Man on a mission to find baby left on doorstep 36 years ago
Bob Hopkins hung up his phone and couldn't wait to get going.
It was 1982, and he had just bought a new snowplow to go on the front of his red Jeep, figuring he could make some extra money over the winter. And Kansas City had just seen the biggest snowfall of the season.
Now the first customer was calling.
Hopkins and his partner, Bob Whisnant, headed to a stately brick house near the entrance to Janssen Place, a Central Hyde Park neighborhood dotted with historic mansions.
But just as they started pulling into the driveway behind the house at 3538 Cherry St., Whisnant ordered Hopkins to stop.
"Something was moving on the back porch," Hopkins said. "It was something yellow. I got out of the vehicle and went over there. And these tiny hands were moving underneath a blanket. I pulled the blanket back, and here is this beautiful, warm, little black girl with great big eyes just looking at me."
The infant had been placed in a carrier, bundled in a green snowsuit and wrapped in a blanket. A pink ribbon was wound through her dark hair.
"The baby didn't even cry. She was cute as could be," Hopkins said. "She hadn't been there very long, because it was so cold that day that there wouldn't have been anybody who could survive after three or four hours. And we didn't see any footprints leading up there, because the snow was falling."
The men scooped her up and rang James and Gloria Cooper's doorbell.
"They came to the door, and here we were with a baby that we'd found on their back porch," Hopkins said. "They were astounded."
The baby had no identification — only a note attached to a ribbon placed loosely around her neck.
"We found it as soon as we got her in the house," Hopkins said. "I could hardly read the writing."
The note said that the baby could no longer be cared for and that the person who wrote it had been looking for someone to take her in. There was no signature — just some initials.
The bewildered group tried to figure out what to do.
"Back then, there were no cellphones," Hopkins said. "And it was before 911. So we dialed the operator and said we need the police.
"They came out, and they got all of our information. They took her to Truman Medical Center and checked her out, and then we heard she was placed in foster care."
That frigid day — Jan. 4, 1982 — was the last time any of them saw the infant, who was estimated to be eight months old.
Hopkins and Whisnant moved to Texas in the mid-'80s. Hopkins is a philanthropist who teaches communications courses at colleges in the Dallas area. Whisnant has been a college professor for 48 years.
But they've never stopped thinking about the little snow baby whom the police named "Baby Jane Doe." And now, at 75, Hopkins is on a mission.
"I'd love to find her and to have a reunion," he said. "It would be a dream come true for me to know that she is alive and well."
'Please take care of my baby'
Gloria Cooper glanced at her caller ID earlier this month and couldn't figure out why someone would be calling her from a Kansas City area code.
She had moved to California years ago after her husband, James, passed away.
But then came the question, and the reason became clear.
"Do you remember when a baby was found on your back doorstep in 1982?"
"Oh, yes, I do!"
Cooper, now 93, described in detail how she and her husband were inside the house around noon when the men they had hired to clear their driveway came to their door.
"They said, 'There's a baby back here,' " she said. "We were stunned.
"She was just as cute as she could be, just so sweet. She was clean and all wrapped up, and it looked like she'd been well cared for. My husband really fell in love with her. And she was just perfectly happy, sitting on Jim's lap."
Cooper said the note that was with the infant was "kind of like a card."
"It said, 'Please take care of my baby.' "
Weather records show it was 19 degrees at noon that day, with a wind child of 10 degrees. A few hours earlier, the wind chill was 2 below zero.
"It was a cold, snowy day," Cooper said. "Thank goodness we were having our snow shoveled, because I don't know when we would have noticed her otherwise."
James Cooper was quoted in an article in The Kansas City Times two days later.
"She was such a pretty little baby," he said. "She smiled. She didn't cry or anything the whole time. She seemed to be in very good shape.
"I was just flabbergasted," he told The Times. "It's very traumatic to find a poor little baby out in the snow like that. She was so cute. I'm sure the mother took very good care of her. But she must have become very desperate."
Gloria Cooper told The Star in the recent interview that their home was just outside Janssen Place.
"They called Janssen Place Lumberman's Row, because it had all those wealthy millionaires and they built all those big houses," she said. "And actually, we had lived down there on Janssen Place for about five or six years and decided it was kind of stupid to live in a great big house, just the two of us."
So they bought the house on Cherry Street, a duplex with a three-car garage, and lived in the lower half, she said.
"Whoever left the baby probably thought we had a lot of money," she said.
After authorities came and got the baby, Cooper said, they never saw her again.
But a couple of years later, she said, she got a call from a man who said he was the baby's father.
"He said the woman who left the baby at the back door told him that the baby was with her family," she said. "But when he tried to find her through the family, nobody had her.
"He said he would never have left her."
Cooper said she didn't know how the man tracked her down.
"I was so startled, I didn't really ask too many questions," she said. "It kind of scared me, because I thought, 'I hope he doesn't think I did something wrong to his baby.' "
She said she told the man that he should contact social services to see whether they could help.
Over the decades, Cooper said, she has never stopped thinking about that day.
"I'll remember it forever," she said. "I have often wondered what happened. She'd be a young lady now. I hope she fell into a good home."
He isn't giving up
Over the years, Hopkins said, he’s continued to think about where the girl might be and what she's doing now.
"It's always on my mind," he said.
He's kept the old newspaper article in a box that contains his passport and other important documents. Everywhere he goes, he said, he shares his story.
"I went to Kansas City for a conference and there happened to be a lot of nonprofit organizations at the conference," he said. "I told the story to my group, and several of the members were interested in trying to figure out how to get in touch with this child."
He even incorporates the story into his classes.
"I tell the students that you have to tell a story when you give a speech," he said. "I've got a thousand stories, but this is my favorite."
The students love the story, he said.
"Sometimes, I take the article to school to show them it's true."
But this month, something happened that spurred him to renew his efforts to find the woman he plucked as an infant from a snowy doorstep more than three decades ago. A former student contacted him and wanted to write the story for her English class.
"This had stuck with her, and she wanted to interview me," Hopkins said. "So I told the story, and it brought it all to life again for me."
Now, he has taken to social media. On May 8, he posted the information on Facebook and asked his friends to share it.
"BABY FOUND IN THE SNOW," he began.
"If you hear of someone who may know anything more about the possible whereabouts of this baby, please call me," he wrote, including his phone number.
Al Brooks, a former Kansas City police officer and founder of the AdHoc Group Against Crime, said he would love to help find the woman but didn't remember hearing about an abandoned baby during that time frame. He wondered whether the person who left her was hoping the child would end up in the care of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. The bishop used to live in Janssen Place.
Kevin Murphy, executive director of marketing and communications for Catholic Charities Kansas City-St. Joseph, said it's possible his agency was involved in the case.
"We could have been a resource, especially back then," he said. "Catholic Charities has always been known for their adoption programs and helping people adopt."
He did some checking and came up empty but said he'd continue to investigate.
The Star also tried to get a copy of the police report that was filed that day. A police spokesman said they didn't have enough information to immediately locate it in the department's index, but they're continuing to search. Both the police chief at the time and the detective who was quoted in the newspaper article have since died.
But Hopkins isn't giving up. He has a hunch the woman is still in the Kansas City area.
"She would be 36 years old now," he said. "I just think there's somebody out there who knew she was found in the snow. And that's my hope — that somebody will hear the story and recognize it. And they will go, 'Oh, my God. Maybe that was me.' "