The night of Sept. 18, 1966, 18-year-old Nancy Oakes Dewitt was in labor in the back seat of her car. Her boyfriend, Patrick, was just 17 at the time. He delivered the baby, cut the umbilical chord, and tied it off with a shoelace. He wrapped the baby in white towels, and left him in a random car parked outside a New Jersey bowling alley.
This was Nancy’s second son, but no one would know that. No one knew she was pregnant, and she never told anyone about the baby boy. She hid it because her parents threatened to take away her first son, Keith.
Nancy and Patrick got married shortly thereafter and had two daughters and another son. She never planned to tell her kids about their long-lost brother, but Patrick had different plans.
“This was one of the catalysts for his alcoholism, the guilt,” Keith said. “My mom found religion, and my dad found the bottle.”
Keith was 16 when he realized he had a brother out there somewhere. His father came home drunk one day and, during an argument, he threw a table across the room and pointed his finger in Nancy’s face, asking her why she hadn’t told the kids about the child they abandoned.
The news sent Keith on a decades-long search for his missing sibling. He collected clues from his father’s drunken episodes, trying to patch together the details of that night. He went to the police station, dug through newspaper articles, combed through adoption records — but all led to dead ends.
Eventually, Keith gave up hope.
It’s a match
About a year ago, Keith decided to take a DNA test on the website ancestry.com. Curiosity more than anything drove him to take the test — he was trying to compile a family history and was interested in finding out more about his ethnicity.
“The results came in, and you look at the ethnicity at the top and it says 65 percent British. You scroll down to your direct connections, and — lo and behold — I found scottwinter17,” Keith said.
The DNA profile said that user scottwinter17 was Keith’s sibling. So he did what anyone in the 21st century would do — he stalked every single Scott Winter on Facebook until he found the right one. He sent them all the same message:
“Scott, my name is Keith Murphy. I’m looking for Scott Winter 17 from ancestry.com. And I believe that if you are him, we are brothers.”
‘I’ve been waiting for this phone call all my life’
Across the country in California, 49-year-old Scott Winter was having what he thought would be a pretty typical day. He woke up, got ready for work, and sat down at his computer.
“I logged onto Facebook and saw a thing about how to find these hidden message requests, so I just out of curiosity clicked it,” Scott says. He’s talking about the folder where messages from people the user hasn’t friended are filtered. He opened the folder, and he saw a message from someone named Keith Murphy.
He read Keith’s message, checked his ancestry.com profile, and sure enough: There was a notification that said he had been matched with a brother.
“I remember standing, looking at my computer in disbelief for about 10 minutes, going, ‘Is this a trick? Is someone playing with me?’ It took me about another five or 10 minutes to dial his number,” Scott said.
“I still remember that very first phone call,” Keith said. “I answered the phone, and he goes ‘Keith?’ and I said, ‘Yeah?’ and he goes, ‘This is Scott’ and I said, ‘Man, I’ve been waiting for this phone call all my life.'”
They talked for hours, and discovered they had a lot of similarities — they’re both in sales, grew up in the same part of New Jersey, and share an obsession with shoes and peanut butter.
But their biggest difference was the kind of life each had growing up.
“I know the childhood that my four children had, and they did not have what you would call a normal childhood,” Nancy said. “And I was certain that Scott would have a more normal childhood. To this day, I think he probably had the best childhood of any of them.”
Scott had a happy life, but admits that one of the most difficult parts of his childhood was all of the questions he had when he found out he was left at a bowling alley.
“Do I have siblings? What are they like?” Scott said. And as for his biological mother, he wondered, “On key dates like birthdays or Christmas, or something, was she out there thinking about me?”
“These last 49 years were very painful,” Nancy said. “His birthday, Christmas, the first few years when you saw a little one running around who would have been his age, you always wonder, ‘I wonder if that’s mine.'”
But this holiday season, 50 years after Scott was left in a car at a bowling alley, the family reunited. When Scott last visited the family, who now live in Pennsylvania, they took the opportunity to celebrate the holidays together. It was Nancy and all of her kids: Keith, Scott, Lynnae, Charles and Jeannette. Their father, Patrick, passed away a few years ago. They celebrated Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas all at once, and they celebrated the 49 birthdays they had missed out on.
“I don’t know what I was thinking. I went out and bought a lottery ticket after all this happened,” Scott said, laughing alongside his family members on a couch. “I was like, ‘What am I thinking? I already hit the lottery.'”
They sit talking together like this for a while. This is only the second time they’ve all been together, but they don’t look anything like strangers. They look like family.