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Mom recalls ‘what if?’ after another baby snatched at hospital 50 years ago

Doris Wineman poses with her sJeff Jr. Doris Wineman stayed room next DorFronczak's who sPaul was kidnapped from Michael Reese

Doris Wineman poses with her son Jeff Jr. Doris Wineman stayed in the room next to Dora Fronczak's, who son Paul was kidnapped from Michael Reese in 1964.

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Updated: July 6, 2013 6:27AM

Forty-nine years ago, a single wall separated Doris Wineman’s room from Dora Fronczak’s.

Both were at Michael Reese Hospital and both had newborns, but for some reason, a woman posing as a nurse chose Fronczak’s room — chose Fronczak’s baby to steal.

The “what if?” feelings came roaring back for Wineman, now 72, after she read Tuesday’s Chicago Sun-Times story about new developments in the 49-year-old kidnapping case.

“It was like, ‘oh, my God, that could easily have been me,’” said Wineman, who is a semi-retired clinical social worker living in Streeterville. “If someone had come in and said, ‘the baby needs a test,’ I would have happily given the baby to the professional. It was really a shock that this broke. It wouldn’t have been a shock today because the world is crazy. But it wasn’t crazy 50 years ago.”

The story of little Paul Fronczak’s kidnapping on April 27, 1964, was thought to have had a miraculous ending, when a toddler resembling the stolen baby was found abandoned in a stroller in Newark, N.J. Even though there were no fingerprints to compare or DNA, Dora Fronczak said she was certain the child was hers, and the Fronczaks eventually adopted the baby — necessary because there was no definitive proof of his identity. But now, Paul Fronczak says DNA tests show he isn’t that kidnapped baby, and he wants to solve the mystery of the “real” Paul Fronczak and find his biological parents.

The FBI is considering re-opening the case. FBI Special Agent Joan Hyde said Tuesday that the original case file has been found, and agents in Chicago are awaiting its arrival. The next step will be to check if any of the agents who handled the case in the 1960s are available, Hyde said.

The DNA results have traumatized Paul Fronczaks’ adoptive parents, who believed their newborn and the Newark toddler were the same person.

Wineman said she fully understands that pain.

“I certainly feel sorry for this family to have to go through this all over again,” she said.

Wineman said she didn’t find out about the kidnapping until the day she’d checked out of the hospital with her newborn, Jeff Wineman Jr. She hadn’t met Dora Fronczak, but knew — based on the dates — that they were in the ward’s only two private maternity rooms the day little Paul was taken.

When Wineman talks about Reese in the 1960s, its of another era, when parents thought nothing of leaving an infant in a car for a few moments while dropping off dry cleaning.

She described Reese as a luxurious hospital that felt like a “spa.” Befitting the time, security was lax. Babies weren’t routinely footprinted, as they are today. No one presented identification.

“People were trusting. . .,” Wineman said, recalling a time her mother-in-law put on a white doctor’s coat so that she could visit her grandson during non-visiting hours.

Wineman said she understands Paul Fronczak’s desire to find his birth parents, but questions whether it will bring him peace.

“I have worked with a lot of adopted patients who are adults and want to find their birth parents,” Wineman said. “It’s often a disappointment. Even if you find out who your original birth mother is, you can’t undo trauma.”

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