Hi everyone, this is Paul. Not long ago, I got an email from a woman wishing me a happy birthday (my actual birthday, which I just discovered three years ago). “I remember your case from when I was a young adult,” the woman wrote. “And as a nurse, I remember that your case is one of the reasons we have Code Pink in hospitals – so no other infants disappear.”
She is right—the infamous Paul Fronczak kidnapping case in 1964 led to several changes in how infants are supervised and cared for in hospitals, including the installation of a hospital code system.
When the real Paul Fronczak was taken out of his mother’s arms on April 26, 1964, by a woman in a nurse’s outfit who simply walked in and out of Micheal Reese Hospital in Chicago, it took the nursing staff 45 minutes to report to police that a child had been abducted. In that time, the kidnapper disappeared. As people who are following my story know, she still hasn’t been found, nor do we know her identity—but I’m still working on that.
One of the changes that followed was the institution of a Code Pink—a message over a hospital’s public address system warning the staff that an infant has been abducted. In the case of the real Paul Fronczak, one nurse did see the abductor go into and come out of Dora Fronczak’s hospital room, and she quickly reported this to her superior once she realized the infant was missing. But after that, the nursing staff conducted its own search without notifying anyone else for nearly an hour.
Imagine if, the very instant the nursing staff realized Baby Fronczak was missing, a Code Pink had been issued hospital-wide. It’s very possible that someone on a lower floor or in the lobby might have been able to see the abductor hurrying down the back stairs and out a back door of the hospital, with a bundled infant in tow, before she got to the street and turned a corner and vanished forever.
At least now, in part because of the Fronczak case, Code Pink is universally recognized as the hospital distress call for an infant abduction.
According to the website The Hospitalist, there are thousands of infants abducted each year by family members. The number of babies taken by non-family members, however, is much smaller—since 1983, when the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children began keeping track of the numbers, there have been 235 reported kidnappings by non-family members.
Of those abductions, 117 have happened in a hospital— and more than half of all the abducted infants were taken from their mothers’ hospital rooms, just like Baby Fronczak.
Considering that around 4 million babies are born in American hospitals every year, those numbers might not seem all that high. But as The Hospitalist points out, “this crime is of particular concern to pediatric hospitals” because “it plays on the fears of expectant parents and communities, and a successful abduction can be catastrophic for a hospital’s im
age and reputation.”
It is also beyond catastrophic for the families of the abducted children—believe me, I know. The parents who raised me as their own—Dora and Chester Fronczak—were deeply and permanently traumatized by the kidnapping of their one-day old son Paul, and were never the same again. The unfathomable pain they felt rippled outward and affected so many other people as well.
The fact that dozens of infants are still kidnapped out of hospitals is absolutely terrifying. I remember that when my own daughter Emma was born, I didn’t leave our hospital room for even a single second, until we all checked out together and went home. It was like I was replaying the events of more than 50 years earlier, when Dora Fronczak handed her child to someone she thought was a nurse—only this time, I was determined not to let Emma out of my sight for even a moment.
For the families out there who have had infants kidnapped, I wish you great strength and I hope and pray you find your children. In the meantime, I can be thankful that the kidnapping of the real Paul Fronczak—which I am still devoted to solving, even if it takes me the rest of my life—has at least led to the use of Code Pink, and saved so many infants and families from the horrors the Fronczaks had to endure.