A state line can come in handy. Dr. Thomas Hicks started out in Copper Hill, on the Tennessee side. He sold narcotic painkillers to a returned WWI veteran who turned out to be working undercover for the FBI. It was a criminal act that could also have been one of mercy. Regardless, conviction sent Dr. Hicks to federal prison and cost his license to practice medicine in Tennessee.
Upon his release, Dr. Hicks settled in McCaysville, on the Georgia side. He obtained a license to practice medicine in Georgia and re-opened his clinic, two blocks away from the old one. The Hicks Community Clinic provided basic health services to the people of McCaysville, Copper Hill, and nearby settlements. The good doctor provided free medicine to those who couldn’t pay and made house calls if people were too ill to come to the clinic. He donated money to community causes and to his church.
Dr. Hicks’ generosity was supported by the abortions he provided upstairs from the community clinic. From the 1940s through 1964 when he was arrested again (on abortion charges that were eventually dropped), this medical Robin Hood subsidized health care for poor locals by providing illegal abortions to women able to pay.
The abortion clinic was an open secret. Residents saw the limousines bringing women from Atlanta and Birmingham and Chattanooga, small planes landed on a dirt airstrip outside town, but no one told. Perhaps because Dr. Hick’s illegal activity could, once again, be viewed as merciful. Women desperate to end unwanted pregnancies were risking their lives in alleys and backrooms. Dr. Hicks offered a safe alternative. However, his story doesn’t end here.
Dr. Hicks began selling babies. He convinced some of his would-be abortion clients to carry their babies to term. Or maybe they couldn’t pay, and he offered them an alternative. Regardless, he provided these pregnant women with lodging at his farm or in town and, when they delivered, arranged “adoptions.” Thanks to a cooperative county clerk, the babies came with birth certificates that listed the purchasers as the birth parents.
Couples seeking babies came from an even larger market area than the women seeking abortions, and they paid higher fees. Dr. Hicks charged a thousand dollars for a baby and may or may not have given the mother a cut. Selling babies is tough to justify as merciful—there were alternatives, homes for unwed mothers that arranged legal adoptions—and his black market babies, now called Hicks babies, have brought him posthumous notoriety.
In 1989, an Ohio woman whose parents had told her the true circumstances of her “adoption” traveled to McCaysville, seeking information about her birth mother. Jane Blasio walked around McCaysville and Copper Hill, staring at faces, looking for someone who might be a relative. Her quest led her to Blue Ridge, the Fannin County seat, where birth records are kept. There, Ms. Blasio found an ally in a Georgia probate judge, and the web of lies began to unravel.
According to Fannin County birth records, more than 200 women from cities in Ohio and Pennsylvania, Illinois and Michigan, and as far away as Arizona came to Dr. Hicks’ clinic in the isolated little town of McCaysville to deliver their babies. This phenomenon began in 1951 and ended in 1965. Jane Blasio’s mother was one of those women. The information was all there, it had been sitting there for decades, and it was all lies.
Widespread media coverage brought forth more women who had “adopted” babies from Dr. Hicks and more adoptees who wanted information about their biological parents. It’s not an easy search. The birth records list only the purchasing parents, and no records of the birth mothers, if there ever were any, have been found. Dr. Hicks, his nurse, and the cooperative county clerk are all dead. If anyone still living knows anything, they aren’t talking.
The story continues. A confidential DNA registry has been set up for Hicks babies, Ancestry.com is providing free services, and long-time residents are being asked to contribute samples. People still come to McCaysville/Copper Hill and walk around, looking for someone who looks like family. The most recent reunion story I found was in a newspaper dated less than a year ago. The judge who helped uncover this black market in babies said it best:
”This is just too bizarre for real life,” said Judge Linda Davis of Fannin County Probate Court, who has risked the ire of people in her county to help Mrs. Blasio in her quest through county birth records. ”If I wasn’t so personally involved, I’d think they were making it all up.”
- The New York Times, August 23, 1997
I grew up in a small town. I don’t think this could have happened there, but I don’t know. Do you think this could this have happened in your hometown?
Before she became a writer, Patricia Dusenbury was an economist and the author of numerous dry publications. She is hoping to atone by writing mystery stories that people read for pleasure. Her first book, A Perfect Victim, was named 2015’s best mystery by the Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition. Book 2, Secrets, Lies & Homicide, is a finalist in the 2016 EPIC award and was a top ten finalist in the Preditors and Editors 2014 readers’ poll. Book 3, A House of Her Own, released in October 2015, completes the trilogy. It has been nominated for InD’tale’s RONE award. Pat’s newest book, Two Weeks in Geary, is a finalist for the Killer Nashville 2016 Claymore Award.
When she isn’t writing, Patricia is reading, gardening, hanging out with the grandkids, or exploring San Francisco, the fabulous city that is her new home