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By Ellen Jean Hirst and Andy Grimm,Tribune reporters
In April 1964, Paul Joseph Fronczak, less than 2 days old, was kidnapped from a Chicago hospital by a woman posing as a nurse.
A few months ago, in a way, he vanished again. Because of a DNA test taken this April, Paul Fronczak learned that he is a Fronczak only in name.
After getting the test result, he realized "I didn't know my birthday. I didn't know anything about me," he said.
FBI spokeswoman Joan Hyde said Tuesday that the agency has found the original files from the 1960s but had not yet decided whether the case would be reopened.
The mystery over Fronczak's identity began 49 years ago in hospital room 418B at the now-closed Michael Reese Hospital on the Near South Side.
A woman disguised as a nurse told Dora Fronczak that the doctor wanted to examine her baby, Tribune archives show. So she handed the newborn boy over — and he was never returned.
An extensive FBI and Chicago police search ensued, and 14 agonizing months later, authorities found a toddler abandoned in Newark, N.J., who resembled Dora and Chester Fronczaks' missing child.
The FBI determined that the boy was likely the Fronczaks' missing son. In 1966, the couple brought him to their immaculate split-level home on a quiet block in south suburban Oak Lawn.
But Paul Fronczak said he knew something was off growing up. Although his brother was the spitting image of his father, Fronczak looked nothing like his parents. He didn't think he looked very Croatian or Polish, his parents' ethnicities. When he was 10 years old snooping for Christmas presents, he found newspaper clippings about his supposed abduction and return to his parents.
But his parents didn't talk about it, Fronczak said.
"My parents never really got into it," he said. "They're (from) the generation where if you don't talk about something, then it never happened."
At age 49, he finally worked up the nerve to ask his parents to take a DNA test.
"It's something I've wanted to do for a very long time, but I never really knew how to bring it up with my parents," Fronczak said.
When his parents came to visit him and his family in Henderson, Nev., this April, he found the courage an hour before he took them to the airport to fly home. Dora and Chester Fronczak agreed to have their cheeks swabbed with a kit Fronczak had picked up at a local pharmacy.
The phone call from a lab in Utah came when he was at work as a college administrator.
"I knew what the answer was going to be when they called me," Fronczak said. "I'm a logical person. … I never really believed it.
"They told me there was no remote possibility those were my parents. I felt all the color drain from my face and I felt weak."
It was as if Paul Fronczak had been stolen all over again.
Fronczak said he hopes the FBI will be able to take another look at the falsely solved case. He has also sent information to the Ancestry.com genealogical website and is registered with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
Fronczak said he decided to go public with the story because he wants his parents' biological son to be found.
"The most important thing to me ... is to try and locate the real Paul Fronczak," Fronczak said. "If I'm lucky enough to figure out who I am during the process, that's a benefit. I actually want to solve a tragedy that affected two wonderful people."
Former FBI Special Agent Nancy Savage, who worked for the bureau from the early 1980s until 2011, said that before DNA testing became commonplace, making a positive identification of a kidnapped infant would have relied on fingerprints or footprints taken shortly after birth.
Tribune archives show that no fingerprints or footprints were taken of baby Fronczak after he was born.
Savage, who is now executive director of the Washington-based Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI, said that without the prints, agents might have relied on blood tests that could at best simply rule out some matches.
"I don't think you're going to have certainty without DNA or fingerprints," Savage said.
Still, it's unclear whether the mystery can be solved. There is no federal statute of limitations on child kidnapping, Hyde said. If the real Paul Fronczak is still alive, whoever kidnapped him, and potentially raised him, could be implicated in a crime.
"It just depends on how they came to raise him (Paul Fronczak). Were they involved in the kidnapping? Was he abandoned somewhere and then adopted?" Hyde said. "It's a fascinating case. Hopefully we can get to the bottom of it."
When Fronczak got the DNA results, he wrote his parents a heartfelt letter on April 18, because a phone call just wouldn't do, he said.
"The DNA test results came back and it turns out that I am not your biological son," Fronczak wrote. "This means that the real Paul Joseph Fronczak may still be out there, alive, not knowing who (he) is. This also means that I do not really know who I am, how old I am, and my genetic background or heritage."
Fronczak said his parents were troubled by the results and didn't want to reopen old wounds.
"They put it this way: They're very supportive of me wanting to solve this, but they're making it very clear that they don't want to participate in any way," Fronczak said."
Fronczak's parents declined comment as they left their Oak Lawn home Tuesday morning.
"We're not commenting on anything, no thanks," Chester Fronczak said as he climbed into his car with his wife. "We're fine. But that's it."
But no matter the outcome, Fronczak said he wants his parents, although saddened, to know he loves them.
"I will always be their son," he said. "These are two really tragic cases that happened that went unsolved."