Carl’s phone rang a few hours later, at about 6 a.m. It was the police, calling from Joy’s mother’s apartment. A detective said Carlina was missing. Joy seized the phone, screaming—“Please get here!” When Carl got to Joy’s mother’s building, police cars were parked outside and detectives crowded the hallways.
Inside, Joy was in pieces, sobbing. Soon Carl was, too. The hospital had discovered that Carlina was gone at 3:40 a.m. Whoever took her had unhooked her IV tubes and left the floor without being seen. The hospital claimed the baby had been checked every five minutes. The police believed the kidnapper must have been studying that pattern and had taken Carlina at just the right interval. They suspected a heavyset woman others had seen around the hospital for the last few months. She wasn’t a nurse, the hospital said, but had passed as one, even convincing other nurses that she belonged.
Joy thought about that strange remark outside Carlina’s hospital room—The baby don’t cry for you, you cry for the baby. “She was trying to get rid of me,” Joy would later say, “so she could take my baby away from me.”
For a time, police thought they had a suspect, a 31-year-old woman named Lucy Brockington. She was wanted for car theft and fit the relevant description. Detectives tracked her down in Baltimore, questioned her, and decided she had an alibi. After that, there was nothing—no sign of the woman or the baby. Carlina White was gone.
Joy left school for a year, began taking anti-anxiety medication, and went to therapy several times a week. Carl says he “would hardly eat. I was angry with everyone. My temper was short.” He would sometimes ask himself why Joy didn’t just stay at the hospital. Or “Why didn’t I stay?” His very presence reminded Joy of Carlina, and hers did the same to him. “It was so much to handle,” Carl says. They broke up about a year after Carlina vanished.
Ann Pettway grew up in the East End of Bridgeport. She attended Warren Harding High School, where Netty would eventually also go. Ann was popular and fun. “Everybody said she used to be bad,” says Netty. “She was out there with those Speedo shorts on, tube tops.” As a teen, Ann served a month in jail for a larceny arrest in a neighboring town; later, she would be caught in a few minor theft and forgery schemes, along with one pot bust. But “she wasn’t a hell-raiser,” says David Daniels, a Bridgeport police officer who knew the family.
In 1987, Ann told friends and relatives she was pregnant. Everyone assumed the father was the boyfriend she’d been seen with on and off, Robert Nance. One of Ann’s younger sisters, Cassandra Johnson, would later tell the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children that she first saw a baby with Ann when Ann arrived with her one day on a Metro-North train. A cousin of Ann’s says Ann left town for a period of time. No one Ann knew seems to have been with her when the baby was born. People assumed she’d gone away to have the baby and then came back.
In January, when the story of the alleged kidnapping broke, Netty told the New York Post that Ann was “an addict,” often in a drug haze. “There were always drugs lying around,” she’d said. “I used to see weapons.” When Ann would come down from a high, Netty said, she’d run out of the house before Ann became “a monster.” Once, she said, Ann hit her in the face with a shoe so hard it left a mark. But now, as we’re speaking, Netty tries to recant it all. She says she is more forgiving—that everything that happened in her childhood was standard issue for where she grew up. “Growing up in an urban family, you were going to get beat, no matter what it was.” Netty takes pains not to call it abuse. “That’s what people want to hear, the sob story,” she says. “But I wasn’t abused. Everything that an average person would have, I had.” Ann was responsible, she now says, but remote—never cruel, but not exactly tender, either. “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 was strict, but she was cool. All my friends used to say she was a cool mom.”
Ann supported Netty by working as a janitor at a local civic center in Bridgeport. Until high school, she sent Netty to live during the week with her own mother, Mary, who lived in a slightly better part of town, so Netty could go to better schools. Her elementary-school principal remembers Netty as her favorite student—“so pretty and so vivacious.” When Netty was about 10, Ann had a baby, a boy named Trevon, and by then Netty was spending much of her time with her cousins and aunts. She was especially close to Ann’s sister Cassandra—“my bestie,” Netty calls her. She spent her time studying new dance steps; writing rap lyrics; and dreaming about modeling or making movies. “Dancer, rapper, model, whatever, I said, ‘I’m going to be famous.’ ”