A Race Against the Clock

I came up against a lot of obstacles in the course of trying to learn my identity and find the real Paul Fronczak. But the most powerful obstacle of all was time—or more specifically, the passage of time.

The Baby Fronczak kidnapping happened more than 50 years ago. That’s a long, long time. Over the years, important records vanish, people pass away, and bit by bit the past just disappears. When you’re trying to uncover and recreate events that happened half a century earlier, you’re in a race against the clock. Every day that passes is another day that an important clue or lead or person might be lost forever.

In my search for the real Paul, part of my challenge was trying to find people who actually lived through the kidnapping. I did locate one of the FBI agents—a really great guy named Bernie Carey—who worked the kidnapping case and actually stayed with the Fronczaks around the clock for three weeks after the kidnapping. Bernie has a great memory and was incredibly helpful, but he was an exception to the rule. Other people I would love to have talked to—witnesses, investigators, law officers, neighbors—just weren’t around anymore.

I always wonder if things might have been easier had I started this search 25 years ago. The answer is almost surely yes.

I faced the same challenge in the quest to learn my true identity. If I was lucky enough to actually discover who my birth relatives were, would any of them still be alive? And if they were, would they remember anything? Would I be able to meet my birth parents? Or how about the person who abandoned me? Time wipes away so much.

For instance, in the photo above, I’m standing in front of a Nike store in Newark, New Jersey. It’s a really sleek, new store with lots of shiny glass and modern touches.

But the reason I’m standing in front of it is because of what used to be there. It used to be a famous department store called McCrory’s, and in the 1950s and 60s it’s where Newark’s upper class went to shop. In 1966, someone left me in a stroller outside McCrory’s and walked away.

In this photo, I am standing in the very spot where I was abandoned a half century ago.

Documents get lost. People pass away. Stores get torn down. The past keeps getting consumed by the future. History claims everything.

So to anyone who, like me, feels they have no choice but to explore their past in search of answers, my advice would be to get started as soon as you can. Don’t let years and years go by. If you wait too long, the single most important clue you need to find, or the person you are most desperate to meet, might not be around anymore.

And the spot where your life changed forever might just be an ordinary sidewalk now.