Now 39 years old, New Jersey man Steve Carter grew up knowing very little about his origins. He was adopted as an infant in Hawaii and was raised in a well-heeled part of The Garden State. Nevertheless, Steve remained curious about his roots, and one day the medical software operative decided to do some digging online. However, when his investigations unearthed an artist’s impression of a missing person, he recognized the image at once. It ultimately led Steve from his comfortable Medford Lakes home in to a mysterious and uncomfortable past.
Back in 1980, Steve Carter Sr. was an U.S. Army officer stationed on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. It was during this tour of duty that he and his teacher wife, Pat, decided to adopt a child. And when they encountered a three-and-a-half year old boy living in foster care, they knew that they just had to bring him home. “It was love at first sight,” Pat explained to People magazine in 2012.
On September 23 of that year, Steve and Pat brought the boy to live with them full time. According to Hawaii records, the little guy’s name was Tenzin Amea, and he had been in the state’s care for the past three years. His file stated that the fair-haired infant’s anonymous father was a native Hawaiian. The boy’s white mother was down as Jane Amea, and she had been arrested when Tenzin was just five months old. Consequently, in June 1977, the unfortunate little lad had ended up in the Hawaii care system.
Now, however, it seemed as if Tenzin’s luck had changed. Renamed William Steven Tenzin Carter – but known as Steve Jr. – the boy began a new life with the Carters in a wealthy area of southern New Jersey. Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, he enjoyed a happy and normal childhood, playing sports and enjoying parties with the neighborhood kids.
In time, Steve left his adoptive parents’ home and got into the software game. But, as an adult, he had begun to wonder just who his birth parents might have been. By now, his purported Hawaiian heritage had become something of a family joke. “With his blonde hair, blue eyes, and light complexion,” Steve Sr. told the South Jersey Local News newspaper, “[He] does not strike one as being of Polynesian extraction.”
In fact, Steve Jr. had his curiosity well and truly tweaked when he received a DNA testing kit as a Christmas gift. The results he got back were very surprising. Apparently, he was actually of Scandinavian descent. Nonetheless, although the mystery had deepened, it seemed as if Steve’s beginnings were destined to remain unclear. But then one day, he stumbled across a interesting news story that reignited his appetite to uncover his origin story.
In 2011, Steve came across an article about Carlina White, an African-American woman who had been kidnapped as a baby from a hospital in Harlem, New York City. Oblivious to her past, she had grown up in Connecticut believing that her abductor was her mother. Meanwhile, her real mom and dad were less than 45-minutes travel time away. However, by researching missing people online, the 23-year-old finally discovered the truth.
Indeed, it was this aspect of the story that spurred Steve into action. Genealogy and tracking down long-lost relatives had become much easier and quicker since the advent of the internet. And so Steve visited one of the websites mentioned by the abducted Carlina – missingkids.com. This online resource is operated by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and once there, Steve got scrolling for suitable subjects. Under an entry for a missing boy, he saw something that would turn his world upside down.
The listing for the lost lad had his name down as Marx Panama Moriarty Barnes, and reported that he had been missing since June 1977. And accompanying the entry was an artist’s impression of what Marx may have looked like as a mature man. And to Steve, it was like looking in a mirror. “I got chills,” he told People in 2012. “I was like, ‘Holy crap, it’s me.’”
Utterly shocked, Steve contacted the authorities and volunteered to have his DNA tested. Eventually, after eight long months, the results arrived. Amazingly, they proved that Steve and Marx were indeed the same person. The software man’s wife, Tracey, encouraged him to begin delving into his new past, only for a heartbreaking story to emerge.
On June 21, 1977, journalist and Vietnam vet Mark Barnes had been working in the garden of his home in Hau’ula, on Oahu, HI. While he was busy planting out, his girlfriend, Charlotte Moriarty, took their six-month-old son out for a stroll. The artist announced her intention to travel just a few blocks to pay a visit to a grocery store with little Marx.
However, Charlotte did not return, but – at first – Mark was not overly concerned. According to reports, Charlotte was something of a “free spirit” who had been known to take extended flights of fancy before. But when three weeks had passed with no sign of his girlfriend or their infant son, Mark contacted the police. But even though the authorities began searching for Marx, they were unable to turn up any clues.
For more than a year, a heartbroken Mark had continued to scour the streets of Hawaii, hoping to stumble upon his missing family. And no matter how much time passed, apparently he never gave up hope that one day he would be reunited with his son. Little did he know that Marx was living a new life, with a new name and a different family, thousands of miles away.
Reportedly, the day after Charlotte and Marx had disappeared in the summer of ’77, a woman on the other side of Oahu returned home to unexpected guests. Somehow, Charlotte had gained access to the property and was loitering inside with the infant Marx. Concerned, the homeowner had contacted the police.
When the authorities arrived, Charlotte furnished them with false names for herself and the baby – Jane and Tenzin Amea. And with a fake date of birth also in place, Hawaii police were unable to connect the dots when Marx was reported missing some three weeks later. Heartbreakingly, before Mark had even begun searching for his son, the boy now known as Tenzin had slipped through the net.
Apparently, the troubled Charlotte was soon taken to a psychiatric facility, while Marx was entrusted to the care of the state. In a cruel twist of fate, the boy ended up living in an orphanage just 30 miles from his biological father’s home. And, a few days after she was admitted, Charlotte checked herself out of hospital. She then disappeared completely, and so the truth about her son vanished with her.
But Mark had not been the only person left wondering about Marx’s fate. Jennifer, his half-sister who was eight years older than him, was also desperate to find out the truth. In fact, in 2001, the determined woman persuaded the Hawaiian authorities to reopen the case. Duly, they commissioned an artist to make a sketch of what Marx might look like as of then. And this was the very composite image that led Steve to discover his secret past.
When the truth was finally uncovered after more than 30 years, Steve did not hurry to reconnect with his relatives. He admitted to People magazine that he was “terrified.” Nevertheless, after months of waiting, he finally reached out to Jennifer on the telephone. And eventually, he also spoke with his biological dad, who by this time was back living in his native California. As Mark recalled, “All I could say was, ‘Wow. Oh wow. Wow.’”
For Ma and Pa Carter back in New Jersey, it had been a difficult journey after Steve Jr. had informed them about Marx, Tenzin and himself. “On an emotional level, I felt like we’d taken someone else’s child,” Pat confessed to People. But over time, the couple appeared to have come to terms with the situation. As Steve’s mom told TV talk show The View in 2012, “It’s taken a while for us to get used to the idea that we have to share him. But I’m sure it’s going to be wonderful.”
Although Mark, Jennifer and the Carter clan had yet to meet in person in 2012, a reunion appeared to be imminent. And while the experience had been an emotional one for all concerned, the Carters are thankful for one thing. They acknowledge that their story has the power to give other families with missing members hope. Meanwhile, for Mark and Jennifer, Steve’s curiosity and the internet have brought them closer to their long-lost relative than they ever thought they would be.