COLLIERVILLE, Tenn. (localmemphis.com) – About 5,000 children were stolen at birth during the Great Depression.
The operation ran out of Memphis known as the Tennessee Children’s Home Society.
Georgia Tann was over the scheme.
Local 24 News met one of Tann’s victims who shared her story at the Collierville Town Hall.
“I cried and I cried and I cried,” said Devereaux ‘Devy’ Bruch Eyler, a victim.
At 71, pieces came together of Eyler’s life.
“There were pictures of me from Georgia Tann that I’ve never seen,” said Eyler.
She knew she was adopted, but never knew why or how.
Eyler’s mother had her out of wedlock.
“She was not married and she felt apparently very ashamed,” said Eyler.
Her uncle drove her mother to a home for unwed mothers, but it turned out to be the Tennessee Children’s Home Society run by Georgia Tann.
“It’s just horrible what she did,” said Eyler.
Tann ran the black market for child adoption.
Eyler explained, “If someone didn’t want a baby and they wanted a three or four year old, she’d go out in the schoolyard and steal them.”
Tann mainly took children from the poor and sold them to the rich.
“If you were not in her mind an adoptable child, let’s say a baby was born ugly or birth defects, she would kill them,” said Eyler.
It’s believed she killed about 500 children throughout her operation.
When Eyler’s mother gave birth, she had to give up her daughter.
“She had to sign surrender papers under coercion. She was told she had a baby boy who died, so she wouldn’t trace me,” said Eyler.
Tann sold Eyler to a family in Pennsylvania.
She believes she was sold for about $2,500 plus expenses.
Eyler asked, “If I had not been adopted, how would my life have gone?”
That is a question she always wondered until she was in her 70’s.
Elyer began building up what Georgia Tann broke down.
Her daughter wanted to learn more about their family’s history.
At first, Eyler was hesitant.
“I don’t want to betray the wonderful people who chose me and gave me a good home,” said Eyler.
When her adoptive parents died, Devy’s daughter began digging.
“In two months, she had 82 pages of documents from Nashville,” said Eyler.
For the first time, Eyler learned about Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society.
She spent Friday connecting with other victims.
“It’s good being able to see Devy share her experience,” said Christine Jones, Eyler’s niece.
Eyler also learned of her biological family and met her sister, Pat, and niece in 2009.
“She came and we hugged each other,” said Eyler.
“After they met, my mom took Devy to my grandmother’s gravesite and she said, ‘I never thought I’d know who my mother was much less sit at her grave,” said Jones.
Now, Eyler feels more connected than ever.
“A mother knows her baby is alive. I truly believe she knew that I had lived,” said Eyler.
Devy remarried four years ago and her biological family attended the wedding.
She and her sister, Pat, spent the past nine years catching up before Pat died in March. Georgia Tann died in 1950 just days before facing any charges.