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Criminal: Buy, Buy Baby

A drawing of a hand paying a stork with a bundle.
Julienne Alexander
Melinda Dawson's parents purchased her from a Georgia clinician named Dr. Hicks.

People can become parents in the usual ways: by birth, by marriage and by adoption. But in this week's Criminal podcast, we hear from Melinda Dawson, who learned as a girl that her parents had secretly purchased her from a clinic doctor many miles away. Host Phoebe Judge said Dawson's parents were living in Akron, Ohio in the 1950s and '60s when the rubber industry was thriving. Her mother was told she couldn't bear children. Her father had a good job at the B.F. Goodrich plant, but the bar was high to achieve a legal adoption.

Dawson's father heard at work about a man called Dr. Hicks who had a clinic in Georgia. Her mother later told her the doctor could get people a newborn infant in secret.

"She told me that the instructions were to get to Georgia within 12 hours, once they were called. Come in the front door, sign the birth certificate, and head out the back door and get out of town as quickly as possible," Dawson recalled being told.

As she grew up, Dawson began looking into the man who ran the clinic in McCaysville, Ga.

Dr. Thomas Hicks had been a doctor in Tennessee, but lost his license for dealing drugs. So he moved across the border and began a popular abortion clinic in Georgia. Abortion was illegal at the time, but he drew wealthy clients who came from out of state. Hicks was regarded as an upstanding figure, handsome and charming. His wife taught Sunday School. They gave out great Halloween candy.

Dawson said her parents figured she was one of a couple babies sold from the clinic, but they didn't ask many questions. She later learned Dr. Hicks sold about 200 babies in the 1950s and '60s. Hicks has since died, and didn't leave many clues as to his motivations, though there was clearly money involved. Dawson's parents paid $1,000 for her, which would be worth about $8,000 today.

"Some of the parents that purchased the babies were told that the mother had died. When in reality the doctor was also telling the mother that the baby had died and that he would take care of the funeral. And then he would sell the baby," Dawson said.

Dawson was featured in an Akron newspaper story and connected with other so-called "Hicks Babies." But many people were protective of Dr. Hicks' reputation and didn't want them to tell their story.

Dawson and her mother, Judy, continued to appear in the media, and received threats. Judy was eventually brutally murdered.

Criminal leaves us with a heavy cliffhanger this week. You can hear more about the murder case—and the shocking suspect—on this week's Criminal podcast, but you won't hear what happens until next time.

Criminal is recorded at WUNC.

Rebecca Martinez produces podcasts at WUNC. She’s been at the station since 2013, when she produced Morning Edition and reported for newscasts and radio features. Rebecca also serves on WUNC’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accountability (IDEA) Committee.
Eric Hodge hosts WUNC’s broadcast of Morning Edition, and files reports for the North Carolina news segments of the broadcast. He started at the station in 2004 doing fill-in work on weekends and All Things Considered.
Phoebe Judge is an award-winning journalist whose work has been featured on a numerous national radio programs. She regularly conducts interviews and anchors WUNC's broadcast of Here & Now. Previously, Phoebe served as producer, reporter and guest host for the nationally distributed public radio program The Story. Earlier in her career, Phoebe reported from the gulf coast of Mississippi. She covered the BP oil spill and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina for Mississippi Public Broadcasting and National Public Radio. Phoebe's work has won multiple Edward R. Murrow and Associated Press awards. Phoebe was born and raised in Chicago and is graduate of Bennington College and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies.
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