The Baby Napping

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Columbia Libraries Podcasts
The Baby Napping


In the late afternoon of February 3, 1990, two-day-old Steven Lyons was kidnapped from a Brooklyn hospital a feat that seems nearly impossible with hospital security measures in 2020. Now, 30 years later, Shoe Leather reporters, Rachel and Elize, follow in the footsteps of the brazen baby-napper with the help of news archives, child abduction experts, and social media.


Perp Walk: Footage from the day Quinones was arrested and taken to the 81 Precinct in Bed-Stuy



RACHEL PILGRIM: I’ve never visited a baby in the hospital before. 

(music – A Little Powder from Blue Dot Sessions x Baby Eden sounds)

RACHEL: We were in Harlem at Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital. It was December 2019. My mom and I went to see her best friend, Veora, who just had a baby girl.

RACHEL: We stood in line and waited for our turn at the front desk. When we were called, a security guard scanned our driver’s licenses and took headshots for temporary paper IDs. These IDs had to stay clipped to our collars, facing forward, for the entire visit. After an elevator ride to the 7th floor nursery, our IDs were checked again by a nurse who would ask us for the family’s last name. 

RACHEL:  “We’re here for baby Layton-Robinson. First name Eden,” is what my mom said. We were told that only one person at a time could go to the back and see the babies. Veora showed proof that she was baby Eden’s mom and my mom told me to go ahead and see her first.

(music ends)

RACHEL: Before we even reached the back, a nurse had to buzz us in through two doors–from the other side. 

It didn’t feel like I was going to see a baby…..

It felt like a maximum-security prison for infants.  

(Shoe Leather Theme Music- Squeegees)

RACHEL: I’m Rachel Pilgrim. 

ELIZE MANOUKIAN: And I’m Elize Manoukian. This is Shoe Leather, an investigative podcast that digs up stories from New York City’s past – to find out how yesterday’s news affects us today. In season 1, we look at New York City in the 90s. This is “The Baby Napping.”  

(Theme Music fade out)

RACHEL: That hospital visit stayed with me. I wondered why there was so much security for babies. What or who were they protecting them from? 

Suddenly, we were knee deep in research about “babynappings” and “stolen baby paranoia”.

(tape montage begins)

WOMAN #1: A woman dressed as a nurse, police say she tried to steal an infant from the maternity ward

MAN #1: The woman she thought was her mom was instead allegedly her kidnapper

WOMAN #2: Police say she was armed with only a visitor’s pass when she made a beeline for the maternity ward

WOMAN #3: At just 19 days old she was snatched from her hospital crib by a stranger

(tape montage ends)

RACHEL: I’m pretty sure my search history alerted some government officials.

(music – Headlights/Mountain Road from Blue Dot sessions)

ELIZE: It’s a jarring intrusion into an otherwise peaceful scene. Babies napping, moms napping, babynappers making a beeline for the maternity ward, holding up their visiting badges like weapons. Over the past decade, this bizarre crime has become much more infrequent. But in the years 1987, 1988, and 1989, there were ten infant abductions from hospitals per year.

RACHEL: I found one story about a baby named Steven Earl Pender. He was kidnapped from a hospital nursery in Brooklyn in 1990.  So Elize and I dove into this case, digging up recent history to try and answer the question: Why would someone steal a baby?

(Music fade out)

MAN #1: Wake up, wake up!

RACHEL: In 1990,  Bedford Stuyvesant was the backdrop of some of our favorite moments in pop culture.

(music – “Fight the Power”, the opening song from Do the Right Thing plays)

RACHEL: Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing gives us a glimpse of the streets that Notorious B.I.G. raps about in his songs.

(music – “Unbelievable” layered in from Unbelievable by Notorious B.I.G.)

Notorious B.I.G.: Live from Bedford-Stuyvesant, the livest one/ Representing B.K. to the fullest

RACHEL: It was before the neighborhood was gentrified, before there were bars and nightlife. Back then, on streets like Kingston Ave, people came to buy handmade jewelry, and visit the sidewalks lined with vendors selling from their little storefronts.

It’s where Baby Steven was born. At the Interfaith Medical Center, near the corner of Kingston and Atlantic Avenue on February 1st 1990.

And just two days later, it’s where his new little life would make big headlines.

(music ends)

(music – A Little Powder from Blue dot Sessions)

ELIZE:  It’s Saturday. Feb 3, 1990.  around 3 pm.

A woman in her 20s gets into the elevator in the lobby of St. Johns and rides up to the 8th floor maternity ward. She spies the group of new moms standing at the nursery window, and talks to all of them. She meets a young woman named Cathy Pender. Cathy is 18, she has dark, gentle eyes, and she tells the woman that she’s just had her first child. She named the baby Steven, after his father.

The young woman tells Cathy she has two kids of her own and asks her to point out her baby. She tells Cathy over and over, he’s so adorable.  She even finds Cathy alone in her room later, to say she’ll be back on Sunday, with a brand new outfit for the 2 day old boy.

(music fades out)

RACHEL: Her name is Maria Quinones.

(music – Cicle Vascule from Blue Dot Sessions)

She has long black braids and a beauty mark in the center of her forehead. She’s wearing gold earrings, a stud in her nose, and a multi-colored Kufi hat. And she’s wearing one of those long, black, goose-down coats.
Around 4:30 that afternoon, Cathy is catching up with friends in the maternity lounge when she sees Maria walking out the door and into the elevator, with something tucked under her coat.

(music ends)

ELIZE: That thing is baby Steven.

RACHEL: That night, one of Cathy’s friends notices Steven is missing from the nursery.

When Cathy asks the nurse why the baby has been moved, the nurse slams the door in her face. It’s not until the next morning, before feeding time, that that same nurse tells Cathy the truth: the nurse put the baby in the wrong woman’s hands.

ELIZE: We don’t know why the nurse slammed the door in Cathy’s face. She might have just been panicked, after all, there was a missing baby on her watch. But looking back, Rachel and I wondered if there was something else is going on.

(music – Respite from Blue Dot Sessions)

RACHEL: Remember, Cathy is 18. She’s black. A teen mom who’s just had a baby, and all of a sudden, that baby’s gone. When she asks the nurses where her son is, according to a New York Times article, the nurses dismiss her.

ELIZE: The article didn’t go into this but it feels like there’s a power imbalance here. Racial disparities in healthcare have been well-established, especially for Black maternity patients.

RACHEL: They are also more likely to experience barriers to quality health care according to multiple studies done by the Center for Disease Control, the National Institute of Health, and the Harvard School of Public Health.

ELIZE: These studies establish what Black women know all too well, which is that when expressing pain or discomfort in a medical setting, legitimate health and safety concerns are often dismissed. From the beginning, we wondered how Cathy’s race and age impacted the way that she was treated in the hospital. Our story isn’t about the moment the door was slammed in her face, it’s about the ones right before and after. But they’re connected, in ways that are clear to us thirty years later, and in that moment, were probably obvious to Cathy.

(music – Cicle Vascule from Blue Dot Sessions)

Screenshots of NYPD Arrest Report from February 4, 1990: Unusual eyes

RACHEL: One day after Maria vanished with the baby under her coat, officers find her walking down a nearby street, baby Steven still clutched to her chest. She asks the arresting officers to tell the baby’s mother that she’s sorry. She says she recently miscarried her own child, and was suffering from postpartum depression. The arresting officer notes Maria’s appearance in his report.

Under Notable Characteristics, he wrote: “unusual eyes”.

(music end)

(ambi from the Maria Quinones perpwalk)

ELIZE: On February 5th, 1990, two police officers march Maria through the station, in full view of the press. The perp walk is a ritual I had only seen for high profile criminal cases, the John Gottis, the Dominique Strauss-Kahns. This video was the only footage we found of Maria Quinones. Some of the photographers even jump in front of the camera, for their chance to snap a shot of the babynapper.

(ambi ends)

We watched to see what her arresting officer saw, her unusual eyes. But instead we just saw her wincing in pain, maybe from the handcuffs, maybe from the flashbulbs going off in her face.

She’s wearing her black winter coat.

(Shoe Leather Theme Music – Squeegees)

ELIZE: Why did Maria kidnap baby Steven that day? We knew the only way to find out would be to ask her ourselves. But first, we’d have to find her. We started our search at the courthouse. First we went to Tweed Courthouse downtown.

(music ends)

ELIZE: Hello, good morning

RACHEL: So we’re working on a podcast, and we’re trying to locate court records on someone.

WOMAN: Not here.

BOTH: Not here?

WOMAN: This is the department of education.

ELIZE: We had a false start,

ELIZE: Oh, it does say D.O.E. right here.

ELIZE: But the lady sitting at the front desk of the Department of Education helped us find the county clerk’s office.

RACHEL: But when we got to the real courthouse, there was another problem. The clerk tells us that there was a fire in 2015. It destroyed over 85 THOUSAND boxes of records.

ELIZE: The clerk was this beautiful, older woman with a thick Brooklyn accent, standing in this room, filled with rows and rows of colorful files. She tells us our chances of getting our file is slim., “88’ a good year,” she says. “89’ a bad year. The ‘90s: very bad years.” She said that some records had been salvaged, so we held out for a glimmer of hope.

RACHEL: Two weeks later, I get a phone call from the clerk, and she tells me , “your records have perished.” She said it just like that, “Perished.”

RACHEL: There was one document that did get us closer to Maria: her arrest report. Now the officers at the 81st precinct were not exactly keen to talk to us about crimes from 30 years ago, but luckily, we had the law on our side. We filed a Freedom of Information Law request with the New York Police Department. It allows us access to public records like police reports on arrests.

ELIZE: The police report told us where Maria lived at the time. We end up retracing her steps, starting from the hospital.

Photos outside St. John Episcopal Hospital’s original building and Interfaith Medical Center

RACHEL: The original St. John’s entrance is a large, Victorian brick building, with a stone face, but we couldn’t get in, the doors were locked. We walked around a giant parking lot, to the entrance of the Interfaith Medical Center on Atlantic Ave. It’s a concrete block of a building, with a revolving door and a dimly lit lobby.

RECEPTIONIST: You just have to try your best to help

RACHEL: So how long have you been working here?

RECEPTIONIST: I’ve been working here for five years…

RACHEL: The receptionist was young, sweet, and excited to talk to us about her job. She told us the hospital has an open door policy for its community.

RACHEL: Two uniformed security officers guarded the elevator. There’s not a lot of wiggle room, it’s a pretty small hallway.  But, we made it past them. We wondered if we could take a ride to the 8th floor where the nursery was 30 years ago.

ELIZE: I wonder if we could go up to the 8th floor right now.

RACHEL: We didn’t have the brazen confidence of our babynapper. Instead, we leave and take the same walk that Maria Quinones would’ve taken 30 years ago.

RACHEL: We took a right down Atlantic ave, and then another left turn at the end of the block. It was a windy sunny day in Bed Stuy. People were outside playing music, an ice cream truck rolled down the street.

ELIZE: We pass by a school, a big church. The whole walk took fifteen minutes.

RACHEL:  We’re looking at where Maria Quinones probably lived.

RACHEL: We arrived on the corner of St. John’s and Kingston Ave. It’s a two story apartment building, next to a Pay-o-Matic, a check-cashing place.

ELIZE: 256, 254

RACHEL: Wow, here it is.

ELIZE: Alright let’s do this.

RACHEL: Ah dang, it doesn’t make an audible ding-dong sound.

ELIZE: Should we just New York style, hit all the doorbells at once? Someone might answer the door.

RACHEL: Someone might answer the door. Look there’s one more bell.

RACHEL: We talk to a few neighbors, and no one seems to remember a Maria who lived here in 1990. I keep thinking about how Cathy Pender remembered Maria popping in, to say, I’ll be back with an outfit for the baby!

ELIZE: You would think people would remember someone like that, but the neighborhood has changed a lot.  So we hit the phone book.

(sound of phone dialing & disconnected signal)

ELIZE: It turns out, there are hundreds of Maria Quinoneses in New York.

ROBOT VOICE: You have reached a number that is no longer in service. Please check the number and try again.

ELIZE: Perfect.

(phone hangs up)

(music – Neon Drip from Blue Dot session)

ELIZE: We looked for any other record on her that might exist, including property records for the apartment, in case we could track down a super or landlord. Instead, all we found was an obituary of the man who owned the apartment building in 1990.

Here’s where we went down a rabbit hole: The New York City birth index lists two women named Maria Quinones born in the same year as the one listed on her police report, even though neither of the days or months matched. But one of them WAS born in Brooklyn. Could she be our Maria?

Daily News Article: “Sherlock Homed In On Kidnapper; Baby Is Ok” – screenshot courtesy of Steven Lyons

In the New York inmate search, the right Maria is listed with a different birth year, but the same month and day as the ones she gave at the police station. We were shocked. Her records had been so mismanaged, like totally bungled. One bureaucratic agency said she was older, one said she was younger, and one lost all of her court documents in a fire. None of them could tell us anything useful about her: who she was, why she stole a baby, whether or not she ever had one of her own. As far as New York State public records go, Maria Quinones vanished the day she was released from prison.

(music ends)

Maybe, that was enough of the system for her, and she lived the rest of her life not wanting to be found.

RACHEL: We didn’t have any answers about Maria yet, but it turns out we aren’t the only ones interested in baby kidnappings.

PAULA: I began the whole study of child kidnapping in the United States because I became a parent in the height of the panic around child abduction.

ELIZE:  This is Paula Fass, a history professor emerita at UC Berkeley.

PAULA: My daughter was born in 1981. My son was born in 1987. And in the mid 80s, was this period of incredibly heightened alarm, that in many ways was fed by the media.

PAULA: And I was a parent caught in that hysteria.

ELIZE: In 1997, Paula wrote a book called Kidnapped. It’s about why child abductions terrorized the American cultural imagination. She wrote about the Lindbergh baby—

(sound of vintage newsreel, music)

ARCHIVE: Tragedy struck the lives of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, when their infant son was kidnapped from their Hopewell, New Jersey home and found slain. The crime set off a frantic manhunt, and led to one of the most spectacular trials in national history.

(music fade out)

ELIZE: But this was a special case: the Lindbergh baby was kidnapped for money. Paula also wrote about a baby named Robert Marcus. He was kidnapped in 1955 from the nursery of a San Francisco hospital, two days after his birth.

PAULA: Well, everybody was stumped. They had not experienced a case of that kind of in their own recent memory. And people were obviously extremely sympathetic.

ELIZE: The baby’s mother, Hannah Marcus, was a holocaust survivor. This was a time when Jewish people in the U.S. were often viewed with suspicion, as outsiders, but the public felt for Mrs. Marcus.

And then, there was the kidnapper.

PAULA: Her name was Betty Jean Benedicto. She was married to an older man. She herself was 27 years old and was unable to have children.

ELIZE: Benedicto posed as a nurse to take the Marcus baby.

PAULA: In fact, she forged a birth certificate for this baby.

(music – Drifting Spade from Blue Dot Sessions)

ELIZE: The police search for Robert Marcus and his kidnapper was the largest manhunt in San Francisco history. They went house to house, searching for baby Robert. News of the baby’s disappearance traveled throughout the state.

PAULA: The baby was eventually returned by a priest who had heard about this child from the sheriff’s department in Stockton that he had seen Benedicto with a baby at a prize fight, believe it or not.

ELIZE: A priest at a “prize fight.” It was divine intervention.

PAULA:  So the baby was returned quite successfully, and it was a happy ending for the Marcus family.

PAULA: Betty Jean, however, was then convicted of a crime and she was described as being psychotic, and her psychosis was described as having been induced by a kind of baby hunger, which resulted in her not being able to tell the difference between what was right and what was wrong, and stealing the child for herself.

ELIZE: As Paula investigated the Marcus case, and other infant abductions by women, she found similar descriptions going back to the 1920s. These women were described as extreme, deviant, and unable to have normal relationships or desires. They were baby hungry.

PAULA: It was assumed that women always wanted to have children. I should tell you one more very interesting fact.

(music fades out)

PAULA:  I got a letter from Robert Marcus, telling me about what happened to his family and about his life.

ELIZE: That’s amazing.

PAULA: It was amazing. And it’s quite a remarkable and for me, very satisfying resolution of this story. He clearly was not affected by it. And the family was not affected by it. It was a terrific ending to this particular story, which, unfortunately doesn’t always have terrific endings, because not all of these children are actually returned.

ELIZE: Between 1964 and 2019, there were 327 total infant abductions from the United States. The majority of these babies were taken from hospitals. Where’d we get this number? By asking the first person to ever sit down and count them.

JOHN: Where do you go right this minute to get a library book?

ELIZE: John Rabun is an infant abduction specialist for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

ELIZE: Well, in non-coronavirus times, I would say the library.

JOHN: Yeah, okay, that’d be good. So where would you go right this minute to get a newborn baby?

ELIZE: The hospital…that’s exactly it.

JOHN: It’s as if it’s the lending library.

ELIZE: Let’s back up a bit, to the first moment these crimes were brought to John’s attention. It was 1987. John was working in child welfare when a producer from 60 Minutes called him up, and asked him about infant abductions. This was before law enforcement had started using data to track crimes, so there wasn’t a lot of information out there. John, and the producer, began searching newspapers. He found a surprising pattern in these stories.

JOHN: I’m looking for, where do I see the same word other than baby in each little article, and it was like, everything was “she”.

ELIZE: In each of these stories, the kidnapper was a woman.

JOHN: It did kind of amuse us later as to how many assumptions we had that were just absolutely zero. “This is a childless female and she’s now desperate to have one.” Nope. To over the 95% level, this woman not only is NOT childless, she may have had one to four different children.

ELIZE: John eventually began tracing these newspaper stories to their characters–to the mothers, the hospital staff, and even the babynappers. He realized that  even though babynappings happen pretty infrequently, it’s a crime with a huge impact.

JOHN: We now know that there are a whole series of victims in these cases. It’s not just mom who’s horribly victimized.

ELIZE: Nurses are impacted too. They have to go back to work the next day, to a crime scene.

JOHN: Nurses, I mean, they love these babies. So it’s not a matter of, ‘they don’t care they’re looking the other way you know? Yeah if you want one take one you know that stuff?’ No, hardly. Well then how does this woman get on the unit and get off of it?

JOHN: Well, now think about it.

(music – Mercurial Vision from Blue Dot Sessions)

JOHN: She already has the resume stuffer of “mother.”

JOHN: And she will know mother’s first name.

JOHN: You just stick your head in the door. You say, “Oh, your baby is just darling!” Well, you know Mom doesn’t know who the woman is. But she just complimented my baby. “You want to take a closer look? Oh, yeah,” Wham. Now, she’s in.

JOHN: Now she never tells the mother she’s a nurse, which I find fascinating. And I think the reason is, if you’re running a con game, you don’t want to throw something out there that’d be really easy to catch and prove wrong.

(Music ends)

ELIZE: Why would anyone do this? If it’s not to have a child of their own?

JOHN: Okay, one reason, and the reason is him.

ELIZE: Everytime John interviewed the “him”, he heard the same story.

JOHN: One morning at breakfast– is how I love to stylize it– he’s fixed to go to work. She says, ‘Oh, you know, I was at my doctor yesterday.’ And he probably didn’t put the paper down. But at any rate, she says, ‘And guess what, I’m having your baby.’ Now, her assessment of him is incredibly good. Her reading of this guy is spot on. “Oh, we’ll have to get married now.”

ELIZE: That would give her nine months to figure out the rest.

JOHN:  We had one in the Tampa area of Florida. Oh, about 15 years ago. This lady was pregnant for 11 months. Either they do it different in Florida, which is you know, you never know. Or this guy’s an idiot. Yeah, I’ll take that one.

(music – Softly Villainous from Blue Dot Sessions)

ELIZE: This fit with what Paula told us about Betty Jean, but seemed far off from the case of baby Steven. The NYPD spokeswoman at the time, said Maria Quinones was disturbed, and the Times reported that she had a miscarriage, and told police she suffered from postpartum depression.

JOHN: This is not a psychiatric case. Now, every one of them, when they go to trial, try to use that.

ELIZE: You don’t believe Maria Quinones when she says she had a miscarriage.

JOHN: No, I don’t, not at all. Look at it practically from the court point of view.

ELIZE: John said most women who are charged with infant abduction indicate that they’ve lost a baby, or can’t have one. The reporter from the Times did write that St. John’s was unable to confirm that Maria had been treated for a miscarriage, but she might have gone somewhere else, or she might not have gotten medical treatment at all.

(music fade out)

ELIZE: With all due respect to John and his work, our conversation made me miss our main character even more. After all of our searching, after scouring Brooklyn and the internet for her shadow, I didn’t want to believe the explanation. She stole a baby to get attention? From a man?

ELIZE: So we spoke with Dr. Nirmaljit Dhami, an expert in postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis. Dr. Dhami didn’t buy the theory that Maria stole a baby for someone else because she works with women like Maria everyday.

DHAMI: I have worked with some patients like that, and they are not crazy. They are just struggling, and I think our healthcare system really fails them.

ELIZE:  Dr. Dhami’s specialty is the relationship between women’s mental health and motherhood. She says the impact of medical conditions like postpartum depression and miscarriages are often misunderstood.

DHAMI: You have to give them enough room to be able to talk to you safely, yet be able to feel their feelings and deal with their losses.

ELIZE: Here’s the Times’ last word on Maria: “Ms. Quinones expressed much remorse and asked the police to apologize to the baby’s mother.”

DHAMI: This person, she wanted to have a baby and the trauma started from there.

ELIZE: I asked Dr. Dhami what she would say to Maria if she got a chance to speak with her. She said first, she would ask her about her life, and try to build a rapport.

DHAMI: But eventually I would be very interested in understanding the traumatic background. And then what, in her mind, was her understanding of why she did what she did. And also, I would say it’s okay for her to not know, we may never know why she did what she did. And that’s okay, too.

ELIZE: We’ll never know what went through her mind when she walked into the hospital that day. We only know that Maria served 2 years, 6 months, and 16 days at Bayview Correctional Facility in Manhattan, for the kidnapping of baby Steven.

(music – Sals Place from Blue Dot Sessions)

ELIZE: There are 4 million babies born each year in the United States. Thanks to John Rabun, hospitals now have better security, and a protocol for what to do if a baby is taken. It’s called a Code Pink, and basically it means “block the doors.” And it’s working: a baby hasn’t gone missing from a hospital since 2015.

There’s one last thing about babynappings that I can’t get out of my head. Remember when John told us about the 327 missing baby cases? Well, 15 of those cases were never solved.

John remembers the case of Carlina White, who was stolen from a Harlem hospital as an infant, and connected the dots on her own as an adult when she realized her birth certificate was fake. Sometimes, formerly missing infants are even able to reconnect with their biological families. But what haunts me, is that there are at least 15 people out there who have never found themselves. They don’t even know that they’re missing.

(music fade out)

RACHEL: Hi, Steven! This is Rachel.

ELIZE: There’s something we haven’t told you.

RACHEL: Since I first read about this story, I’ve been on a mission to find baby Steven. Who by now should probably be referred to as Grown Steven, since he turned 30 years old in February 2020.

ELIZE: Rachel’s search has been interesting…

(music – Headlights/Mountain Road from Blue Dot Sessions)

RACHEL: It started with the news articles. I realized pretty early on that Steven’s full name had been different in the stories we read: he was Steven Earl Pender in one, Steven Pender Lyons in another. One article referred to the family as “Penda”.

RACHEL: I found exactly one Facebook page for a “Steven Earl Pender.” He had the right birthday, lived in Brooklyn, but he was last active on this page in 2013.

RACHEL: Steven was Facebook friends with a few people with the last name Lyons, his father’s last name. So I reached out to as many of them as I could find while Elize did some investigation on his mom, Cathy.

ELIZE: From the pictures he posted of his mom, we wondered whether she had passed away. His cover photo on this account is a picture of a picture of her. It’s a little faded and propped up against a few bottles of liquor, but it’s clearly Cathy. She’s young and smiling at the photographer. The photo is leaning against, but not inside, a picture frame, as if someone had just taken it out for a closer look.

RACHEL: So we weren’t surprised when Elize found a record of Cathy’s death in 2013.

Eventually, I tracked down one of Steven’s cousins. He told us a lot of sad things about Steven and his family.  He also said that Steven had a new Facebook page, and after a few weeks of talking, he put us in a groupchat with him. Steven never responded in the chat.

(music end)

RACHEL: It’s 4:41 in the morning.

RACHEL: After two months of radio silence,

RACHEL: I have a message from Steven. It just says 8 a.m., sent at 3:59 a.m.

RACHEL: I took that as a sign that Steven was down for a morning chat.

RACHEL: Okay, it’s 8 a.m.

(phone ringing ambi)

STEVEN: Hey! Wassup? How are you?

RACHEL: Finally – Steven says he’ll tell his story.

STEVEN: Well I don’t remember nothing.

RACHEL: He had some of the same details as the New York Times’ story

STEVEN: What was told to me was I was abducted by some lady named Maria Quinones. I guess she had a miscarriage.

RACHEL: Steven said as a little boy he was very close to his mother

STEVEN: I was a mama’s boy. Wherever she went I was.

RACHEL: He remembers Cathy being fiercely protective of him.

STEVEN: Yeah, she wouldn’t let nobody else hold me!

RACHEL: But Cathy had demons. She struggled with her own trauma, and turned to substance abuse to cope.

RACHEL: Steven and his three younger siblings were taken from their mom by social services when Steven was seven. They were eventually reunited when Steven was a little bit older, but he and Cathy struggled to rebuild their relationship. After a long struggle with her health, Cathy died at 41.

About three years ago, Steven posted the same New York Times article that we had found about his kidnapping on his Facebook.

STEVEN: And three or four days later, I get an email. And it says “Hey, I think I’m the detective that was assigned to your case.”

Daily News Article: “Sherlock Homed In On Kidnapper; Baby Is Ok” – screenshot courtesy of Steven Lyons

RACHEL: A detective sent him pictures of a Daily News article, yellowed by time. Steven made the front page. The picture of rescued Steven shows a yawning, skinny baby, no bigger than the teddy bear in Cathy’s other arm. Next to him is a bloodhound with drooping ears and a super sniffing nose. Elize and I could never figure out how they picked out Maria as the kidnapper. But now we knew, according to that newspaper story, that a police dog named Sherlock followed the scent of Maria’s coat to baby Steven.

Steven mentioned that he wants to write a book about his life. He wants to be in control of writing his own story. Elize and I kept thinking about what Paula Fass said about the Marcus baby. Sometimes these stories have happy endings, depending on where you decide to stop telling it. For us, the ending was just Steven’s beginning.

(Shoe Leather Theme Music – Squeegees)

RACHEL: Shoe Leather is a production of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. This episode was reported, written and produced by me Rachel Pilgrim,

ELIZE: And me, Elize Manoukian. Joanne Faryon is our executive producer and professor. Dale Maharidge is our co-professor. Keshav Pandya is our technical advisor.

RACHEL: Special thanks to Columbia Journalism Librarian Kristina Williams, Columbia Digital Librarian Michelle Wilson, Peter Leonard from Gimlet Media, Rachel Quester from The Daily, Emily Martinez and David Blum from Audible, Susan White from Garage Media,

ELIZE: Madeleine Baran and Samara Freemark from American Public Media, In the Dark, Nate Di Meo from The Memory Palace, Jonathan Hirsch from Neon Hum Media, Clint Schaff from the LA Times Studios, and to Stuart Karle for his legal advice. Shoe Leather’s theme music – ‘Squeegees’ – is by Ben Lewis,  Doron Zounes, and Camille Miller. All other music by Blue Dot Sessions.

RACHEL: For more about this episode and Shoe Leather, go to our website To stay up to date on the latest Shoe Leather happenings, follow us on social media. We are on facebook at and on Instagram and Twitter @ShoeLeatherCast.

(music ends)


© Rachel Pilgrim and Elize Manoukian 2020

 To contact the authors of this podcast, please reach out by email, 

Rachel:  Elize: 

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