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Georgia Tann is shown in a photograph dated August 1947. The Memphis branch of the Tennessee Children's Home opened in 1922. It was to close 28 years later amid national publicity fueled by charges that the director, Miss Tann, was operating a black market baby racket. (The Commercial Appeal)

Georgia Tann is shown in a photograph dated August 1947. The Memphis branch of the Tennessee Children’s Home opened in 1922. It was to close 28 years later amid national publicity fueled by charges that the director, Miss Tann, was operating a black market baby racket.?

Baby Stealer – Baby Thief – Murderer

All words attributed to the highly terrifying story of Georgia Tann, a Child Trafficker who operated out of Memphis, Tennessee before the State closed her Operation?

To childless couples, Georgia Tann was a salvation. From 1924 to 1950, Tann headed the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, a highly respected adoption agency. During her tenure, permanent homes were found for more than 5,000 babies. Joan Crawford, Mary Pickford and Dick Powell and June Allyson were just a few of the famous people who received their children from the home. But Tann guarded a deep, dark secret: a vast majority of these children were actually stolen from their natural parents.

The kind woman shows up at the door of the poor abandoned girl who has recently given birth to a baby. “I will feed and care for your child,” says the kind woman, “until you are healthy and able. Just sign this little paper.” And the kind woman takes the baby and the girl never sees her baby again, because the kind woman sells the baby to new parents in a distant city or, if the baby is sick or otherwise unsalable, she allows the baby to die of neglect and malnutrition or even of abuse.

That scenario may sound like the dark side of a fairy tale, but that seemingly kind woman, accepted for most of her life as a model of civic virtue, lived in Memphis.

From 1924 until her death in 1950, Georgia Tann sold babies and children to couples around the United States and especially in Los Angeles and New York, earning millions of dollars in fees. Many of those babies and children were stolen from their mothers, who were poor and uneducated or incapacitated or frightened; many of those babies and children died in Tann’s large house on Poplar Avenue in Midtown, the Memphis branch of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society.

Not until the late 1940s did adoptive parents begin to complain about Tann’s methods and investigators begin to doubt the benign nature of Tann’s activities, though by then she was ill with cancer; she died three days after articles about her nefarious dealings were published in the local newspapers.

It’s difficult to assess now, how was Georgia Tann was able to or allowed to get away with everything she did so many years later, but one thing is that she had Mr. Crump’s (E.H. Crump, Memphis mayor from 1910-1916 and a chief influence in city politics until his death in 1954) protection. I don’t think that he or anybody else saw her as anything but a wonderful social worker, doing so much good. And she had that kind of personality. She was very manipulative, and she could be very threatening. She could scare people with her power.

The power she had seems amazing now. She bribed nurses and paid people off. She worked through manipulation and intimidation. Deputy Sheriffs went to the homes of poor people and hauled off babies and children. I don’t think there was a lot of questioning.

Class and status were important issues for Georgia Tann. She had no hesitation in taking babies and children from poor or destitute people and selling them to what she called “people of the higher type.” This included movie stars like Dick Powell and June Allyson or Joan Crawford.

She was completely organized. She was always scanning newspapers, always looking for children to take. If it was mentioned in the paper that a woman died and had left children, she would show up. She ran ads that said “Young Women in Trouble Call Miss Georgia Tann.”

She made sure that prominent people adopted children and in a way this took the onus off adoption. It made adoption nothing to be ashamed of for the adopting parents. On the other hand, she treated children like commodities and made them marketable. She commercialized adoption. And the other thing is, she was the first to issue false birth certificates for adopted children, a practice that became standard throughout the United States. She didn’t do it to protect the children, though. She did it to cover her tracks so no one would know that the children had been stolen.

Though there were a number of Tennessee families awaiting children, there were large numbers of out-of-state adoptions. In Tennessee, adoptions were free, but Tann was able to charge any amount for out-of-state adoptions.

Why would they be adopting so many children from out of state when in Tennessee they were still waiting for children?

Many of the homes they were adopted to were financially very well off, though they were not from good backgrounds. There was this story where there was a little girl who was adopted out to a wealthy family, and she ate garbage because they didn’t feed her. But then there were other children who did get to college.

Tann’s rule endured, because of the Tennessee political machine. She worked with Judge Camille Kelly to “legally” get the children away from their natural parents.

“When there was a judge who went up against them, he found himself absolutely exiled on the bench. There was a flu epidemic and 40 children died because (Tann) wouldn’t give them penicillin because she thought it was too expensive. When a doctor tried to uncover that, he found himself out of a job.”

No one was ever prosecuted for the illegal adoptions. Tann destroyed many of the adoption records.

Tann was the daughter of a doctor who was from the wrong side of the tracks. She was not accepted by Tennessee society, so she used this position for power. She had leverage to work her way into the place she wanted to be. With Camille Kelly, they would look at somebody–a worker who was temporarily unable to support his family. They would take the children under the guise of temporarily protecting them, and then send them out for adoption. Because of the disclosure laws at the time, once that family was back on its feet and came looking for the children, they couldn’t trace them. It was a heinous thing.

Her home was beautiful, a lovely place on Poplar Avenue. The terrifying reality of the children, however, haunts many even now.

Her home was beautiful, a lovely place on Poplar Avenue. The terrifying reality of the children, however, haunts many even now.

Tann is credited with having single-handedly made adoption industry a respectable business. Her influence was enormous. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt regarded Tann as an expert on child care and sought her advice. Today?s controversial confidentiality laws, making it legal for adoption businesses to create permanently false identities for their charges remains the standard even today.

Not until after her death in 1950 did the real story of her famous career come to light. The truth is that Georgia Tann, along with her female companion, were kidnappers, child molesters, child torturers, serial killers on a massive scale and con artists. She snatched babies from poor mothers ? and sometimes poor couples ? with the aid of the corrupt female judge,?Camille Kelly, who was paid kickbacks. She sold the children for a substantial profit and padded the expenses of interstate delivery to extract the last drop of payment.

Court Judge Camille Kelley, used her position of authority to sanction Tann’s tactics and activities. Tann would identify children as being from homes which could not provide for their care, and Kelley would push the matter through her dockets. Kelley also severed custody of divorced mothers, placing the children with Tann, who then arranged for adoption of the children into “homes better able to provide for the children’s care”. However, many of the children were placed into homes where they were used as child labour on farms, or with abusive families.

When an adoptive parent discovered that the information on the child was incorrect, such as in cases of falsified medical histories, Tann often threatened the adoptive parents with possible legal action that would force a surrender of their children (ordered by Kelley) by demonstrating that they were unfit parents.

Tann destroyed records of the children that were processed through the Society and conducted minimal background checks on the adoptive homes. Many of the files of the children were fictionalized before being presented to the adoptive parents, which covered up the child’s circumstances prior to being placed with the society. As a result, the Child Welfare League of America dropped the Society from its list of qualifying institutions in 1941.

Camille Kelly was investigated by the state of Tennessee for using her judgeship to aid Georgia Tann’s ongoing adoption fraud operation conducted under the auspices of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and resigned shortly after this information became public.

Kelley was the juvenile court judge in Shelby County, Tennessee from 1920 to 1950. Known as the “Little Irish Judge,” she never wore a judicial robe in court, opting instead for colorful dresses, jewels and always a flower pinned to her shoulder. She was quoted as saying, “Robes would scare the children to death. They’re not so timid when they appear before me and see that I am wearing a flower”.

Kelly?s resignation from the bench happened in November 1950, in a storm of controversy and charges after the results of a special investigation ordered by Governor Gordon Browning were released.

Judge Kelley with a child in her court room. Notice the famous Tiffany Stained Glass Window behind her.

Judge Kelley with a child in her court room. Notice the famous Tiffany Stained Glass Window behind her.

Camille Kelley. This portrait that hangs in the Shelby County Juvenile Court building in Memphis, TN.

Camille Kelley. This portrait that hangs in the Shelby County Juvenile Court building in Memphis, TN.

The investigation surrounded illegal adoptions-for-profit by Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. It charged that approximately 20% of the illegal adoptions at the home were funnelled through Kelley’s court, where she would remove parental rights and provide Tann with documents to place the children as she deemed appropriate. Kelley was never prosecuted for any crimes associated with the home. She died at her son’s home over four years after the scandal first broke, from complications due to a stroke.

During Tann?s tenure as head of the organization she founded, Tennessee Children?s Home Society, in Memphis, the region had the highest infant mortality rate in the nation. Her practice was to rid herself of those babies put in her charge she deemed unsaleable by leaving them unattended out in the sun until they broiled to death. She and her lover and male sexual deviants she employed would beat and torture children for the perverse sexual thrill of it.

According to one surviving victim, Georgia and her companion would hit the children ?on the scalp so no one could see the bruises.? Favoured forms of child torture at the Home included tying a rope around a child?s wrists and hang it up on a coat rack and dangling a child from a rope down the laundry chute.

She also literally stole many young children from their birth families ? taking them away in her big car, or through social workers ? and sold them. Tann disposed of thousands of babies and children in this way

Nobody knows just how many children Tann murdered between 1924 and 1950. It is known, however, that during the winter of 1945, 50 children in her care met their deaths.

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Photo caption: Yours for the asking! George wants to play catch but needs a Daddy to complete Team "Catch this ball, Daddy!" How would YOU like to have this handsome five-year-old play "catch" with you? How would you like his chubby arms to slip around your neck and give you a bearlike hug? His name is George and he may be yours for the asking, if you hurry along your request to the Christmas Baby Editor of the Press-Scimitar. In co-operation with Miss Georgia Tann of the Tennessee Children's Home Society, The Press-Scimitar will place 25 babies for adoption this Christmas.Advertisement, Memphis Press-Scimitar (Tn.), Dec. 8, 1935.

Photo caption:?Yours for the asking!?George wants to play catch but needs a Daddy to complete Team?”Catch this ball, Daddy!”?How would YOU like to have this handsome five-year-old play “catch” with you??How would you like his chubby arms to slip around your neck and give you a bearlike hug??His name is George and he may be yours for the asking, if you hurry along your request to the Christmas Baby Editor of the Press-Scimitar. In co-operation with Miss Georgia Tann of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, The Press-Scimitar will place 25 babies for adoption this Christmas.Advertisement, Memphis Press-Scimitar (Tn.), Dec. 8, 1935.

Tann took the boys and girls mainly from lower class families, using scare tactics and bullying to tear little ones from their parents. She practiced the terrible back and forth from 1924 to 1950, forcibly removing children from their homes and selling them.

Tann took the boys and girls mainly from lower class families, using scare tactics and bullying to tear little ones from their parents. She practiced the terrible back and forth from 1924 to 1950, forcibly removing children from their homes and selling them.

In 1937, an attractive 19-year-old woman from Tennessee named Lena Mae Howell became pregnant out of wedlock. Feeling desperate and ashamed, she secured the help of her half brother to drive her to Memphis to a home for unwed mothers that was part of the unlicensed Tennessee Children?s Home Society run by a woman named Georgia Tann.

Drugged before going into labour, Lena signed a document she thought was an agreement allowing Georgia Tann to temporarily care for her baby. Instead, she actually signed a surrender agreement giving Tennessee Children?s Home Society the right to her child.

Upon waking after giving birth, Lena was told that her baby, a boy, had died during delivery.? In actuality, Lena had given birth to a baby girl, who was then sold in an illegal adoption to a wealthy couple in Pennsylvania. Riding in a chauffeur-driven limousine, Georgia Tann and a nurse delivered the infant to her new family just before Christmas. This little girl, born Nell Howell, became Devereux (Devy) to her new parents, Bob and Janet Rose.
Although Devy learned she was adopted at a young age, it was not until many years later that she discovered she was one of the thousands of stolen babies placed throughout the country by the infamous Georgia Tann.

Devy?s birth mother later married and had another daughter named Pat. She never told her family about her first child. Devy?s adopted parents did not know their adoption was illegal and considered Georgia Tann an angel of mercy, placing unwanted children with loving parents.

Devy?s daughter Robin initiated the idea of searching for her birth parents. She did not want to do this until her father died. In 2009, Robin began researching my adoption. Devy was ambivalent about it but told Robin to satisfy her own curiosity. In just two months? time, Robin had proof of her roots?a package containing 82 pages of documents and photos outlining my birth and adoption. These documents contained a copy of her original birth certificate in the name of Nell Howell, the surrender papers her birth mother signed, and letters from her adopted parents to Georgia Tann. She wept when I read this history.
Robin continued with her search online and found birth family members in Memphis. Devy began talking on the phone and exchanging emails with her half-sister Pat. Robin and Devy went to visit the family in 2009. She was 72 years old when she met her birth family! Unfortunately, her birth mother, Lena Mae Howell, had died in 1991, and she only got to visit her grave. It is so sad to her that her mother died never knowing she had another daughter out there in the world.? And just recently she discovered she has another half sister through her birth father, so she have more family to get to know!

Devy Bruch, at home in Peachtree City, holds the cherished photo taken when she first met her half-sister Pat Wilks in 2009.

Devy Bruch, at home in Peachtree City, holds the cherished photo taken when she first met her half-sister Pat Wilks in 2009.

Devy visits the grave of her birth mother, Lena Mae Howell, for the first time in 2009.

Devy visits the grave of her birth mother, Lena Mae Howell, for the first time in 2009.

From 1924 through 1950, Beulah George “Georgia” Tann ran the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, from a stately home on Poplar Avenue in Memphis, TN. Tann used it as a front for an illegal foundling home and adoption agency that placed thousands of newborn infants and children, from toddlers up to age 16, to sell to what Ms. Tann called “high type” families in 48 states. She used manipulation, deception, pressure tactics, threats, and brute force to take children from mainly poor single mothers in a five-state area to sell to wealthy parents up until outrage, lawsuits, and complaints spurred a state investigation into her tactics closed her down in 1950.

Protected by the infamous Edward Hull “Boss” Crump, she regularly altered and destroyed the records of the children “processed” through her custody and did not conduct checks on the adoption homes to which she sent children. It is believed Ms. Tann craved the wealth and power that her position and role afforded her, hopefully to eclipse her locally famous father, who was a judge in Mississippi and who had prohibited her from entering the field of law. She delivered speeches about adoption in Washington, New York, and other major cities and was consulted by Eleanor Roosevelt regarding child welfare. So many children died while in Tann’s care that at one point, the infant mortality rate in Memphis, Tennessee was highest in the country and many more deaths were never reported.

Tann abused some of her charges, and placed others with paedophiles. During her twenty-six years of operation from 1924 to 1950, Tann also virtually invented modern American adoption, popularizing it, commercializing it, and corrupting it with secrecy. To cover her crimes, Tann falsified adoptees? birth certificates, sealing their true ones and issuing new ones that portrayed adoptive parents as birth parents. This practice was approved by legislators across the country who believed it would spare adoptees the onus of illegitimacy.

James Arnold Bowman was born in May 1949 in Jasper, Marion County, TN, two months premature. From birth, James was 'spotted' and identified as desireable by Margaret Hall, a representative of Georgia Tann, and Wright's Clinic owner Mary Hawkins-Wright. During a several month period, the entities tried to gain his mother's consent to adopt, but to no avail. In September 1949, Flossie Bowman was informed her child James died at the clinic. She was told not to worry they would take care of the remains for her. Flossie never saw her Son again. No one ever asked the question: "What Ever Happened To Baby James?"

James Arnold Bowman was born in May 1949 in Jasper, Marion County, TN, two months premature. From birth, James was ‘spotted’ and identified as desirable by Margaret Hall, a representative of Georgia Tann, and Wright’s Clinic owner Mary Hawkins-Wright.?During a several month period, the entities tried to gain his mother’s consent to adopt, but to no avail. In September 1949, Flossie Bowman was informed her child James died at the clinic. She was told not to worry they would take care of the remains for her. Flossie never saw her Son again. No one ever asked the question: “What Ever Happened To Baby James?”

It had been 44 years since Alma Sipple had seen the woman, and then only briefly, yet she could not forget her – the no-nonsense brown hair, the rimless glasses, the air of authority. Everything about her said authority – and that’s why Sipple had handed over her infant daughter. This nice woman was going to take the child to a hospital for a checkup.

Alma Sipple never saw her baby again.

All these years, she has lived with the pain of her loss, with her guilt, with a gnawing need to know if her daughter was alive.

In the spring of 1946, ?Alma Sipple, then in her early 20s, moved with her?infant daughter to Memphis, where her 2-year-old son, Robert, a child of a?previous marriage, was staying with friends. Sipple’s boyfriend, Julius John Tallos – ”Johnny” – had just shipped out to Panama. They planned to?be married, by proxy, as soon as possible.

They’d met in Biloxi, Miss., where Tallos was stationed with the Air Force?and Sipple was working as a bartender. By the time Irma was born – on Aug.?27, 1945 – they’d been together about two years.

”We were so crazy about each other, it didn’t matter if we were married?or not,” Sipple recalls. In Memphis, Sipple and her two children settled?into a an oil-heated one-room apartment. About six weeks after they’d?moved in, a woman from the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, an?organization with an impeccable reputation for finding homes for orphans,?came to the apartment building, saying she was investigating an alleged?child-abuse case involving a neighbour.

The next day, the woman returned, this time striking up a conversation?with Sipple, asking her about the baby’s father. Then the woman looked at?Irma, who had a runny nose, and said, ”Your baby’s sick, isn’t she? You

should get her a checkup.” Sipple explained that she had no money for a?doctor, so the woman, who identified herself as Georgia Tann, offered to?take the child to Memphis General Hospital.

Looking back, Sipple wonders at her own naivet?. ”How did I mess up so?bad? I guess she knew the dumb ones.” Still, she had been worried about?her baby’s health. And she’d assumed she would go with them to the?hospital. So she signed a piece of paper. When Tann told her it would be?impossible for her to go along, Sipple remembers, ”I had a weird feeling,?but I thought, ‘Well, you’ve gotta trust somebody.’ ”

The next day, Sipple went to the hospital children’s ward, where she found?Irma ”jumping up and down in her bed.” But when she told a nurse she?wanted to see her baby, the nurse said, ”You don’t have a baby in there.??Those children belong to the Children’s Home Society.”

Over the next few days, Sipple’s calls to Tann went unanswered. Finally,?Sipple says, Tann called back and said Irma had died of pneumonia. ”Of?course, I went into hysterics.”

When Sipple said she wanted to make arrangements for the burial, Tann?rebuffed her, saying, ”I took it on myself and had the state put her?away.”

At that point, Sipple says, ”I guess I went crazy.” She took son Robert?to Ohio to stay with her mother. And she returned to Memphis. ”I wanted?to find the grave. I was half out of my mind.”

She found no grave. Her calls to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society?yielded only the information that ”the case is closed.” She was told?that Tann ”has nothing to say to you.”

With her son, Sipple returned to Kentucky. Her roots were there, and there?she had two small daughters, the children of her first marriage, who were?living with their father. The letters from the Irma’s father in Panama

were fewer and fewer. ”He’d worshiped Irma,” she says, and couldn’t deal?with the death.

”That, and my going crazy. I drank, I admit it. I thought it would make?it easy. All it did was keep me crying all the time.”

Soon afterward, Sipple married steelworker James Smith, a union that?lasted 12 years and produced three sons and a daughter. After her divorce?from Smith, she married Steve Sipple, a welder. They had a daughter and?lived in Kentucky until 1969, when they moved to California.

Steve Sipple understood her need to trace Irma and, in the last few years,?she had resumed her search. In 1982, she sent a query to the Bureau of?Vital Statistics in Nashville. The answer came back: There was no death certificate for Irma Tallos. After that, she ran into brick walls. The?district attorney in Memphis couldn’t help. The Tennessee Department of?Human Services couldn’t help.

Alma Sipple is but one of thousands of victims of Georgia Tann and her?black market baby scam.

Famous movie stars such as June Allyson, Lana Turner and Joan Crawford received help from Tann in their adoption of their own children, though they were unaware of Tann's evil practices.

Famous movie stars such as June Allyson, Lana Turner and Joan Crawford received help from Tann in their adoption of their own children, though they were unaware of Tann’s evil practices.

Tann used pressure tactics, threats of legal action and other methods to take children from their birth parents, mostly poor single mothers, and sold them to the wealthy patrons. Tann also arranged for the taking of children born to inmates at Tennessee mental institutions and those born to wards of the state through her connections.

Tann also arranged for what her victims (now adult) refer to as kidnapping. In some cases, single parents would drop their children off at nursery schools, only to be told that welfare agents had taken the children.

Tann was also documented as taking children born to unwed mothers at birth, claiming that the newborns required medical care. When the mothers asked about the children, Tann told them that the babies had died, but they were actually placed in foster homes or adopted.

Tann’s death prior to prosecution in 1950 led to more stringent laws on adoption in Tennessee in 1951. Fewer than 10% of these stolen children were ever reunited with parents or siblings due to the complicity of local and state officials such as Juvenile Court Judge Camille Kelley, who provided about 20% of the children adopted out by Tann, and difficulty finding true and accurate documentation for identification.

Tann also had arranged for out-of-state private adoptions where she charged a premium, upwards of $5,000 per child, for her “services.? It is alleged that she pocketed 75% of the fees from these adoptions for her own personal use and failed to report the income to either the Society Board or the Internal Revenue Service.

Tann made millions selling children, 90% to New York and California. New York and California vowed to take action, but the children’s adoptions were never investigated, no children were restored.

Many of those adopted through Georgia Tann were still unable to garner any information and it took until 1995 for some of those victims to even have access to what little information there may have been. ?To add to this it is likely the information they received was not correct since it is well known now that Georgia altered facts and documents. ?Presumably many well meaning parents who had their children stolen from them died without ever knowing or seeing their children again. ?Some likely died believing their child did not survive when in fact they had. ?

Georgia Tann in her quest for money and prosperity ruined the lives of many people, all in the name of greed and while she avoided any sort of legal punishment her name will be forever tarnished.

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