James Stone was a manager at Johnson Bronze. He and his wife lived in a large Victorian house on North Mercer street with a four-year-old girl named Helen who they had adopted the year before. About 5 o’clock one February in 1946, Mrs Stone answered a knock at her front door, Helen following just behind her. Two young women stood there. One of them knocked Mrs Stone down and the other grabbed the child. They ran to a car that was waiting in the street and drove off.
The woman who grabbed the child was Sophia Lyskooka, the little girl’s birth mother. She’d had the baby when she was 16 and given her up for adoption. In 1945, Mr and Mrs Stone applied to the county to adopt a child and were granted custody of Helen on probation. Sophia’s sister petitioned for custody of the girl, too. The case went to court and the judge ruled in favor of Mr and Mrs Stone. They received the final papers at the end of the year.
The police went to the Sophia’s parents’ home on South Jefferson street and arrested her and her friend Elizabeth Russo. Sophia fought them. Helen had to be taken from her by force before being returned to Mr and Mrs Stone.
In time, Sophia married and had another daughter. Mr and Mrs Stone moved out of state. Sophia never saw Helen again.
Sources: New Castle News (24 July 1942, “Hospital Notes”; 30 august 1963, “Deaths Of The Day”); Pittsburgh Press, 3 February 1946, “Baby Back At Foster Home After Kidnaping By Mother”; email correspondence with Sandy Sweet. Note: An earlier draft of this story, published when I knew nothing about Sophia, is here. The incorrect spelling of her name in that story is taken from her arrest card.
She was sixteen and married and yet her daughter was adopted out? I have heard of one other story like that. It all sounds terribly tragic. I hope Helen had no memory of the abduction and that she lived a happy life with the Stones.
No, she wasn’t married — that was what I wrote in the previous version of the story, based on the fact that the hospital admission entry that I found for her called her “Mrs”. When I got the new information, I realised that the hospital admission, when she was 16, would have been for the birth of her child — the hospital might have referred to her as “Mrs” out of a sense of decorum. The strangest, saddest thing is that the court didn’t let Sophia’s sister adopt the child — maybe the taint of a birth out of wedlock prejudiced the court against the whole family. Or maybe the court just genuinely thought that the child would have a better life with rich parents.
Have you heard the This American Life episode called “The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar”? It’s relevant to this story, and very much worth a listen.
Wow, the more one knows, the sadder it gets. I don’t know that title. Is it a podcast? Is it on the BBC player?
I received your fabulous email! I will reply asap. A new part of the mystery happened this morning. . .
It’s an NPR radio show and podcast. You can listen to that episode here: https://m.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/352/the-ghost-of-bobby-dunbar
Thanks Diarmid. I will do my best to remember to find it.
Back again! I thought the link wouldn’t have been directly to a player. I’ve listened to the prologue and part one. I had read the story of Bobby Dunbar on Wikipedia, but didn’t remember until hearing the podcast. Having such a poor memory has its benefits as I cannot remember what happens in the end! And of course it is infinitely more interesting to hear from the people whose lives were impacted by the kidnapping. Thanks again for the link, Diarmid!
Wow, that was so amazing. I had a wee sob mid way through the second part. I listen to Boston Calling and one or two other US radio shows on ABC Radio National and BBC World Service. NPR is fabulous. I am assuming they make This American Life. Thanks again, Diarmid.
Sophia is my mother’s aunt, although they are the same age. I sent a link to the story to my mother, and she was at my grandmother’s house on Jefferson St the day that the abduction happened, She told me that Sophia was sitting at the top of the stairs, and when the cops would go up to try and get her, she was kicking them and forcing them to back off. By the way, Sophia is still alive, and living in New Castle.
Thanks for writing, Mike. I’ve been in touch with a relative of yours, Sandy Sweet. She gave me some information that let me track down a couple of articles in old papers. It’s a very sad story. I’d love to talk to Sophia about what happened, but I doubt she’d care to revisit it all. I hope she’s in good health.
Are you able to send me any further information on the newspaper articles you have found or perhaps the articles? Her actual name is Sophie not Sophia and she is my grandmother. My mom was told by her aunts late in life that her mom gave a baby up for adoption but they never mentioned the abduction to her. Sophie’s siblings are all deceased now and she is the last living of them. Unfortunately, we haven’t spoken to my grandmother in 18 years (her choice) since my grandfather passed away.
Thanks for writing, Shelby. I’ll email you some articles.