In the second volume (opens in new tab) of Netflix's reboot of the classic true crime series Unsolved Mysteries (opens in new tab), one episode explores the tragic back-to-back kidnappings of Christopher Dansby and Shane Walker. (opens in new tab) The boys were abducted from the same Harlem playground just three months apart in 1989, when they were 2 years old and 19 months old, respectively. Though it's been more than 30 years since they last saw their children, however, Dansby and Walker's parents are still holding out hope that they'll be reunited with their sons, bolstered by the story of another Harlem native, Carlina White, who essentially solved her own kidnapping case after 23 years in her abductor's custody.
White was separated from her parents from 1987 until 2011, making hers the longest child abduction case to be solved in the Center for Missing and Exploited Children's history, as well as the first in which the kidnapping victim led the reunification efforts, the center's Bob Lowery told (opens in new tab) the Connecticut Post in 2011. Here's everything we know about White's miraculous case, from her shocking kidnapping to her triumphant reunion with her birth parents.
Who kidnapped Carlina White?
White was abducted from New York City's Harlem Hospital Center in Aug. 1987, when she was just 19 days old. Joy White and Carl Tyson had brought their newborn daughter to the hospital after she developed an infection and high fever; within a few hours, she was smuggled out of the hospital by Ann Pettway.
Pettway, who had been loitering around the facility for at least a few weeks, if not months, before the abduction, police told The New York Times (opens in new tab), had been dressed as a nurse and interacted with White's parents upon their arrival at the hospital. White was discovered missing early in the morning of Aug. 4, and a security guard reported having seen a woman matching Pettway's description leaving the hospital around 3:30 a.m.
Pettway raised White as Nejdra Nance, nicknamed Netty, in Bridgeport, Connecticut, with the help of her own mother. White told New York (opens in new tab) magazine in 2011 that while Pettway was somewhat distant, she was a responsible caregiver. "I'm not going to say she was the best mom ever, but she did what she had to do to make me who I am," she said. "She was strict, but she was cool. All my friends used to say she was a cool mom."
How did Carlina White discover she'd been kidnapped?
Though White was already somewhat suspicious of the fact that she seemingly bore no physical resemblance to Pettway, the first real red flag appeared in 2005, when White got pregnant and asked Pettway for her birth certificate so she could obtain health insurance. While Pettway was stalling, White visited a Connecticut Bureau of Vital Statistics, where a clerk was unable to find any records under her name and birth date, accused White of attempting to obtain a false identity, and flagged the case to the state's Department of Children and Families, White told New York.
A few days later, Pettway confessed that she was not White's birth mother, but claimed White had been abandoned by her parents at birth. When Pettway refused to offer any further information, White's suspicions grew, and she spent the next several years searching for stories of kidnappings in the Bridgeport area. It wasn't until 2010, when she was 23 and living in Atlanta, that she decided to try expanding her search outside of Connecticut, and found a photo of a baby who had been abducted in 1987 and looked just like her own young daughter on the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children's website.
She called the center's hotline in Dec. 2010, encouraged and aided by Pettway's sister, Cassandra Johnson, per the Connecticut Post (opens in new tab). With the center's help, she was ultimately able to narrow down her search for her birth parents to two possible cases. After comparing baby photos of "Nejdra" to Carlina's, and with White sporting the same birthmark on her arm as baby Carlina, the NYPD contacted Joy and Carl for DNA samples. Even before the DNA analysis was complete, with all three feeling certain it would be a match, White began talking to Joy and Carl on the phone, and flew to New York to meet them in early 2011.
Finally, as White was about to board her plane back home to Atlanta, the NYPD contacted her to tell her that her DNA matched Joy and Carl's.
Where are Carlina White and Ann Pettway now?
Though White distanced herself from her birth parents for some time after their initial reunion due to the overwhelming media attention and her complicated feelings for the family that raised her, she told New York in late 2011 that they were on good terms and spoke occasionally on the phone.
She told the magazine of her plans to revert to her birth name, but said she would still go by Netty, since the name is "not what the Pettway family gave me or what the White family gave me. It's what I gave myself." White has not been heard from since late 2011, presumably hoping to give herself and her family as normal a life as possible now that her lifelong mystery has been solved.
For her part, Pettway turned herself in to authorities in Jan. 2011 and pleaded guilty to the federal kidnapping charge, The New York Times reported (opens in new tab) at the time. She apologized for her crime at her sentencing hearing in 2012, when her lawyers reportedly argued that she "was motivated not by greed or desire to do harm, but by a desperate desire for a child, combined with depression and grief over her failed pregnancies and significant mental illness."
Though White didn't appear at Pettway's trial, her birth parents gave emotional testimonies at the sentencing. In his, Carl told Pettway, "What you should get is 23 years, what you took away from me," while Joy said, "I'm broken into a million pieces." Pettway was ultimately sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Andrea Park is a Chicago-based writer and reporter with a near-encyclopedic knowledge of the extended Kardashian-Jenner kingdom, early 2000s rom-coms and celebrity book club selections. She graduated from the Columbia School of Journalism in 2017 and has also written for W, Brides, Glamour, Women's Health, People and more.
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