*Originally Published in 2014*
You might have heard about our little family mystery. After my husband, Bill Atkinson, was found as a newborn infant in a phone booth at 7-Eleven in Kansas City in 1972, the mystery began. Who had left him there? Why had they done it? And would the mystery ever be solved?
As we’ve been researching his case, we were lucky to receive coverage in the Kansas City Star recently, which launched a series of emails and phone calls that would bring us in contact with several people who wanted to help.
One of them, Officer Bill Howard, said he was the officer who arrived on the scene the day he was found and actually pulled him out of the phone booth.
We called him back several days ago and learned some new details about that day and about what he thought of the case.
What He Found That Day at 7-Eleven
June 7, 1972 was a warm, spring-like day that started off just like any other one for Kansas City police officer Bill Howard when he received the call that would change the lives of several people, including, in some ways, himself.
Howard said that he was a little outside of his usual patrol area when he got the call that there was an abandoned baby in a phone booth at a 7-Eleven on Metropolitan Avenue.
When he showed up, Howard said he personally pulled a box that held the baby (who would later grow up to become my husband, Bill Atkinson) out of the phone booth. Apparently, the woman who found the baby thought (or said she thought) that the baby was actually an animal inside the box.
“As I recall, the placenta was still attached,” Howard said, adding that was the way he remembered it, at least. “It was wrapped in a damp towel.”
He told me that he’d always believed that Bill had been left there by the biological mother or father.
“Or some other family member made the phone call and put the box in there,” he added, theorizing that someone must have been watching from afar to make sure the baby was found.
“But I didn’t see anybody sitting off in any cars or anything,” Howard said. “We just took him on in to 7-Eleven there and the ambulance came and took him to the hospital.”
He said that he checked on Bill in the hospital the next day and was relieved to find that he was in good health.
“That’s what I was concerned about—that was all,” he said. “Back in those days I felt real glad that the mother or the grandparents or whoever was responsible didn’t get an abortion.”
He said he was just happy that the mother decided to carry to full term, adding that back in those days, you couldn’t just drop off a baby at a hospital or fire station like you can now.
An Officer’s Intuition
Of the birth parents, Howard said he knew they must have loved Bill, because they wanted him to be found.
“I knew there was enough love that they wanted to do the right thing by the child but they didn’t want the embarrassment of owning up to it,” Howard said.
Howard noted that he felt like someone in the Argentine area of Kansas City, where Bill was found, was responsible for leaving him there.
“It might be profiling, but…I just kinda felt that some parents were ashamed that their daughter got pregnant or whatever and they just hid her out till she gave birth and got rid of the baby,” he said, adding that Detective Roger Thebo took over the investigation from there.
“I don’t know how much investigation he was able to do because in those days, the Youth Bureau consisted of just Thebo, so he was just overwhelmed,” he added. “I don’t know that there’d have been any kind of jail sentence or anything.”
He said that while the birth parents might have had to fight to get the baby back, and they would’ve probably been in front of a judge had they been found, there would likely be no long-term legal consequences involved if they had come forward.
“Not saying the judge would do anything, but they might have charged her (the birth mother) or her parents with endangering a child,” he said when asked whether legal worries might have prevented the parents from coming forward back then. “Now the only way I can see that you’re going to find them is DNA.”
He said he hopes, at the very least, that the media coverage will prompt someone to quietly step forward, and that there would be no legal implications for anyone involved at this time.
“Everybody is so mobile nowadays that they may not even live around Kansas City anymore, so you just don’t know,” he added.
About the Woman Who Found Bill
Howard said that he couldn’t remember talking to anyone at the scene, though he probably had.
“I would think that Thebo would’ve made some reports on her (the woman who found Bill in the booth),” he said. “If it’s a young woman or someone in her 40s, she could be the mother or the grandmother.”
“He knows he was chosen to be their son.”
Officer Howard said he’s thought of the baby he found in that phone booth in 1972 regularly over the past 41 years and always wondered what happened to him.
After he learned that Bill is still around and that he’s happily married and successful in his career, Howard breathed a sigh of relief.
“I’m so glad to see how good things turned out for him,” he said. “I’ll keep him in my prayers and hope he can locate the birth family and bring some kind of closure.”
He asked about Bill’s childhood, and after learning that his parents were so loving and devoted to him, he was pleased.
“He’s got to love his parents—and he knows he was chosen to be their son,” Howard said. “I told my wife it always reminded me of Moses in the basket.”
He added that it was clear that his birth mother loved Bill, that she had carried him full-term.
“Somebody loved him,” he said. “They had a home delivery but they put him someplace they could sit back from a distance and see that somebody picked him up.”
Howard said that during his 26 years in law enforcement, Bill’s case had always stood out in his mind.
“That was one of the good things that made you go to work,” he said. “Back in those days, I rode out in Turner and Highway Crest—several miles west and in another community completely, but I just happened to be close the day they sent me.”