Monday, September 19, 2011

1955 San Francisco Case Has Happy Ending

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Stolen Baby Returned
by Robert A. Waters

[NOTE: I obtained the information about this case from two sources: and Kidnapped: Child Abduction in America by Paula S. Fass, Oxford Univeristy Press, 2006.]

September 19, 1955

Dr. Sanford Marcus sat alone inside a room police had commandeered in San Francisco’s Mt. Zion Hospital. Twenty-four hours earlier, his three-day-old child, Robert, had been snatched from the hospital nursery and detectives were using several rooms as a base for their investigation.

A reporter approached. Hesitant at first, he asked a few timid questions, but then found the doctor eager to talk. “I am convinced it’s not a kidnaping for ransom,” Marcus said. “I believe the baby was taken by some unfortunate woman who either lost her own child, or wanted one, and had this desperate urge for a baby of her own. We have no vindictiveness [toward her]. If she will come forward, I will not demand any prosecution."

His wife, Hanna, was lying sedated in a nearby hospital room. A Jew, she’d lost her parents and brother to Hitler’s gas ovens. At thirteen, she escaped from Germany and was placed in a youth hostel in England. She became a teacher, immigrated to America, and met Dr. Marcus at the nursery school where she worked. They had two other children and were ecstatic to add Robert to the family. But now tragedy had struck Hanna once again.

The San Francisco Police Department released a description of the child: “Robert Marcus is four days old, 19 inches in length, and weighs 6 pounds 6 1/2 ounces. He has a pink complexion and a small amount of brown fuzzy hair.”

A reward of $5,000 had been offered by the doctor for Robert's safe return. Newspapers published a formula recommended by Dr. Marcus so the kidnapper would know how to feed him.

Hundreds of cops fanned out across the area, working on the theory that a frustrated wannabe mother had pulled off the crime.

Tips poured in. One witness said a car stopped in front of her house and she saw a “heavy” woman holding a baby. The stranger spoke to her driver using a “Swedish” accent. The witness said that he replied, “I don’t like this business.” Dozens of other similar sightings kept officers busy chasing dead-end leads.

In the hospital, Dr. Marcus continued speaking with the reporter. “He's such a little baby,” the doctor said. “The little guy didn't even have his eyes open until the day he was taken. I was at my office when the hospital called to break the news. At first, I thought it was a practical joke. I actually called back the hospital to verify it. When it was verified, I asked that I be the one to tell [my wife]. It was my duty as her husband. She took it hard, of course. Yet, in her grief she tried to comfort me.”

Dr. Marcus and Hanna remained at the hospital for two more days. Finally, they left for home. Reporters said that the mother had a blank, drained look about her.

The search continued for more than a week with little progress .

Then, nine days after the child was abducted, San Joaquin Sheriff’s Deputy Osvaldo Vannucei attended a prize fight in Stockton. Two women were sitting nearby, taking turns holding a newborn baby. “I noticed her [Betty Jean Benedicto] right away,” he said. “She seemed to be intoxicated. She had a woman friend who was playing with the baby too affectionately. I just couldn't watch the fights.”

Vanuccei questioned Benedicto, who stated that the baby was a month old. Her husband soon appeared, and confirmed her account. But the deputy’s suspicions had been aroused, so he identified himself and demanded to see a birth certificate. After the boxing match, Vannucei followed the couple to a hotel where they were living. There they produced a certificate stating that the child had been born in St. Francis Hospital in Lynwood.

The document looked real, but Vannuccei drove to the sheriff’s department and called the hospital to make sure. Officials at St. Francis informed him that no babies had been born there on the date written on the certificate. By the time Vannuccei and other investigators returned to the hotel, the group had fled.

By now, Benedicto knew the gig was up. She confessed to her husband, who had been unaware the baby was stolen. Then they drove to a nearby Catholic church where Benedicto handed the baby to a priest. Police were called and little Robert was taken back to the station house.

The overjoyed parents were finally reunited with their son. He’d been treated well and during the nine days had gained nearly a pound. A newspaper report said that Mrs. Marcus smiled for the first time in days. Sanford Marcus predicted the family would “live happily ever after.”

The kidnapper was quickly tracked down and arrested by Stockton authorities. She confessed, describing the events that took place when she abducted little Robert Marcus.

Benedicto said she went to Mt. Zion hospital and asked a nurse for directions to the maternity ward. "I walked up to the nursery and there was a room just full of babies," she said. "Then I saw the name on the Marcus baby, both on the crib and on the leg beads. Marcus is my husband's name--Mark--and that gave me the impulse to take him. I took him when nobody was in the room. I wrapped him in his yellow blanket, I walked down the stairs. I was afraid somebody might see me [but] I saw only one person coming up the street. He smiled at me when he saw the baby."

Benedicto drove to her home in Stockton and told her husband she’d had a baby a month before but had to leave him in a Los Angeles hospital because he was too fragile to move. He finally improved enough so that she could bring him home, she said. Somehow, she convinced her husband to believe her.

“The next day I saw Dr. Marcus on TV," she continued. “He was a nice man. I changed to the formula he had advised. If Dr. Marcus had not said over and over that I loved the boy and that's why I took it--if he had said instead that I was a bad woman--I never would have given it up.”

The aftermath for Betty Jean Benedicto wasn’t pretty. The following brief article from the February 10, 1962 Oakland Tribune, describes her continued problems with the law: “Betty Jean Benedicto, who kidnaped the three-day old son of a physician from a San Francisco hospital in 1955, is back in San Francisco city jail for violation of probation.

“Mrs. Benedicto, 34, was returned to the Bay Area from Seattle where she served a jail sentence for stabbing her common-law husband, Amos Uganiza, 54, a commercial fisherman.

“Mrs. Benedicto had been living under the name of Francesca Mairo Uganiza. Her true identity was discovered after a routine fingerprint check which followed her sentence for the stabbing.

“The 200-pound woman kidnaped Robert Marcus, son of Dr. and Mrs. Sanford Marcus, from Mount Zion Hospital, Sept. 19, 1955. She
turned the infant over to a Catholic priest unharmed in Stockton nine days later.

“Mrs. Benedicto was paroled after spending eight months in jail. She was placed on five years [of] probation, but broke probation
when she left California.”

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