Real Life

Mum faked her own death but I found her…42 years later!

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Donna Freed, 55, shares her surprising discovery with Take 5:

My sister narrowed her eyes at me.

“You know we were all adopted, right?” Leah*, nine, said.

She knew I had no idea.

I stood rooted to the floor in the doorway of her bedroom, as shock washed over me.

It was 1973 and I was six years old.

Suddenly the fact that Leah, my brother, Paul*, 12, and I looked nothing alike made sense.

Paul later backed it up, saying he even recalled the day our visibly not-pregnant mum, Ruth, had left home and returned from the adoption agency with me.

Mum and our dad, Seymour, never mentioned it and I didn’t ask.

I was six when I found out I was adopted. (Image: supplied)

I always resisted tracking down my birth parents because although my upbringing had its ups and downs, I didn’t want to hurt Mum.

Years passed.

I married my husband Simon and we had our son Dexter in 2005 before moving overseas.

Four months after Mum sadly died from Lymphoma in 2009, Dexter, four, came up to me.

“Do you have a picture of that other mother you had?” he asked.

I’d always told him I was adopted.

“No,” I replied. “Should I look for one?”

“Yeah!” he said.

So I registered my interest with the health department in my birth state.

I never asked Mum about my adoption because I didn’t want to hurt her. (Image: supplied)

My appointed social worker called up a few months later with “non-identifying” details of my parents.

At the time of my birth my biological mother was a “27-year-old Jewish single female”.

“She said she was thrilled to have conceived you,” the social worker revealed.

My heart flooded with warmth.

I’d always assumed I’d been unwanted.

My biological father was a 40-year-old Catholic married man with four other kids.

Apparently he’d asked my mum to conspire with him to defraud an insurance company.

With the money, the plan was to run away to Spain together – with me!

Ever since I found out I was adopted I assumed I was unwanted. (Image: supplied)

I overlooked the criminal element to focus on my sheer relief.

The fact they’d wanted me seemed to ease a deep hurt I hadn’t known was there.

“Do you want to be reunited with your mother?” the social worker asked me.

“Of course!” I cried, excitedly.

“I’m so glad,” she said. “She requested a reunion in 1996.”

For a reunion to take place, both parties have to agree to it.

I felt terrible I’d waited so long to register my interest.

But over the ensuing weeks, the agency struggled to locate her so I turned detective myself.

I enlisted some friends to search the public library and they found my birth certificate, which included my unusual surname: Lindenmaier.

One night, I googled it and some of the other random facts.

Immediately I was flooded with newsclips from the year of my birth.

The adoption agency had lost contact with my biological mother, so I turned detective to find her. (Image: supplied)

One headline read: Woman Reported Dead Arrested in Hotel Room.

There was a photo of my mother, Mira Lindenmaier, with the same cheekbones as me and her hands resting on her pregnant belly – with me inside!

My father, Alvin Brodie, was pictured being led down courthouse steps.

The story made international news, some dubbed them the ‘Bonnie and Clyde of the 1960s’.

My mother had pretended to drown off the coast in order to cash in her two life insurances to the value of $52,000, a fortune back in 1966, the equivalent of around $480,000 today.

Pregnant and swept up in her love affair, she’d made Alvin the beneficiary 39 days before faking her death.

My biological parents were the Bonnie and Clyde of the 1960s (Image: supplied)

In July of 1966, Alvin, Mira and a male accomplice rented a boat.

The men were found clinging to the over-turned vessel by an off-duty detective and claimed Mira had fallen overboard.

No body was found despite Mira being a known strong swimmer.

Two months later, Alvin claimed the insurance money and police immediately suspected him of her murder, ordering a wire tap.

In November that year, they finally heard Mira’s voice on the wire tap and traced the number to a hotel room.

They contacted the local cops who recognised Mira as the waitress at their favourite diner.

The pair were busted.

Alvin was charged with Attempted Grand Larceny, Conspiracy and Obstruction of Justice and Mira was charged with Attempted Grand Larceny.

Both pleaded guilty.

My husband Simon and I with our son, Dexter. (Image: supplied)

My father went to prison for three years and my mother received a suspended sentence.

A single, unemployed mum living back with her parents, she gave me up for adoption shortly after my birth.

I didn’t blame her.

It took a while but I finally found my mother’s name listed on a jobs forum.

I managed to contact her former colleague who gave me a phone number.

That night, while Simon read Dexter a bedtime story, I dialled it.

“Hello?” the woman’s voice answered.

“Is this Mira Lindenmaier?” I asked.

“This is she,” she replied.

My heart skipped a beat.

I decided to overlook my parents’ criminal past. (Image: supplied)

“I was born on March 28, 1967. Does that mean anything to you?” I asked.

There was silence, then I heard crying.

“It’s you! It’s a miracle,” she said.

She told me she’d never married or had any more children.

We kept in touch and I sent her photos of me from over the years.

I learned that when Alvin was released, he’d gone back to his wife but they eventually divorced.

In 2012, Simon, Dexter and I flew out to meet Mira, 71, at the care home she lived in. (Image: supplied)

He’d also continued to see Mira but they lost track of each other.

Alvin died in 2004.

In 2012, Simon, Dexter and I flew out to meet Mira, 71, at the care home she lived in.

I walked into her room and we burst out crying as we hugged.

I lay down next to her and she reached for my hand.

“We have the same thumbs,” I exclaimed.

Dexter was so excited to meet his grandma. (Image: supplied)

Later, Dexter came bounding in.

“Grandma!” he cried.

We met up several more times before she died in August 2020.

I wrote my book, Duplicity: My Mothers’ Secrets, as a love letter to mothers.

Neither my birth mum, nor my adoptive mum were perfect, and neither am I.

But all mothers should be celebrated.

When I set out to find my birth mum, I found a story about love, fraud, deception and devotion.

It’s been quite a ride.

**Names have been changed.*

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