Between 1924 and 1950, a woman named Georgia Tann abducted and separated more than 5,000 children from their parents, many of whom were poor and unwed mothers. Tann looked like a grandmother, and few families had any idea that she was actually a Tennessee baby farmer.
During her time working at the Tennessee Children's Home Society, she and her network of social worker "spotters" would search for children to pull into their operation. With the help of politician friends, Tann was able to legally separate parents from their children by citing neglect. The most attractive children were sold to wealthy families, including celebrities.
Hundreds of unwanted and unadoptable children died under Tann's care, often due to neglect and starvation. It's believed that some of the children's bodies may still be buried on the grounds of the children's home where Tann operated.
Tann spent more than 25 years kidnapping children and profiting off of the poor. Although she isn't the first woman in history to separate children from their families, her story is one of the most bizarre and disturbing out there.
Hollywood Stars Including Joan Crawford Adopted Kids From Tann's Operation
Actress Joan Crawford adopted five children during her life, and in 1947, she found her twin daughters Cathy and Cynthia through the Tennessee Children's Home Society. Contradictory to Georgia Tann's supposed mission to place children in better homes, Crawford allegedly abused her kids. Cindy and Cathy, however, vehemently denied that their mother hurt them.
Actors June Allyson and Dick Powell also adopted a child from the society. So did actresses Lana Turner and Mary Pickford, writer Pearl S. Buck, and New York governor Herbert Lehman.
Professional wrestler Ric Flair, who was born in Memphis in 1949, was reportedly one of the many children Tann had snatched from unsuspecting birthparents.
She Advertised Her Baby Selling Business In Christmas Ads
Georgia Tann started working for the Tennessee Children’s Home Society in 1924. It wasn't long before she realized that babies could mean big business. She developed a marketing strategy and paid for ads in newspapers to entice prospective parents. In one advertisement that she placed around the holidays, cherubic blonde babies looked up beamingly as the words "Want a Real, Live Christmas Present?” lured in potential buyers.
In another ad from 1935, an adorable little boy holds a ball. The caption reads: "Yours for the asking! George wants to play catch, but he needs a daddy to complete team."
One Woman Found Her Daughter After Watching An Episode Of "Unsolved Mysteries"Photo: NBC
A woman named Alma Sipple gave birth to a daughter named Irma in Memphis, TN, on August 27, 1945. Her boyfriend, Julius John Tallos, worked in the Air Force and had recently shipped out to Panama. Six weeks after Sipple settled into a one-bedroom apartment, she was visited by Georgia Tann, who claimed she was checking in on a neighbor who was purportedly abusing a child. Tann returned the next day and noticed Irma had a cold. She offered to take the baby to the hospital because Sipple couldn't afford a doctor.
Sipple agreed and tried to visit her baby the next day. But when she tried to see her child, she was told Irma belonged to the Children's Home Society. Then a few days later, Tann told her Irma died of pneumonia. Sipple attempted to arrange a funeral, but Tann claimed she already took care of it. Sipple had no idea that Irma was alive and adopted by a couple in Cincinnati. They renamed her Sandra.
In December 1989, Sipple was watching "Unsolved Mysteries" when she saw a segment about Tann. The show recommended that viewers who had run-ins with Tann reach out to the group Tennessee's Right to Know, who would help families reunite with their children who were kidnapped and adopted out. Sipple and Irma/Sandra were reunited seven months later, 44 years after the baby was stolen from her true mother.
Tann Illegally Placed More Than 5,000 Children With Different Families
Tann placed an estimated 5,000 children into new families over the course of her career. She outright stole some of them, kidnapped others, and persuaded some parents to relinquish their kids. During adoption proceedings, Tann worked with judge Camille Kelley, whom she paid off, so parents had a difficult time getting their children back.
Even though mothers and fathers went to the police, they were often poorly educated and didn't have a lot of money. They struggled to go up against Tann, who was wealthy and had a lot of powerful and intimidating connections in the legal and political systems.