Were Joan Crawford's adopted children stolen by notorious Tennessee Children's Home operator Georgia Tann?
The answer is: No.
Due to Joan Crawford adopting two of her four children from the notorious Tennessee Children's Home, which was operated by Georgia Tann, some people assume these two children, or all, of Joan Crawford's adopted children were stolen or illegitimately obtained by Tann. These assumptions are incorrect. Below are the verifiable details surrounding each child's birth and adoption.
The Children's Births and Adoptions
The first child adopted by Joan Crawford was Christina Crawford. Christina was born on June 11th, 1939 in Los Angeles, California to a young, unwed woman named Bernice Iva Siglar. Christina was given to Joan for adoption ten days after her birth. According to Christina, her biological father was a married man, and she was the result of her biological father's affair with her biological mother. Christina's biological mother was found by Los Angeles "baby broker" Alice Hough. Christina was not procured through the Tennessee Children's Home or by Georgia Tann.
In Joan's 1962 autobiography, "A Portrait of Joan," she wrote of Christina's adoption:
"When I realized that my marriage to Franchot was breaking, I petitioned an adoption home. After our divorce, I continued petitioning. At that time, only thirteen states in the Union would allow an unmarried man or woman to adopt children. I'm told it's even less now - eight. With the vast number of potential parents yearning for children, there is such an inordinate amount of red tape involved that there continue to be homeless babies and childless parents!
I was told originally of five pregnant girls, their backgrounds, their problems. The story of the fifth girl intrigued me. Unknown to this mother, I paid for her hospital bills, the customary procedure. Then, I waited. When the baby was ten days old, she was brought to me...she grew into a blue-eyed, blonde-haired doll, typically Scandinavian, and I gave her all my love and attention."
Christina Crawford confirmed her place of birth and the elements surrounding her biological parents in the 20th anniversary of her 1978 memoir, stating:
"My real mother was a student and my father a sailor and neither one of them wanted to take responsibility for me. So, from Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital to a private adoption broker to 426 North Bristol Avenue I traveled when I was only a few weeks old."
"My biological mother was a nineteen-year-old student but my father was an engineer, as I was to discover. I was told my mother died giving birth to me, but the truth is she died at fifty-seven without bearing other children."
Christina was officially adopted by Joan on May 9th, 1940 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Click here to read the documents pertaining to the adoption.
Christopher Crawford #1 (aka Marcus Gary Kullberg, aka David Gary Deatherage)
David Gary Deatherage was born in Los Angeles, California on June 3rd, 1941 to 26-year-old Rebecca Kullberg. Rebecca was married to a man named Andrew Kullberg, but Deatherage was the product of an affair Rebecca had with another man. According to Deatherage, approximately 10 days after his birth, Gary was given to Joan for adoption, however, because he was returned to his biological mother, he was never official adopted by Joan.
In David Gary Deatherage's autobiography, "The Other Side of my Life," he explains the events surrounding his birth and adoption through his own investigation into his birth and adoption:
"In March 1976, after several cycles with zero results, I decided to write the Children's Home Society of California [which was the adoption agency who placed Deatherage with his permanent adoptive parents]. They responded with general information, some of which I already knew.
"Your mother was a housewife at the time of your birth. She was married to another man when she met your father. She had two children with her husband. Because of the circumstances of your birth, your biological mother felt that she could not offer you the security and attention to which all children are entitled. Her husband was upset by her relationship with your father, and he requested that a child of this relationship not live in his home. Therefore, your mother believed that in the best interest of all involved, she would arrange for your adoption."
Deatherage further elaborates in his autobiography that after finding his older biological sister, ReeAnn, she told him details that she knew regarding his birth and adoption to Joan:
"Along about the seventh month, Rebecca felt guilty and confessed to her husband that she wasn't carrying his child. Her dad was filled with rage and threatened physical harm. Her mother feared for our safety, and reluctantly decided to put me up for adoption right after birth with a private "baby broker," Alice Hough. The broker arranged for hospital expenses, child care of older children, plus some monetary compensation."
Deatherage also explains in his autobiography how his mother reobtained him from Joan:
"After several months, Rebecca started to feel guilty about giving up her child, and decided to pursue my return. Somehow, she found out that Joan Crawford had me. Rebecca claims God told her where I was, but other accounts say there was a news release giving the exact birthdate, which led her to Crawford. She wrote letters to Alice Hough and Joan Crawford demanding my return, threatening suit and negative publicity. Rebecca was successful, and I was returned to the Kullberg home in November of 1941. Joan Crawford and Alice Hough returned me to Rebecca's house. They carried me inside and handed me over to Rebecca. Rebecca proceeded to undress me with ReeAnn observing closely, presumably to make sure I was not damaged merchandise. Alice Hough was furious and demanded that Rebecca stop such antagonistic antics while all the time Joan Crawford was crying. All too soon, Crawford and Hough left, leaving me behind. If they had known the hellish life I was condemned to for the next year, there would have been horror in their eyes.
ReeAnn said her father would drink heavily after coming home from work. When he saw or heard me, he quickly transformed from a peaceful, loving person to a monster bent on destruction - my destruction! In my defense, Rebecca had to literally beat him off.
After about a year of cruel existence, at last Andrew Kullberg Sr. almost did me in. He threw me across the room, and it ruptured my hernia. Rebecca rushed me to the hospital and made arrangements to give me up forever."
Joan wrote of the "first Christopher" in her 1962 autobiography, "A Portrait of Joan," stating:
"The mother had given up the child when he was ten days old, but she'd changed her mind when she read in the published interview where he was - I'd made the mistake of mentioning his birthdate and birthplace. From that moment I had no peace. Day after day, she'd show up at my door. She sent threatening letters, demanding money. The situation assumed the aspects of a nightmare. My small son was entitled to life; I could not allow his being used as the pawn in a tug-of-war. So I gave him back to the mother who really didn't want him, who promptly sold him. In short order, the adoption home stepped in, placing him where he couldn't possibly be found. There is one alleviating note. The people who adopted him knew of me; every Christmas for a few years they sent a card, unsigned, but with his picture on it. It took the agency almost a year to find another little son for me, Christopher."
Christopher Crawford #2 (aka "Baby Stone," aka Phillip Terry Jr.)
Following the biological mother reclaiming the first son Joan adopted, she adopted a second son, initially naming him "Phillip Terry Jr."
After Joan's divorce from Terry, she renamed the child "Christopher." For many years, the origins of Christopher Crawford was unknown. However, his eldest daughter was finally able to discover who his biological parents were, and the circumstances surrounding his birth and adoption through her own investigative efforts. Much of the information is thanks to Christopher's daughter, who invested considerable time and effort into learning the identities of her biological grandparents.
Christopher was born in the vicinity of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in October 1942 to a 19-year-old unwed mother named Laura Lee Stone who already had a 2-year-old daughter. Christopher's official date of birth is 10/15/1942, however, the day of birth may have been altered to avoid the situation that had occurred with Joan's first adopted son. Christopher's biological mother could not afford to care for him and gave him up for adoption shortly after his birth. It is believed that Christopher was found and procured by Los Angeles "baby broker" Alice Hough. He did not go to the Tennessee Children's home, nor did he, or his adoption, have any involvement with Georgia Tann.
Following Joan's divorce from Phillip Terry, Terry signed over all parental rights to Joan. Click here to read documentation of Joan's full adoption of Christopher in 1946.
Cathy (aka Linda Cotten) and Cynthia Crawford
Cathy and Cynthia were the only children adopted by Joan to have been associated with the Tennessee Children's Home. However, neither were "stolen" or, in any way, absconded from their biological family. Cathy and Cynthia were born to 21-year-old Theda Mildred Cotten in the Dyersburg Hospital in Dyersburg, Tennessee. Their biological father, J.W. Jorden, knew Theda was pregnant, but was not present during the last part of Theda's pregnancy or with her when she gave birth.
Seven days after the twins' births, Theda died from kidney failure. On January 20th, 1947, Theda signed custody of her daughters to the Tennessee Children's Home so they could be cared for and adopted. Theda died two days later on January 22nd.
Joan officially adopted the twins on June 11th, 1948, after they had lived with Joan in her home for approximately one year. Click here to read documentation relating to Cathy Crawford's adoption.
It is believed the two girls were procured by Alice Hough, the Los Angeles "baby broker" whom Joan had previously used to acquire the other three children. It is not believed that Joan knew or worked directly with Georgia Tann to adopt the two girls.
In 1990, Cynthia located her biological father, J.W. Jordan, living in Friendship, Tennessee and contacted him. The twins' biological father knew Theda was pregnant, but because he had abandoned her after learning she was pregnant, he never knew what became of his children after she died.
By contacting their biological father, and the surviving family of their biological mother, Cathy and Cynthia were able to learn more about their biological family and the events surrounding their birth and adoption.
Click here for a detailed article regarding Cathy and Cynthia's birth, adoptions and their biological family.