Meet Georgia Tann: The Sick Woman Who Stole Children From The Poor To Give To The Rich

While some people choose a life of crime, others feel forced into it; as a desperate attempt to keep their heads above water. Stealing babies, however, is a completely different story. There is no explanation as to how someone can consider profiting from stealing innocent souls. Sadly, there are human beings capable of performing such despicable crimes. In the United States, 135,000 children are adopted every year, while 107,918 others are foster children; eligible and waiting to be adopted. Georgia Tann from Memphis, Tennessee ran a nationwide adoption business for forty years. During those years, she used her political influence to snatch as many as 5,000 babies and sell them to wealthy families. Here’s her story.

“Forget them” – is what Georgia Tann told young mothers before snatching the children from their hands.

Georgia Tann, woman, stealing, babies, children, young, wealthy families, organization, Tennessee
Special Collections Department/University of Memphis

In the United States during the 20th century, the Tennessee Children’s Home Society promised to find homes for children, whether they liked it or not. The society, which was run by Georgia Tann, dedicated itself to finding white babies and selling them on the black market.

Georgia Tann hatched a sinister plans to find the children. She often had strangers snatch them off the street in passing cars, at day-care centers or church basements; where children would play during mass. Although it sounds like a horror movie, the story was a grim reality for children who lived in the Mid-South from 1924 to 1950. She also went to the poor and convinced young mothers to give up their children.

The charitable organization was in fact a black market for white babies.

Georgia Tann, business card
Jack Watson/The Knoxville Focus

Tann focused on white babies, especially those with blue eyes or blond hair. For almost three decades, Southern families lived in terror as they were afraid of their children disappearing.

Tann, after stealing the babies, would change their appearance and wipe their identity clean. She then assigned them with new identities and delivered them to other families who were primarily rich and did not know the children were stolen.

It is also estimated that more than 500 children died at the hands of the organization due to poor care, disease and abuse.

Why did Tann focus on poor people and their children?

Georgia Tann, Ad, babies
Screengrab/Southern Hollow Podcast

Tann understood that not only did poor families at the time have trouble providing for their children, they also had limited funds and resources to search for their missing child. She utilized the hardships of the less fortunate in order to help herself. She also had powerful political friends who ensured that she could break the law and get away with it.

Tann occasionally shifted her focus from the streets to prisons and mental asylums to snatch newborns. Nurses and doctors were also part of Tann’s sinister plot. She bribed them to turn their heads while she snatched newborns from birthing wards. The nurses and doctors would then inform the parents that their child was stillborn.

In 1945, during a dysentery outbreak, 50 children perished from hospitals.

Newspaper ad, children, adoption
Southern Hollow Podcast

After snatching children from hospitals, her organization informed the parents that their child had died. They would then falsify the records to cover their tracks and destroyed any trace of the child’s origin.

Tann made thousands from selling these children to unaware families. The children never heard about their real parents and Tann never had to worry about the parents running into them, since she was doing interstate adoptions. Couples who were incapable of having children would place donations as high as $5,000 (equivalent to $70,000 today) and Tann was filling up her bank accounts.

Everything was going swimmingly for Tann until her political friends rival was elected mayor.

Gordon Browning
Wikimedia/Public Domain

Mayor E.H. Crump was Tann’s best friend who ensured that the complaints from families would never be investigated. However, when Crump’s enemy, Gordon Browning, was elected mayor, Tann realized that she could no longer escape justice.As Tann feared that Browning would encourage investigators to get to the bottom of things, something terrible happened.

A few days after Browning was elected mayor, Tann died of cancer. She never paid for the crimes she had committed and the children, as well as the families, never received justice. Georgia Tann was 59 years old when she died at home of cancer. Two months after her death, the Tennessee Children’s Home Society was closed down.

After her death, the gruesome story of how she kidnapped children was heard by the world. Many people gave her nicknames such as “The Baby Thief”. Ironically, Tann popularized the idea of adoption but people are careful of how and where they adopt from.

What do you think of this story? Share your thoughts with us through the comments section!

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