- Associated Press - Sunday, April 13, 2014

VONORE, Tenn. (AP) - Dave Hickman couldn’t believe his eyes as he stumbled across the shocking find in a secluded patch of woods near Boston, Ind., on Sept. 22, 1955.

Even all these years later, Hickman - now a 73-year-old resident of Vonore - chokes back the emotions as he recounts the haunting discovery that saved a life, spawned a mystery and forged an unlikely bond.

The 14-year-old Hickman and his grandfather, Clay Smith, were wrapping up a hunting trip when an almost unnatural noise pierced the quiet of the approaching Indiana night.

“We had hunted all day, shot a few squirrels and had started skinning them,” said Hickman.

“It was about six o’clock and I heard an unusual sound. I thought, ‘I’ve got to see what this is.’”

Hickman said his curiosity spiked as the eerie noise grew louder.

“It was just sort of a cooing sound. I walked east along the fence off Highway 122 and it got to the point where the noise got a bit louder. I climbed the fence, stepped down and that’s where she was lying, wrapped in a towel.”

It was an infant. Hickman said the initial shock of finding the baby quickly transitioned to concern. She looked to be no more than a week old.

“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. She was bleeding and the umbilical cord had coagulated to the towel. She just looked up at me and made a cooing sound. I thought, ‘Who would do such a thing?’ The next thing, I was scared. It was an emotion I can’t describe.”

Hickman yelled for his grandfather, who rushed to his side.

“I bent over to pick her up and he said, ‘Don’t touch her, it may do more harm than good.’”

Smith summoned local authorities from the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department, who secured the infant and led the caravan to the hospital.

“It was determined she had been in the woods overnight and all day,” said Hickman.

The baby had apparently been abandoned and left to die.

“Now that I look back on it, I realize that hearing that sound was a message from God to investigate. I’m so glad that he used me to save her.”

The speculation soon began about the baby, who was named Roseann Wayne by her caretakers at the Wayne County Welfare Department.

About a year later, Hickman later saw Baby Roseann for the final time when social workers brought her by his school to say goodbye.

“She was wrapped in a towel and sound asleep. They handed her to me and said, ‘Dave, we brought the little girl by to say goodbye.’ They said she would be adopted next week.”

From that moment on, Hickman couldn’t get Baby Roseann out of his mind. He would spend the next 57 years looking for answers and trying to locate the infant girl he had rescued.

Ellen Suey always knew she was adopted.

She also had an intuitive feeling that something just didn’t add up.

Suey was adopted when she was an infant by Merwin and Marga Test of Richmond, Ind.

The family soon moved to Silver Springs, Md., and then to California in 1964.

“It was no secret that I was adopted,” said the now 58-year-old Suey, who recently retired from a long career with the U.S. Defense Department in California.

“I have these scars all along the left side of my body, and I asked my mom what happened. She said, ‘You just came that way.’”

The explanation further piqued Suey’s curiosity about the circumstances of her adoption.

“I’m a very curious person. I started doing my own research when I was 27.”

Suey eventually stumbled across an old Richmond newspaper clipping that chronicled the story of a baby girl who was found in the woods.

“I remember saying, ‘I bet that’s me,’” Suey said.

She was right.

The scars finally made sense.

“What happened was that I was left in the brush. There were twigs there that scratched me and maggots set in on my left side. I was in the hospital for 10 days.”

The next step was to track down the person who found her.

He was looking for her, too.

Hickman ran into dead end after dead end over the years as he tried to find out what happened to Baby Roseann.

“For 40 years, my wife, Gaile, and I tried and tried to find her,” said Hickman.

“All the records were sealed. If they knew anything, they weren’t talking.”

He finally asked for help from John Catey, a well-connected retired Wayne County sheriff.

After striking gold with his investigation, Catey called Hickman on Dec. 22, 2013, and gave him the news that Baby Roseann had been found, and he gave him a number to call.

“She (Suey) answered the phone and I couldn’t talk,” said an emotional Hickman.

“I finally gathered myself and talked to her. We’ve built a terrific friendship ever since. We email daily and talk on the phone a couple of times a week.”

Suey said she’ll never forget talking to Hickman for the first time.

“He’s my hero here on Earth,” she said.

“He’s very warm and I feel like I’ve known him forever. He’s just a kind, gentle person.”

Hickman and Suey will meet for the first time since that fateful day long ago in an Indiana field on May 4 at a reunion in Richmond.

Suey has requested that Hickman take her to the spot in the field where he found her. She has never actively pursued trying to find her birth mother - assuming that’s who left her. She said she would be receptive to meet with her if she was ever found but does not want a relationship with her.

“It’s the end of that part of the story, but the start of another,” said Suey.

“It’s like we’ve got new people in our family with Dave and Gaile. I felt so bad the first time I talked to Dave. He said he had worried about me and what kind of life I had. I said that I had a wonderful life.”

Hickman said he will no doubt have flashbacks of finding Baby Roseann 58 years ago when he reunites with Suey.

“She wants to go full circle and find where her beginning was,” said Hickman.

“I’ve thought of her at least once a day since I climbed on that fence. I’m looking so forward to it, but I’m also scared.”

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