DETROIT – DNA testing disproved a Michigan man's suspicions that he was a toddler kidnapped on New York's Long Island in 1955, the FBI said Thursday, closing a chapter in a bizarre mystery that started after he began researching his roots on the Internet.
The FBI said in a statement that a test showed John Barnes, an unemployed man in his 50s who lives in a trailer in northwest Michigan, is not Stephen Damman, who disappeared at age 2 from outside an East Meadow market while his mother shopped.
The sample showed Barnes could not have the same mother as Pamela Damman Horne, the sister of the toddler who was with him when he disappeared, the FBI said. She was found in her stroller, unharmed, around the corner from the market.
The case had raised the hopes of the toddler's father, Jerry Damman, who runs a 440-acre farm in Iowa, and stunned the community where the Halloween kidnapping occurred. Damman, now 78, had said he hoped for a resolution after five decades of silence.
"It's too bad we had to go through all of this for actually nothing in the end," he told The Associated Press.
Barnes has said he has long suspected the couple who raised him are not his biological parents, and the FBI took his DNA sample after he connected with Horne and took a trip to Iowa to try and catch a glimpse of the man he believed to be his father. He said he began investigating his origins years ago because he believed he never fit in.
Photos of the missing toddler's mother on the Internet led him to believe he could be Stephen. Barnes said pictures of the missing boy's mother when she was a young adult resembled what he looked like at the same age, so he started looking into the case.
Barnes did bear a striking resemblance to a photo of the missing toddler: He had the same chubby cheeks, the same round face and bright, blue eyes. And there was a faint line on his chin, close to the scar the missing toddler was said to have. But his father, Richard Barnes, immediately dismissed the speculation as "a bunch of foolishness," and said John Barnes was born in a Navy hospital in Pensacola, Fla., on Aug. 18, 1955.
Cheryl Barnes, John Barnes' sister, said she was not surprised by the test results. Mending fences, she said, won't be easy. "He pretty much lost two families today," she said.
"We knew that was going to be the outcome. ... My dad feels the same way. Neither of us had a doubt. My dad knows who his son is. I'm angry at my brother for putting everyone through this, turning everybody's lives upside down."
No one answered the door at John Barnes' home. A message seeking comment was also left for an attorney representing the toddler's sister in Lee's Summit, Mo.
Dwight Damman, a son from Jerry Damman's second marriage who would be the missing toddler's half brother, said he always had been skeptical of Barnes' story.
"We didn't hold out a lot of hope that it was true," Dwight Damman said. "After the pictures came out it kinda made you think, but with DNA you have to wait for the results."