Adoptee sold by doctor 50 years ago reunites with birth mother

GEORGIA (KUSI) – Between 1950 and 1965, roughly 200 babies were illegally sold into black market adoptions by Dr. Thomas Jugarthy Hicks and recently, some of those babies — now adults — are being reunited with their birth parents. 

Dr. Thomas Jugarthy Hicks was the town doctor in the mining community of McCaysville, Georgia. He was known to perform illegal abortions, but for a select few, he convinced the women to carry the babies to term.

According to "Nightline," Hicks would tell the women he would find adoptive parents for their children. In other reported cases, he lied to the birth mothers, telling them their newborn baby had died. Hicks would then secretly sell the newborn for $800 to $1,000 each and included a forged birth certificate with the adoptive parents’ names on it.

At least 49 of the babies were sold to parents in the Akron, Ohio area.

These babies quickly became known as the "Hicks Babies."

Hicks surrendered his medical license in 1964 for performing an illegal abortion. He died in 1972 at age 83. He was never held responsible for these illegal adoptions.

With no record of the original birth mothers on their birth certificates, the Hicks Babies, now grown and with families of their own, had no way of finding out the truth about their past.

Some didn’t even know they had been adopted until stories about the Hicks Babies first made headlines in 1997.

One of these adoptees, Kriste Hughes, now 51, said she had wondered about her birth parents since she was a teenager. 

In an interview with "Nightline", Hughes said her adoptive father was supportive in helping her unravel the mystery of her biological family. 

"Finding a sibling or even a relative would make me feel like I've found a little part of myself, my true self," she said. 

Melinda Dawson, another one of the Hicks Babies who is now 52, said her mother “was told that she could not have children and she wanted a baby… so my father and her purchased me from the doctor.”

“Nightline” spoke with eight people who identify themselves as Hicks Babies, including Hughes and Dawson, and asked the genealogy website for help in tracking down their birth parents through DNA testing. can compare more than 700,000 DNA markers and they analyzed the Hicks Babies' DNA for free. 

Using the genealogy website, Dawson and others in her same situation, were able to find second and third cousins through testing. 

Hughes's DNA matched to a first cousin, a woman named Jackie Flowers who revealed that two of her aunts had given birth at the Hicks clinic and that one of them could be Hughes’ birth mother.

Flowers said only one of her aunts was still alive and that one of them also had a son named Roger Tipton, 52, who could potentially be Hughes' biological brother. 

According to Nightline, he agreed to take a DNA test. 

A few weeks later, the mystery of Hughes' life was solved. Her DNA matched with Tipton's. She had found her brother. 

The best part was the woman who turned out to be her biological mother was still alive.

“I know this is real, but I’m still kind of in shock,” Hughes said. “There’s a part of me in my heart doesn’t want to get too invested.”

But Hughes was eager to re-connect, so “Nightline” brought her to rural Georgia to meet her biological family. Her first stop was to meet Roger, the man she now knows is her brother.

After the reunion, Roger said that Dr. Hicks took “a lot of love, a lot of memories” away from them.

“I wish I had had a sister to pick on or picked on me or something,” he said. “I just don’t think [Hicks] had a right to play God and … bust up our family.”

Roger’s mother, Thelma Tipton, now 75, said she never forgot the daughter she thought she lost 51 years ago.

Thelma Tipson told Nightline that unlike most of the other Hicks moms who willingly gave up their babies Hicks had told her she had given birth to a stillborn child.

“[He said] she had a bad heart … and I believed it,” Tipton said.

She said Hicks even had her sign her daughter’s death certificate. One week later Hicks sold Kriste to her adoptive parents.

“He stole my daughter,” Tipton said. “He robbed me of my life … I missed out seeing [Kristie] growing up, missed out on her first tooth … her first day in school … I missed out on her wedding, I missed out on everything.”

Even with the knowledge of all that they missed, it was a bittersweet moment of triumph for the women, mother and daughter, to be finally reunited. They both celebrated their new found family and are making up for lost time.

“I’ve got both of my kids, my son-in-law, and my daughter-in-law and three of my grandkids, I’m happy,” Tipton said.

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