by Robert A. Waters
Lisa Rose Chionchio entered this world on January 2, 1959, at St. Peter’s Hospital in Brooklyn, New York. Nurses dutifully fingerprinted the child and took photos of her. Immediately after birth, her parents, Frances, a teacher, and Frank, a lawyer, cuddled their newborn, then allowed hospital staff to take her to the nursery.
Two-and-a-half hours later, Lisa Rose vanished.
A frustrating nine-day search ended when an anonymous phone call sent police cars screaming to a tenement two blocks from the hospital. There they burst through the door of a one-room apartment and found 43-year-old Jean Iavarone rocking an infant. At first, Iavarone denied she’d kidnapped the child, but fingerprints, blood tests, and a distinctive birthmark positively identified Lisa Rose.
All of New York had been following the case, and people cheered in the streets when they heard the good news of the girl’s return. After Lisa Rose was examined at St. Peter’s Hospital, her happy parents took her home. She was in good health, having been well cared for.
Who would kidnap an infant from the nursery of a hospital?
Even though Jean Iavarone had never been arrested, she had a troubled past. By the time she abducted Lisa Rose, everyone in her life had left her, died, or been forcibly taken from her. All of her eight living children had been placed in orphans’ homes or foster care. She’d been married twice—her first husband divorced her; her second husband died.
An Associated Press story reported that “the motive for the kidnaping, police said, was Mrs. Iavarone’s desire to pressure a boyfriend, Joseph Pizzimenti, into marriage by having him believe he was the father.” She also believed the courts would return four of her children if she was married to a reputable husband. (All her children had been removed from her “because she was considered incapable of caring for them.”)
This troubled, lonely woman’s obsession caused heartbreak and havoc for an entire city, and especially the Chianchio family. But surprisingly, Frances and Frank forgave the kidnapper. Reluctant to press charges, they stated that they were grateful Iavarone kept their daughter safe. The couple even invited her into their home to see Lisa Rose.
Iavarano was tried and convicted. Sentenced to one-to-three years in prison, the judge recommended psychiatric treatment.
And there Jean Iavarone disappeared into the fog of history.
NOTE: Many thanks to Sue Z Smith for permission to use her photograph of the hospital that played such a large part in the disappearance of Lisa Rose. Check out her great blog, The Ninth House.