about Georgia Tann: pianist, social worker, and baby-napping enthusiast. You might call her a triple threat.
Cue Georgia’s Birth
Beulah George “Georgia” Tann was born in Philadelphia, Mississippi, and by all accounts, was not baby-napped. Wouldn’t that be a great origin story?
In flat reality, however, Tann was raised by her father, Judge George Tann, and her mother, Beulah Yates. Judge Tann was hellbent on Georgia playing the piano, and play she did, right through college, despite her apparent loathing of the forced musical rigor. Allegedly, she had aspirations toward law, but her father discouraged her on the sound basis that chicks can’t argue well. Apparently a bit of a masochist as well as a sadist, Tann nonetheless majored in music and graduated with a degree from Martha Washington College in 1913. Though she took and passed the bar exam, she ultimately studied social work at Columbia University for two summers. Once Tann had finished her education, she finally unleashed all the fury that only years of mandatory piano lessons can give a person. By 1924, she got into human trafficking. What, were you expecting a scene phase?
The Worse-Than-A-Scene Phase
In 1922, Tann began working at the Mississippi Children’s Home Society, but she got fired for “dubious child-placing practices” that official documents alarmingly don’t elaborate. Following this termination, she and her “gal pal,” Ann Atwood, packed up and moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where Tann became Executive Secretary at the Shelby branch of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, who apparently didn’t believe in background checks. At the time, adoption was not popular or chic, and even worse for someone like Tann, it was not lucrative. You could adopt yourself a brand new baby to the tune of just $7 dollars, or a little over $100 in 2019 money. For perspective, you could buy one new iPhone, or you could buy eight babies. They were, shall we say, undervalued in the market. Tann saw that market, and she had a solution: arrange expensive out-of-state adoptions, skim off the top, and then literally shred the evidence. Foolproof! The only problem, at that point, was procuring enough marketable babies. It seems that Memphis simply didn’t produce enough orphans for Tann’s liking, and there were only so many she could coerce from poor families, so she started straight-up stealing them. Think your child is safe in the hospital?
Nope: Nurses and doctors were in on it. What about at the park?
Wrong again they could be taken right off the playground. Have you just given birth and aren’t fully aware of your surroundings due to, you know, giving birth?
Tough luck; you’ve just been baby-napped. It’s estimated that Tann was responsible for trafficking more than 5,000 children throughout 48 states. Most of these children were placed with affluent families in New York and California, and some of these rich parents were even celebrities, including Joan Crawford, Mary Pickford, Ric Flair, and Herbert Lehman. (Don’t worry: There’s no reason to think Tann’s clients knew the children they adopted were kidnapped, so you’re free to continue enjoying the Golden Age of Hollywood.) If you were lucky, you were placed with a wealthy family that was stable, sane, and even loving. If you were unlucky, your experience ran the gamut from being returned to the orphanage to plain, old death. Yes, seriously.
Speaking of Death
Tann didn’t immediately place all these babies into the semi-capable arms of the semi-affluent. Between the stealing and the selling, she had to put them somewhere. That place was Tennessee Children’s Home Society, where they were subjected to neglect that included the denial of medication and food your basic kids-definitely-need-it stuff. Many of the children were also straight-up abused, sometimes sexually, sometimes by Tann herself, having apparently looked in the mirror and thought “Nope needs to be more cartoon-villainy.”
According to one report, the children were “dropping like flies” about 500 flies, to be exact. More of a swarm, really. You might think that surely, these many children weren’t disappearing without consequence, but alas, gentle reader, they were. Thanks to her lucrative scheme, Tann was friends with quite a few of the well-to-do around Memphis, including Judge Camille Kelley and Mayor E. H. “Boss” Crump, and it’s not like the kind of person who’s willing to sell children is above a little bribery. Ever the ambitious sort, Tann even used her “success” to befriend Eleanor Roosevelt, though it’s doubtful that the first lady knew of Tann’s affinity for infanticide.
Okay, But How Much Did She Make?
As mentioned, adoptions in Tennessee at the time went for about $7 a (mom and) pop, and Tann decided to up that a bit. She charged for background checks that she didn’t do, documents that she didn’t file, inflated travel expenses, and for some older prospective parents, essentially for the privilege of getting to adopt anyone at all. She padded the bill so heavily that she made over $1 million peddling children. It’s really an appropriate word: She put ads in the paper captioned like Kewpie dolls, which no doubt appealed to the pedophiles she sometimes worked with when she couldn’t land a celebrity. The most marketable children?
Blue-eyed blondes. Despite making all this paper, she did very little of the actual paperwork. On top of that, she practiced exclusively closed adoptions. That means no information about the birth parents to anyone, and no information about the children to anyone, either. It’s a license to keep people in the dark, and if Tann’s enthusiasm for shredding is any indication, keeping people in the dark was the name of the game. In fact, at the time, Tann was viewed as a sort of champion of orphaned children. She made adoption more commonplace, and her insistence on placing children with well-to-do families meant that adoption became associated with the upper class. In other words, she put adoption in vogue. That’s how she managed to make the acquaintance of the first lady: She had become a small-time celebrity humanitarian, at least until people found out about all of the kidnappings and killings. That put a bit of a damper on her new friendships.
Did they get away with it, Scoob?
Pretty much, in the sense that no one went to jail. Tann died of uterine cancer three days before the state filed charges against the society. It’s rather poetic for a woman who was responsible for the deaths of so many children to die from her womb, but it can’t beat the regular ol’ justice system. Speaking of the justice system, that judge never did time, either. A handful of children have managed to get in touch with their birth parents, but thanks to Tennessee’s closed adoption laws and Tann’s shredding habit, many of the trails have long since gone cold. In 2015, a memorial to Tann’s hundreds of victims was placed in Memphis’s Elmwood Cemetery, where 19 of the unnamed children are buried. If you’re hoping that number is so low because the rest of the victims were identified and returned to their families to be laid to rest, we’re sorry to disappoint you one final time: Their bodies were simply never recovered. Sleep tight!
Celebrities open up about their harrowing miscarriages and devastation at losing a baby
Lacey Turner, Jane Danson, Izzy Judd and Natasha Kaplinsky have all suffered heartbreaking miscarriages – here, they bravely tell their stories
By Amanda Evans
- 17:02, 14 OCT 2020
- Updated17:10, 14 OCT 2020
Dealing with the heartbreak and trauma of losing a pregnancy is a grief that never leaves you. And it’s more common than many think with around one in four pregnancies in the UK ending in miscarriage. A new Channel 5 documentary Miscarriage: Our Story, on tomorrow looks at several raw and personal accounts of men and women who have suffered the loss of a pregnancy. The show also tells the stories of celebrities who open up about their own heartbreaking experiences of miscarriage.
Lacey Turner, EastEnders actress
Eastenders star Lacey was 29 and seven weeks pregnant when she suffered her first miscarriage. She had started bleeding heavily and suffered stomach cramps. Lacey, who plays Stacey Slater in the BBC soap explained: “In my gut I knew it wasn’t right.”
Adding: “I went back to work the next day, carried on like nothing had happened, which actually makes me really sad now looking back. I was probably walking around feeling so heartbroken yet nobody would have had a clue. There’s this whole taboo about not speaking about pregnancy and keeping it a secret until your 12 weeks and we sort of said it’s so early so don’t tell anybody.”
Having a baby was important for her and her husband Matt, who she married in 2017 and the pain of losing a much wanted child was heartbreaking. “I just felt so empty. I’ve gone from being so excited and we waited so long for this baby to feeling numb I guess.”
Lacey fell pregnant again. She said: “We got to seven weeks again and the same thing happened and it was so much worse than the last time. It was so much more blood. “I was so stressed out because we found out that there was still a tiny bit of the foetus left stuck in the lining of the cervix so therefore you can’t try again but I mean we’re talking about something that is the size of a grain of rice and I think for us that was really horrible because I felt like there’s still a bit of this baby stuck inside me and you know you just want it out.”
Finally after four months, she had an operation to remove the fetal tissue.
Lacey then fell pregnant again but as before, she started to bleed again seven months into her pregnancy. She explained: “I was sitting at home on Sunday and I started bleeding so I was like oh here we go again.”
Her doctor carried out a scan and told her the baby was still there but that he was prescribing her progesterone as her levels were low. Lacey said: “Right up until the end I thought until I have the baby in my hands and she’s breathing and alive and kicking then I can’t relax.”
Their baby girl, Dusty, was born in July 2019. Lacey and Matt are also expecting another child due in February. She said: “I feel so lucky to have her really. She’s changed our lives in so many ways. I feel a bit emotional. She’s incredible she really is.”
Lacey, 32, feels strongly that miscarriage should be talked about openly. She said: “Had I opened my mouth and asked someone a simple question of have you ever experienced anything like that I would have known that actually I would have had a handful of people to speak to and I wouldn’t have been lonely at all.”
Jane Danson, Coronation Street actress
Jane married actor Robert Beck in 2005 and they have two sons, Harry and Sam, but when she fell pregnant for a third time there was heartbreak for the couple. Jane explained: “I was actually folding clothes up for a friend who was pregnant at the time and it just said kind of a bit sad to put these away and my husband just said ‘well, you know if we get pregnant again we’ll just buy some more’ and I thought OK, so that obviously promoted a conversation and then quite soon afterwards we found out that we were pregnant for the third time so we were obviously really happy.”
The couple weren’t prepared for what they would be told at the 12 week scan. Jane said: “I remember lying down and she said, I won’t turn the screen around but don’t be worried, and then the room went really quiet. I just had a feeling, I knew something wasn’t right. And I remember she said you are pregnant, and that’s when my heart just sank because I knew that it had probably gone wrong, or the baby had died. Then they confirmed that that was it. but she didn’t turn the screen around, and I always remember this. She didn’t and I just wanted to see it, whatever stage it was at. i just wanted to see”
It took Jane three years to fully open up about how she was feeling. She said: “I don’t know why it just festered and lingered for a long time and I couldn’t find the words. I suppose for somebody who never stops talking it’s quite unusual for me.”
Well meaning people would tell her not to worry as she already had two children. Jane said: “Of course they’re my worlds and of course it goes without saying but at the same time I just felt I know but I wanted that baby. I wanted that baby as much as my other children.”
Natasha Kaplinsky, journalist and broadcaster
Natasha met her husband Justin at an awards ceremony and they married in 2005. After focusing for so long on her career, starting a family was a priority for the couple. After falling pregnant, Natasha was having her scan when she saw the crestfallen look on the sonographer’s face. She said: “He just said ‘I’m so sorry would you like some time to yourself’. It just took me ages to understand that he meant that the pregnancy wasn’t going to work and then he left me in the room with Justin and it just kind of sunk in that actually that excitement was just for nothing.”
The devastating news floored Natasha, who had longed so much for a baby. She said: “Just that sense of being a barren woman.That’s what haunted me, that I was never going to be able to make him a father. It just broke my heart.”
Natasha was referred to the recurrent miscarriage clinic at Saint Mary’s Hospital in London. The 48-year-old went on to have two children, Arlo and Angelica. She said: “After all the sadness and the fear I just couldn’t believe that there had been this miracle. Any baby is a miracle anyway but for me it just felt like this was the most monumental miracle that these two babies were in our lives.”
Izzy Judd, musician and writer
Izzy and husband Harry, a drummer with McFly, started trying for a family three or four months after they got married. Izzy suffered with polycystic ovaries which make it difficult to conceive naturally, the couple decided to try IVF. After falling pregnant, their dreams were soon shattered. She explained: “It was Christmas Day night and I woke up it must have been about three-o’clock in the morning and there was just a really little bit of light coming through the curtains and I went to the loo and it was just like a horror scene just this bright red and the physical sensation of having a miscarriage of actually passing a baby even at seven weeks and three days it was. I’ll never forget that that physical feeling. It just fell and I just knew and I couldn’t look I just didn’t I just remember shouting to Harry it’s gone we’ve lost the baby.”
Izzy was devastated and the pain deepened when she saw families out with buggies or saw pictures of babies in magazines. She said: “You can’t help but feel responsibility you can’t help but think what if I can’t give Harry a family. What if I can’t give his mum and dad grandchildren. My parents randchildren.”
On her second IVF attempt in 2015 is he became pregnant again and gave birth to daughter Lola in January 2016. Izzy explained: “She was in my arms and it was just so ,surreal and magical and terrifying all at once.”
The couple went on to have a son kit in 2017.
- Miscarriage: Our Story will be broadcast on Channel 5 at 10pm on Thursday 15th October, and coincides with International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.
- Miscarriage Association offers support and information to anyone affected by the loss of a baby in pregnancy. Call 0192 4200 799