It was 1991, Janet Stroup of Longview had a baby boy named Michael. A few years later, she would have a baby girl named Jackie. But in 1998, then 6 and 2 years old, the children were removed from Janet's home.
"Mom was heavily involved in drug usage and just could not provide for shelter and she was not leaving them supervised appropriately," says Lori Sutton White, Child Protective Services Caseworker.
"She loved me and my sister a lot. She had a lot of problems but, through it all, she always really loved us and she wanted to change but it was just kind of hard," says Michael, Janet's oldest child.
Those problems began to take a toll and Janet's appearance was changing. At a supervised visit with the children, June 21, 1998, her face was pale, her eyes dark and sunken in. "Little did we know at that time, it would be the last time they would see their mother," says Lori.
"I remember I was at a foster home and we had monthly visits with my mom at the social workers office. I got there one day and she just never showed up," explains Michael, now 15 years old.
Then a month later, Longview Police announced the discovery of a woman's body in a field. They released a digital artist's rendering of the woman, showing a remarkable likeness to Janet. But multiple DNA tests would prove inconclusive and the woman's identity remained a mystery. The body was buried at the White Cemetery in Longview. A "Jane Doe" headstone marks the grave.
Now two children are left in limbo. Was their mother still alive somewhere? With no answer in sight, CPS tracked down their aunt, Linda James, who lived in California at the time. She stepped up and took the children. It was especially difficult on Michael.
"He was on 42 different medications a day, some of them as much as 4 and 5 times a day. We really kind of went to hell and back with him," says Linda.
But Linda was determined to give these children a second chance at a good life, supporting them and encouraging to get involved in school activities. Then in 2001, Linda adopted Michael and Jackie.
"I think she loves me dearly, same with Michael, and she wouldn't give us up for the world," says Jackie, now 11 years old.
Michael adds, "She really welcomed me. She always cared and stuff. She's just a very nice person."
Thinking back over the past years Linda says, "Michael and Jackie have given back 20-million times more than what I gave them." But there was one thing Linda desperately wanted to give Jackie and Michael, closure. So, the quest to find their mother, and her sister, would continue.
Linda said, "I made a promise to the kids that I wouldn't quit. I couldn't have them think, well she walked off and left me. She abandoned me.' I couldn't have them think that maybe she would walk in the door one day. I couldn't do that."
For the next 8 years, Linda worked diligently, requesting more DNA tests and asking police to continue the investigation into Janet's disappearance.
Then, at the end of last year, the court finally ruled the "Jane Doe" buried in the White Cemetery was, in fact, 38 year old Janet Stroup.
"Now we don't have to hope and wonder maybe she really is alive and if she is alive, did she leave because of me or anything like that," says Michael.
This summer, they held a graveside ceremony in Longview, finally saying goodbye and replacing the grave marker with a head stone bearing their mother's name.
I asked Michael if he had an opportunity to say something to his mother, what would he say? He responds solemnly, "I love her. That I'm doing fine. You don't have to worry about me cause Aunt Linda is there."
Lori says, "It was just so important for Michael to know that there was a reason why she didn't come back and that changes his life tremendously."
Looking down at the grave, Linda says to the children, "We accomplished what we set out to accomplish and now we can move on."
To this day, police do not know how Janet Stroupe died and no arrests were ever made in the case. As for her children, Michael is now a sophomore in high school, looking ahead to college. Jackie is now in the 6th grade just enjoying school and sports.
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