After one woman was dumped like a piece of trash as a newborn, she always wondered who her birth mother was. Moreover, she wanted to know how someone could do that to a tiny baby. When she finally found her biological mom, though, she realized that she’d actually known her for a long time.
Janet Barnicoat had an unusual start to life. That’s because in 1981, and shortly after she was born, her mother abandoned her by a dumpster down a back alley in Lawndale, California. The new mom had swathed her daughter in a towel and placed her inside a paper bag – all while the baby’s umbilical cord was still joined to her little body.
Luckily for Barnicoat, a woman had been cycling down the alleyway on her way to a local store, and as she rode her bike by the dumpster, she heard what she thought was a cat. However, when she investigated and peered inside the paper bag, to her astonishment she found a newborn baby instead.
The woman handed the baby over to the authorities, and eventually a couple adopted her. Her new home was also in California but around 100 miles from the alley and its dumpster. And after her adoption, young Janet enjoyed a pretty normal childhood.
However, after Barnicoat had reached her teens, she learned the truth about her past – and she found herself asking questions. “I got really mad and angry [at my birth mother],” she revealed to the ABC News program 20/20 in 2016. “I held onto that for quite a long time.”
Throughout the years, Barnicoat often wondered who her parents were and if she had any brothers and sisters. But, eventually, she felt she had to put those thoughts to the back of her mind and continue with her life. Subsequently, she entered the navy and teamed up with her adoptive father as a partner in his barbershop business.
Furthermore, Barnicoat went on to have five children of her own. And after establishing her own family, the fact that her own mother had abandoned her like trash made even less sense to her. “Once having my own children, you know, you figure out what that natural, true love is. And I just couldn’t understand how she didn’t have that for me,” she added to 20/20.
So, Barnicoat finally decided she needed some answers and began to do some digging into her past. Unfortunately, she was unable to glean any information that could lead her to her birth parents. While searching online, however, she did manage to find the woman who had discovered her in the alley.
Undeterred by her mixed results, Barnicoat decided to submit a sample of her saliva to genealogy website Ancestry.com. And, much to her surprise, the DNA testing service the site provides matched her to a close family member. It was her half-brother, Dean Hundorf, born in 1986, who had also registered with the website and was based in Wisconsin.
With this news, Barnicoat and Hundorf arranged to meet, and the pair eventually reunited in November 2014. “It was like we had known each other forever, like we never skipped a beat,” Hundorf later recalled to 20/20. Meanwhile, Barnicoat added, “It was a brother hug. And going [30 years] without having any siblings, it was nice to have that connection and that bond.”
Moreover, after the two struck up conversation, Barnicoat learned that Hundorf was also abandoned as a newborn. He too still had his umbilical cord intact when a man found him on his doorstep, also in California and again in a paper bag. And the shocking similarities in their circumstances made the pair more determined to track down their parents than ever before.
As a result, the duo approached genetic genealogist CeCe Moore to help. Moore’s forte is identifying abandoned children and, happily, she was able to cross-reference the siblings’ DNA samples against specimens from other databases. That was how Barnicoat and Hundorf came to learn that they had another half-sister, Julie Hutchison, living in Baltimore.
Hutchison was also found as a baby in California, in 1985, and she had the same questions about her past as Barnicoat and Hundorf. Furthermore, although they all had different fathers, DNA tests proved that they shared the same mother. The trio subsequently came to believe, then, that it was their mom who had dumped them all over a five-year period in the ’80s.
In 2016, meanwhile, the siblings all met up and discussed their pasts. “These three people were so much alike. They had the same sense of humor. They were cracking each other up,” CeCe Moore said of that first meeting. “There is something about biological and genetic bonds that survives any sort of separation.”
But, although they had each other, the threesome were still none the wiser as to the identity of the woman who had each given them life. That conundrum was solved, however, when their birth mother finally came forward. She was a lady called Joann Hauser, and amazingly Barnicoat already knew her.
That’s because, as well as being her biological mom, Hauser was the cyclist who had originally found Barnicoat in that Californian alley. Hauser later revealed that she had pretended to find her baby in a public place; that way, she could hand the newborn over to police without consequence. “I felt if someone else had her, they could give her a better life than I could,” she explained to 20/20.
At the time of Barnicoat’s birth, Hauser already had two children from a failed marriage, was living on welfare and found herself unable to cope with an additional baby. It may not have helped, either, that she was deep in a party lifestyle back then.
Then after abandoning Barnicoat, Hauser fell pregnant twice more, with Hutchison and then Hundorf – each to different fathers. Both times, she felt unable to look after another baby so dumped them both somewhere she was confident someone would find them safe. But, despite her actions, Hauser said that she had “loved” and “thought about” her babies every single day since.
And after discovering their kinship, the three siblings are starting to get to know each other. Meanwhile, both Barnicoat and Hutchison have tracked down their biological fathers; Hundorf, however, is still looking for his. Perhaps most amazingly of all, though, none of them feel any animosity towards Hauser. “She did us a favor,” Barnicoat told CBS Los Angeles in 2016. “All three of us had amazing families.”