From the archives: Switched at birth — stories about Kimberly Mays from the pages of the Times

Published December 1 2015
Updated December 2 2015

Her adolescent years played out in splashy headlines as "switched-at-birth Kimberly Mays," the doe-eyed, blond-haired 9-year-old caught between warring families.

"Couple sues over alleged baby switch," the news reports blared. "Genetic tests indicate Kimberly Mays is Twiggs' lost child." "Kim Mays testifies: 'I want my life back.'" "MY LIFE IS STILL A JERRY SPRINGER SHOW."

The reports told the story of two baby girls switched at birth in a rural Florida hospital. The incident came to light after one of the girls, named Arlena, died of complications from heart surgery when she was 9. Blood tests showed that the couple who had cared for her for nearly 10 years were not her parents. Regina and Ernest Twigg sued Hardee Memorial Hospital and set out to find their biological daughter. That led them to Kimberly Mays.

Mays got the news after school one day in 1988. The man who had raised her, Robert Mays, bought her ice cream to soften the blow. A couple in Pennsylvania, he told her, thought she was their long-lost daughter.

The discovery set in motion prolonged court battles. Frustrated, Kimberly sued to divorce the Twiggs as her parents and won. She later lived with the Twiggs for several years before striking out on her own. After several years of her own legal troubles, Kimberly Mays fell off the radar.

On Monday, Mays appeared on an Investigations Discovery show called Barbara Walters Presents American Scandals. Mays, now 37, lives in Clearwater with her six children and works at a call center.

On the show, Mays discussed her move to live with the Twiggs for about two years when she was 16 — the result of an identity crisis. Despite getting along with her older sister, she found the tension among her other siblings unbearable.

"The other ones, I guess, just harbored resentment that Regina was so consumed with me," she said. "They wanted their mom back."

By 19, Mays had married and was the mother of a son, Devin. She has since lost custody of him and hasn't seen him in 15 years. In all, Mays has had two husbands and six children by four different fathers. She admits the years have been tumultuous, and finances have been tight.

She burned through the settlement money. She once had to live in her car while pregnant.

And many of her relationships with family members have dissolved. When Robert Mays died in February 2012, Kim didn't find out until May. She had owed him money, and had had issues with his new wife.

"I just wish he knew how much I loved him," she said. "Very, very much. I just wish my kids knew him more."

Regina Twigg now lives in Sparta, Tennessee. She and Ernest have divorced. She hasn't spoken with Kimberly in years, but still loves her deeply.

Mays said she cares about her biological mother.

"I don't wish her any ill will," she said.

Despite the trauma and chaos of those years in the spotlight, Mays said she lives in the present.

"Honestly, I don't even look back at it," she said. And when Walters asked where she is on a scale of 1 to 10, she said about 9 and a half.

"I may struggle financially with my children, but honestly I wouldn't give it up," she said. "I love them very much."

Here are some of the earliest stories about the switched-at-birth case and the custody battles over Kimberly Mays from the archives of the then St. Petersburg Times.

Sept. 8, 1988

Couple sues over alleged baby switch

By JEFFREY GOOD

TAMPA — For nearly 10 years, Regina and Ernest Twigg spent night after sleepless night caring for the girl with the weak heart. After all, they thought Arlena Twigg was their own daughter. But this summer, blood and tissue tests reportedly performed at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore showed that Arlena was not their natural child, the Twiggs say. And they've accused the staff of a rural Florida hospital of giving them the wrong baby shortly after birth, then putting their natural — and healthy — child up for adoption.

Sixteen days ago, Arlena died of complications from heart surgery.

On Wednesday, the Twiggs filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Tampa seeking $100-million in damages and the return of their natural daughter.

The suit alleges that doctors and a nurse at Hardee Memorial Hospital in Wauchula switched the real Baby Twigg for one with a serious heart defect. The suit says that hospital records were then altered to remove evidence of the switch.

The Twiggs' lawyer, Marvin Ellin, said he will present a stack of evidence to the FBI and ask officials there to investigate the alleged switch and to launch a search for the Twiggs' natural child.

"We feel there's a possibility of criminality here and a distinct possibility of a baby for sale," said Ellin, a Baltimore lawyer. "There's absolutely no doubt ... that this little girl was switched."

In the Johns Hopkins tests, the suit says, a technique known as HLA (Human Leukocyte Antigen) testing was used to compare several dozen proteins on the coatings of cells belonging to Arlena and her parents.

The results showed that the girl shared none of her parents' proteins.

Closely related people share many of the HLA proteins, while distant relatives share a relative few. Unrelated people, however, share none.

"The test shows positively that Arlena couldn't have been their child," Ellin said of the HLA analysis performed by Dr. Wilma Bias at the immunogenetics laboratory. Bias would not comment on the results.

Meanwhile, Ellin also has submitted tissue samples to Dr. Robert Trelstad at the Robert Wood Johnson Hospital in New Brunswick, N.J., for a state-of-the-art genetic test that provides a range of information including parenthood and the origin of biologic evidence found at a crime scene.

"I would say the (HLA) data is conclusive," Trelstad said. He predicted that the genetic fingerprinting would confirm and add strength to the Johns Hopkins test.

Ellin said that he has asked the court to protect the records of all births that occurred at Hardee Hospital during the first six days of December 1978 to help investigators determine whether the defendants engaged in a baby-selling scheme.

"What else could this be except for a case involving a payment for delivery of a healthy child as opposed to a baby with a birth defect?" he said. He refused to consider the possibility the hospital simply made a mistake.

One of the doctors named in the lawsuit and the current administrator of Hardee Memorial Hospital said Wednesday that they had not seen the lawsuit and did not recall the case. They said they were shocked by the allegation of switched babies.

"I guess it's possible, but Lord, I hope not," said Dr. Ernest D. Palmer. Palmer, a family practitioner, said that the 50-bed public hospital rarely had more than one or two infants in its nursery. "This would be the least likely place for something like this to happen."

"I can't believe what you're telling me," said Harrell Connelly, administrator of the hospital since last year. "I don't have any knowledge of this, I'm sorry."

Two other doctors and a nurse named as defendants in the lawsuit, all of whom no longer work at Hardee Memorial, could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.

The Twiggs, who have eight other children, lived in Sebring when their child was born in nearby Wauchula. They have since moved to a community north of Philadelphia.

Mrs. Twigg gave birth to a daughter on Dec. 2, 1978, at 4:10 a.m. The Twiggs say a medical report showed the girl was healthy, and her heart showed "no abnormalities," their lawsuit alleges.

That same day, the suit says, another girl was born at Hardee Memorial to a mother who intended to give the child up for adoption.

This child was born with a congenital heart defect, the suit says.

Three days later, the suit says, Dr. Palmer told the Twiggs that their daughter had a diseased heart. They were shocked at the news, having just been told the girl was healthy.

For 10 years, the Twiggs struggled with their child's illness, the suit says. They spent days and nights sitting up with the girl, made repeated visits to doctors and hospitals, all the while trying to raise Arlena in a happy home.

On May 15, Arlena was hospitalized in New Jersey in anticipation of possible heart surgery. While she was there, a doctor told Mrs. Twigg that Arlena had B-positive blood.

That surprised the Twiggs, both of whom have blood types different from Arlena. Subsequent tests by specialists concluded, the lawsuit said, "that Arlena could not be and was not their natural daughter."

During these tests, Mrs. Twigg recalled an incident at Hardee Memorial, the lawsuit said.

The child was brought to Mrs. Twigg, who said: "Gee, this doesn't seem like the same baby," the lawsuit states.

A nurse scoffed at Mrs. Twigg's remark, the lawsuit says, and the nurse said: "'That's silly. Every mother says that when they see their baby. This is your daughter."' The lawsuit was accompanied by documents that Ellin maintains show hospital personnel switched the baby's wrist band and altered records of her birth weight, which served to hide the switch. The Twiggs maintain their real child was then given up for adoption to other, unknown parents.

Ellin said Mrs. Twigg is devastated by losing one child, and anguished that her natural child is in another parent's arms.

"She wants her daughter and she's prepared to fight for her daughter," said Ellin. "She said 'Where is she? What is she doing? Are they taking good care of her?'"

Information from the Baltimore Sun was used in this report.

Sept. 9, 1988

Couple in legal fight amid grief

By JEFFREY GOOD

BALTIMORE — Arlena Twigg had a heart-shaped face and a fierce will to survive. "She wanted to live so much," said Arlena's mother, Regina. "She says, 'I'm going to make it, Mommy and Daddy; I've got everybody pulling for me.'

"Sadly, will was not enough. Arlena died just over two weeks ago of complications from the surgery intended to fix her faulty heart.

She left behind sweet memories, her family says, and an awful truth.

Nine-year-old Arlena was not the Twiggs' natural child, they say now. While they grieve her loss, the Twiggs have begun a legal battle they hope will find their natural daughter and punish those the Twiggs say stole her in a Florida hospital baby switch.

"It's like a nightmare," Mrs. Twigg said Thursday. "We could not live the rest of our lives wondering if that child walking down the street could be her."

Wednesday, the Twiggs filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Tampa seeking $100-million in damages and the return of their natural daughter. The suit named three doctors, a nurse and Hardee Memorial Hospital in Wauchula — all of whom the Twiggs accuse of switching their healthy baby for a sickly one and then kidnapping their natural child.

Thursday morning, the Twiggs' attorney Marvin Ellin asked the FBI to investigate whether the Twiggs' natural child was kidnapped and possibly sold, and to try to locate her.

The hospital administrator, one doctor and a nurse named in the suit have said they don't recall the case but were shocked by the allegations of baby swapping.

"Oh for heavens sake, no," the nurse, Dena Spieth said Thursday. "I don't even recall such a thing."

Thursday evening, Mrs. Twigg and her husband, Ernest, detailed their case in an interview conducted at their attorney's Baltimore office.

The Twiggs married in 1966 and quickly built a large family. Mrs. Twigg had been separated from her sisters as a child, so she took a special pleasure at giving her own children plenty of loving brothers and sisters.

"I always wanted my family," said Mrs. Twigg, a schoolteacher with red hair, high cheek bones and a voice that quavered only when talking about Arlena. "My family was my whole life to me."

On Dec. 2, 1978, Mrs. Twigg gave birth to her sixth child in Hardee Memorial, a 50-bed hospital in Wauchula.

The baby was pink-skinned and healthy when the doctor put her in Mrs. Twigg's arms. She remembers kissing the child again and again.

"You just keep kissing their little head, and they're the most special baby that ever lived," she said.

After a few minutes, the child — whom the Twiggs named Arlena after a church friend — was whisked off to the hospital nursery. There were two other infants there at the time, they say, a boy and another girl who suffered from a defective heart.

Every four hours, Mrs. Twigg would get her little girl to breast-feed. Medical tests showed her to be perfectly healthy, they say, and the blush in her cheeks provided the proof.

But then on the third day, a nurse brought in a sickly child with purplish skin. Her fragile heart had to pump extra-hard to circulate enough oxygen through her bloodstream.

"It was the most pitiful little thing," Mrs. Twigg says now. "I looked at it and said, 'This does not look like the same baby.' " But the nurse, who is not identified in the lawsuit, scoffed and told her she was wrong. She pointed to the baby's identification bracelet to prove her point.

The bracelet said "Twigg."

The day Arlena and her mother were to be discharged, the Twiggs say, the same doctors who had earlier pronounced their child in perfect health told them she actually suffered from a congenital heart defect.

They recommended specialized treatment, and fast.

The Twiggs were shocked, but they vowed to do their best. They rushed the child to a Miami hospital and began nearly a decade of struggle.

"I just thought, 'Well, okay,' so we just went ahead and decided she was ours," said Mrs. Twigg, who turns 46 today. "From then on, we just fought for her life."

It was a hard fight.

Repeated hospitalizations, doctors' visits and special medications made for a mound of bills not completely covered by medical insurance.

Sometimes Arlena's seven siblings grew frustrated that their parents had to spend so much money and effort on Arlena.

But the family made do. And last year when Ernest Twigg's job as an Amtrak ticket clerk gave him a chance to move to a spot near Philadelphia, they pulled up roots. It was, they say, a chance to move closer to the northeastern hospitals specializing in treatment of heart defects.

It was at one of those hospitals, more than nine years after Arlena's birth, that the Twiggs first got a clue that she might not be their natural child.

A blood test at the Deborah Heart and Lung Center in Brown Mills, N.J., showed that Arlena had a different blood type from her parents and siblings.

The blood test was in May. In June, the couple went to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore to arrange for blood and tissue tests that show whether one person is related to others. The test examined proteins on the coatings of cells belonging to the girl and her parents.

If people are related, at least some of the proteins match. But the Twiggs' lawsuit and a doctor who examined the test results says there was no connection.

"There was no relationship whatsoever," said Dr. Robert Trelstad, chairman of the pathology department at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey. "She is not their biological daughter."

Trelstad has been hired to do another test, looking for "genetic fingerprints" that also serve to link parents and children. But he said Thursday that he doesn't expect to find any connection.

"The data that's already in hand is not really questionable," he said. "It is so firm that what this test will do is just add another solid piece of evidence."

Looking back, the Twiggs say they are convinced now that personnel at Hardee Memorial deliberately switched their healthy baby for the unhealthy one they knew as Arlena. Then they say someone altered records to hide the switch.

They think whoever did make the alleged switch knew he or she could not adopt away, or sell, an unhealthy child.

"Who is going to adopt a pitiful little unhealthy baby?" said Mrs. Twigg.

On Aug. 22, Arlena underwent surgery doctors hoped would fix her heart. She emerged looking fine and told her oldest sister she loved her.

But the next day Arlena died of complications. She was buried Aug. 27.

Mrs. Twigg spoke in a firm voice through most of the interview Thursday. But at times she couldn't hold back the tears.

She wept when recalling the time Arlena watched her onstage in Crystal River as her mother sang a song she wrote about manatees.

She wept when telling how Arlena's 5-year-old brother Barry got angry when told his sister would never play with him again.

And she wept when she talked about what she hopes to gain from the $100-million lawsuit and possible FBI investigation.

"No amount of money on God's Earth will ever pay for my Arlena," she said. "She was just my little shadow."

"You can never replace her," added Ernest Twigg.

But a legal award could help pay some of the bills stacking up. And more important to the Twiggs, officials may be able to locate another little girl they haven't seen for 9½ years.

"We don't know if she's in a children's home, if she's healthy, if she's loved," Mrs. Twigg said of the child she believes is her daughter.

The Twiggs suspect that the people now acting as the girl's parents had some role in stealing her away. But what if she somehow ended up with good, loving parents?

"I would not want to hurt her by uprooting her from a family she deeply, deeply loves," said Mrs. Twigg.

But on the other hand, the Twiggs say that the girl is rightfully theirs, and they plan to take her back. They are convinced they could give her a happy home.

"We never gave her to anybody," said Mrs. Twigg. "Nobody has any legal right to her but us."

Sept. 16, 1988

Girl may be other child from alleged swap

By JEFFREY GOOD

TAMPA — Like most little girls, she doesn't always clean her room but charms adults with her loving ways. She has big blue eyes, blond hair and the smile of an imp. She knows nothing of the heart-wrenching battle closing in on her.

In the week since Ernest and Regina Twigg claimed that they lost their natural daughter in a Florida hospital baby switch, investigators and reporters have sought a 9½-year-old girl who was born at the same time in the same hospital.

The Twiggs think she may be the child they lost.

As of late Thursday the Twiggs and their private investigator had not located the child and contacted her father. But using public records the Times this week located the girl in a southwest Florida city where she lives with her father.

Neither the girl nor her relatives are being identified in this article to protect the child's privacy.

The child has blond hair like the Twiggs' other children and was the only other white girl reported born at a Wauchula hospital at the time Mrs. Twigg gave birth in 1978. The Twiggs' attorney, Marvin Ellin, said he hopes to locate the child and determine if her blood matches the Twiggs' O-type blood.

"If she's O-positive and shows any family resemblance to the Twiggs, it's going to be incredible," Ellin said.

But one family's hope is fast becoming another family's anguish.

Relatives of the girl bristle at the suggestion that the child may not be theirs. Her grandparents say they have been badgered by reporters attempting to locate the girl and her father. The Twiggs' investigator also tried to contact them.

"My sympathy goes out to those people," the girl's father told the Times Thursday evening. "They have every right to pursue their real child. (My daughter) is not their child . . . she will never be their child."

The father said he knew nothing of any alleged baby swapping. He refused to disclose his daughter's blood type and said he will resist efforts to draw her into the Twiggs' battle unless they prove that a baby switch occurred. So far, he said the girl knows nothing of the search for her.

"Until they get an indictment or a conviction . . . I have nothing to say," he said. "I'm an innocent bystander."

Family members say that simply raising such questions could devastate the child, who they say lost her mother to cancer seven years ago. "She is at the age that anything like this would be catastrophic to her," said one of her grandfathers.

In the end, lawyer Ellin acknowledges, the girl may turn out not to be the Twiggs' child. Scientific tests may be needed to answer that question.

"The description that (we) got of the little girl is the description of all the other Twigg children," said Ellin. "But that doesn't mean a damn thing — it just makes it more interesting."

The child hunt is the latest twist in a strange saga.

Mrs. Twigg gave birth to a girl on Dec. 2, 1978 at tiny Hardee Memorial Hospital in Wauchula. Although initially told their daughter was healthy, the Twiggs say they left the hospital with a child suffering from a defective heart. They named her Arlena.

After a decade of struggle, Arlena died Aug. 23 of complications following heart surgery. Last week the Twiggs filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Tampa accusing three doctors and a nurse of kidnapping their real baby and giving them the sickly Arlena instead.

Mrs. Twigg said that she gave birth to a healthy girl but that hospital personnel swapped her natural child for an unhealthy one born to another woman at the hospital. The Twiggs say the personnel then lied and altered records to hide the swap and gave away or sold the real Baby Twigg.

Blood and tissue tests performed shortly before Arlena's death convinced the Twiggs that Arlena was not their child. The tests at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore proved the sickly child whom they raised was not their biological kin, they say.

The Twiggs moved last year from Florida to near Philadelphia.

Their lawsuit seeks $100-million in damages and the return of their natural child. The FBI is conducting a preliminary inquiry into the Twiggs' claims, and the couple hopes federal officials will help locate their natural daughter. Their lawyer also sent a private investigator to Florida this week to search.

"We would like for the child to know that we in fact did not give her away," said Ernest Twigg.

If such a child was born at Hardee Memorial, and if her birth was reported to state officials, she should not be hard to identify.

Besides Mrs. Twigg, only one other white woman gave birth to a girl during the two weeks before Mrs. Twigg's discharge from Hardee Memorial, said Oliver Boorde, state registrar for vital statistics.

Boorde stressed that a baby swap could have involved a child whose birth was not properly reported. "If this is a real involved scheme, anybody could be paid off," he said.

But for now the Twiggs are focusing on finding the other little girl whose birth was reported. According to her relatives, that search could disrupt an already troubled life.

The girl left Hardee Memorial with a woman she would know only briefly as her mother. In March 1981 when the girl was just over 2 years old her legal mother died of cancer.

While his wife underwent treatment at Tampa General Hospital, the girl's father met a clerk there. Two months after his wife's death, the man married the hospital worker. They settled in Riverview in southern Hillsborough.

The girl was immature for her age and had troubles at school, said the girl's new mother. But she had huge eyes and a heart to match.

"She just loves everybody," she said. "She just needed a lot of love."

But in December the girl lost another mom when her parents divorced. Her father moved with her to a city south of Tampa Bay. Her second mother never legally adopted the child, and their tie was also severed.

"She lost a mother and she knew me as a mother for seven years and then lost me," said the hospital worker. "What's next?"

The possibility that yet another mother may make a claim to the little girl's heart.

A picture of the little girl shows she shares the fair hair and round cheeks of the Twiggs' living children. But her legal mother had light hair, and her legal father has blue eyes, the hospital worker notes.

In the end the question may be answered only through the sophisticated medical tests that led the Twiggs to conclude Arlena was not their own. Those tests may only come after a legal battle that could also decided which family keeps custody.

Such a battle could be costly for the child, says a child psychiatrist. Although children vary widely in their reactions to such stress, he said the child would certainly be upset by uncertainty about her parents.

"It's going to be quite a jolt," said Dr. John P. Kemph, chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Florida medical school. "She's already had quite a lot of psychological trauma in her life."

Although eager to reclaim a daughter, the Twiggs say they haven't decided yet how hard they would fight to win custody. Much would depend on whether the girl's parents played a role in the alleged baby switch, they say.

"We would want her to know that we would like to have her," said Ernest Twigg. "But if she is happy . . . we may feel differently about it."

"We just want to be able to share in her life."

Oct. 27, 1988

Father tells girl the news of swap case

By JEFFREY GOOD

SARASOTA — One day after school, a 9½-year-old Sarasota girl got an ice cream and some startling news. Her father bought her the treat and then told her that a Pennsylvania husband and wife think she is the child they lost nearly a decade ago in an alleged baby swap at a rural Florida hospital.

Robert W. Mays told his daughter, Kimberly, the news late last week. And on Wednesday, he held a press conference to tell the world who he and his daughter are — and to say that he will fight to keep Kimberly, even if genetic tests show she is not his biological kin.

"I was just tired of living a lie here, trying to hide from the press and worrying about who might confront my daughter at school or on her way home," Mays, 43, said at the crowded press conference. "I saw no reason to keep it secret from her any longer."

"Her reaction to that was 'Daddy, I don't want to move. I don't want to move away. You're my daddy, is anything going to change?' " he said. "I told her that absolutely nothing in her life would ever change."

A lawyer representing Ernest and Regina Twigg, who claim that Kimberly is probably theirs, said he doubts that Kimberly would remain untouched now that her identity is public knowledge.

The Twiggs "are amazed and disappointed that Mr. Mays called this press conference," John Blakely, their Clearwater lawyer, said later. "They had worked hard to protect Kimberly from becoming an object of public curiosity. Mr. and Mrs. Twigg are upset that she's now become that."

In fact, a lawyer who represented the Twiggs before Blakely took over had weeks ago given reporters an address for Mays and his child.

But news organizations, including the St. Petersburg Times, had chosen not to identify the family to protect the child's privacy.

Wednesday's press conference made it impossible to continue shielding Kimberly from public view. Mays said he made the decision to go public only after the pressure brought by the Twiggs' pursuit became unbearable.

"If they hadn't done the media blitz, (Kimberly) wouldn't know today," Mays said.

On Sept. 7, the Twiggs filed a $100-million federal lawsuit claiming that Hardee Memorial Hospital in Wauchula had kidnapped their healthy daughter shortly after birth and sent them home with a sickly girl instead. That child, Arlena, died Aug. 23 after heart surgery.

Shortly before Arlena's death, genetic tests showed that Arlena was not the Twiggs' biological child. The couple now wants those same tests performed on Kimberly, the only other white girl born at Hardee Memorial nursery about the same time as Arlena.

The Twiggs hope Kimberly is the child they lost. The man who has raised the child hopes they are wrong.

When he scheduled Wednesday's press conference, Mays had originally planned to talk but not be identified.

Even that limited promise brought a horde of journalistssts to the Sarasota office of Mays' lawyer. Before Mays arrived, members of two television crews had a shouting match over whose lights went where in the crowded conference room. When Mays began to speak, several voices shouted for him to talk into a cluster of microphones.

Then Mays' lawyer, Arthur Ginsburg, announced that Mays was "tired of being a mystery man" and had decided to go public.

A salesman for a roofing supply company, Mays wore his graying hair neatly combed and had knotted a smart paisley tie around his neck. His voice shook at first, then strengthened.

When he first heard the Twiggs wanted to find his daughter, he said, "I thought it was a terrible joke. It was several weeks into it before I began to realize that this was really happening to me."

For a time, lawyers representing Mays and the Twiggs haggled over whether Mays would consent to a genetic test to establish Kimberly's parentage. But the negotiations collapsed, and on Oct. 3 the Twiggs' attorneys filed a petition asking a judge to order the tests.

In their petition, the Twiggs' lawyers also accuse Mays of failing to provide a caring, stable home. And last week, the Twiggs said they thought Mays had played some role in the alleged baby swap.

Mays denies both allegations, but says he initially held his tongue to keep to keep Kimberly from finding out about the furor closing in.

That became increasingly difficult.

There were phone calls late at night. Knocks on the door when reporters came to question him. Kimberly wondered why she couldn't go out and play like she used to.

Late last week, Mays picked the child up from school, bought her an ice cream and sat her down on the veranda at home.

He asked her what she knew about the birds and the bees. She assured him that she knew enough to understand why she had been in a hospital nursery.

He explained to her that a couple named Twigg thought that she was the baby they had lost long ago at Hardee Memorial. She accepted the news calmly, except for one point.

"The only rise I got out of her . . . was when she thought perhaps she might have to go be someone else's daughter," Mays said.

When he promised her that she would not, Mays said, she calmed down. "She was a real trouper."

It wasn't the first bad news in a young life. Kimberly's legal mother died of cancer when the child was just 2½. Last year, Kimberly lost a stepmother to divorce.

"You've got to remember that Kim's been through a lot," he said in an interview after the press conference. "I'm the same guy that had to sit down and tell her that her real mother had died, okay, and then . . . I had to explain to her why my second wife and I were divorcing."

"The one continuity that goes straight through all these episodes was that in the final analysis Daddy was always there," he said.

During the press conference, Mays said that he was persuaded Kimberly is his biological child, that she shares the looks and mannerisms of her mother and aunt.

Mays and his lawyer said they haven't decided whether to agree to genetic testing. Whatever the test results, Mays said he will fight to keep the child he reared. "I wouldn't care if they traced her heritage to Cabbage Patch, U.S.A., she's mine," Mays said. "I'm her father, I always have been and I always will be."

If Mays is ready for a custody battle, so are the Twiggs. On Wednesday, their lawyer said that the couple will seek custody if genetic testing shows her to be their own.

"They don't know any reason for them not to pursue custody," said Blakely. "Assuming that Kimberly is their child, that's what they're intending to do."

A court hearing has not yet been set on the issues of genetic testing and a custody case that might follow it. For now, the Mays family is plenty busy with newfound fame.

Mays asked the media not to try to interview or photograph the child for now. As of Wednesday evening, Mays said, the media had respected that wish.

"It's quiet here, there's absolutely no one," he said. "A nice surprise."

For her part, Mays said, Kimberly is excited about the growing attention. She is, he says, a bit of a ham.

"It's something new and it's exciting," he said. "I think she's going to have a little fun with this."

Nov. 20, 1989

Baby swap mystery solved; Genetic tests indicate Kimbery Mays is Twiggs' lost child

By JEFFREY GOOD

CLEARWATER — At last, the baby swap mystery has a solution: A 10-year-old girl with hazel eyes is the lost child of Ernest and Regina Twigg.

For more than a year, the Twiggs had hoped that the girl, Kimberly Michelle Mays of Sarasota, was the child they lost in an alleged baby swap at a small Florida hospital. Genetic test results disclosed Sunday showed that they were right.

"Today is the day that ends the guessing," the couple's attorney, John Blakely, said at a crowded news conference. "Kimberly Michelle Mays is in fact the daughter of Ernest and Regina Twigg."

For the Twiggs, the test results brought joy. Mrs. Twigg's eyes shone with tears and a smile tugged at her mouth as Blakely announced the results of testing performed by Johns Hopkins University.

"Finally, there's some sunshine," she said.

But for Kimberly Mays and the family who reared her as its own, the results brought only a confirmation of the fears that have dogged them for 14 months.

"I prayed so hard that this could not be; I just don't understand how it can be," said Velma Coker, a woman whom Kimberly knows as Grandma. "It makes no difference what the results are; she's still my granddaughter. . . . She's the only one I've ever known."

The results brought another hard message for Mrs. Coker and other relatives: The girl who was their biological daughter and granddaughter lived and died without ever meeting them.

The baby swap came to light last year through another tragedy: the death of Arlena, a child with a heart-shaped face whom the Twiggs had raised as their own. Arlena suffered from a deadly heart defect, and genetic tests performed in the summer of 1988 showed that she was not the Twiggs' biological child.

The tests were performed in anticipation of surgery designed to mend Arlena's faulty heart. But shortly after the operation, she died of complications before her parents could tell her about her identity.

She was 9.

In September 1988, the Twiggs filed a lawsuit alleging that workers at Hardee Memorial Hospital in Wauchula had taken their healthy baby shortly after her birth in 1978 and sent them home with the unhealthy Arlena instead.

The genetic test results show that Bob Mays, the man who reared Kimberly, was Arlena's father. (Barbara Mays, Arlena's mother and Mrs. Coker's daughter, died in 1981 of cancer.) When his attorney told him the news, one of his first questions was about her.

"He wanted to know where the child was buried," said the lawyer, Art Ginsburg.

Although the test results weren't publicly disclosed until Sunday, the two families received them on Friday. And while the results solve the question of Kimberly's identity, they do not answer the question that has bitterly divided the two families: What is best for Kimberly?

Kimberly and Arlena were the only two white girls to share Hardee Memorial's tiny nursery after their births in late November, early December 1978. The Twiggs located Kimberly shortly after filing their lawsuit. But until a few weeks ago, Mays had resisted their efforts to have genetic tests performed on the child.

Mays said that even if Kimberly were the lost Baby Twigg, that it would deeply shake her to become part of another family. At one point, he said, she wrote on a school project: "I hate the Twiggs."

Mays finally agreed to the testing, but only on one condition: that the Twiggs not seek custody of Kimberly if she turned out to be their biological child. Instead, the Twiggs had to agree to settle for visitation privileges.

Now that the test results are in, the families will consult with psychologists to see whether, and when, such visitation would be good for Kimberly.

The Twiggs are eager to meet her. So far, they have only seen a picture of Kimberly, a slender blond child with huge hazel eyes. But they say they will try to be patient.

"With all my heart, I would just love to put my arms around her," Mrs. Twigg said Sunday. "But I'm not sure how she would feel. She might be scared. But I'll just have to go slow."

Mays took Kimberly out of town to tell her the test results, his attorney and family said. Mays did not feel up to meeting with the crush of reporters and photographers who crowded the Twiggs' news conference Sunday afternoon, they said. "He just needs some time to get her straight and him too," said Mrs. Coker.

"Our main concern now is that that little girl knows that those who love her are still with her," Mrs. Coker added. "But you know, this kind of thing could mess this little girl up for life."

A psychologist said Sunday night that it will be important to proceed slowly, and to let Kimberly have a strong say in how much contact she has with the Twiggs, who now live in Sebring.

Getting to know the family could enrich her life if handled carefully, said Dr. William Hafling. But it could also bring pain.

"There is one major risk . . . that no matter how hard they try, they may not get along," said Hafling, who is not directly involved in the case but has been following it. "A lot of biological parents have had their child since birth and they still don't get along."

Kimberly is not the only child with a stake in the outcome of this case. When they came to the news conference at their attorney's Clearwater office on Sunday, the Twiggs brought along their seven other children, ages 6 to 21, all decked out in their Sunday best.

"These are the brothers and sisters of Kimberly Michelle Mays," Blakely said as the junior Twiggs marched through a jungle of television cameras and hot lights.

The youngest child, 6-year-old Barry, felt Arlena's death especially hard, his parents say. He used to play leap-frog with her, and he couldn't understand why she was gone. Not long after Arlena died, he sat at the kitchen table, turned to his mother and said: "I want Arlena and chocolate candy."

Now Barry and the others are looking forward to meeting Kimberly, although they say they're not quite sure what they will say to her.

There is so much to tell: about going fishing with their father on Central Florida lakes, about moving to Pennsylvania and its cold winters, about saying goodbye to one sister and wondering about the one they have never seen. And there is so much to ask: What subjects do you like in school? What do you do on weekends? What is your favorite ice cream flavor?

"I don't want to go in and say 'Hey, I'm your sister!' " the eldest, Irisa, said. "I want to start slow."

If psychologists conclude that it would be best for Kimberly not to meet the Twiggs, Mays' lawyer said that he will fight to keep them apart, possibly through court action. But lawyers for both families say they hope to settle the issue amicably.

The genetic test results will, however, heat up a fight in a different legal arena. The Twiggs have filed a federal lawsuit against Hardee Memorial Hospital, claiming that hospital workers swapped the children by accident or design. The test results seem to give them the proof they need to make their case.

Mays' attorney said that his client may also sue. "It was either a terribly negligent act or somebody's done something deliberately that's hurt a lot of people," said Ginsburg.

Earlier this year, Blakely took sworn statements from past and current hospital employees. All denied knowing about a swap, and most said that it would be impossible for one to happen by accident. But with their case bolstered by the genetic test results, Blakely said, the Twiggs plan to press the hospital harder for information.

"The Hardee Memorial Hospital has been uncooperative in helping us solve this tragedy," he said. "It's been a real tragedy for two families and hopefully we will find out how it happened."

But neither family expects a financial settlement to erase their suffering.

"There isn't any fair amount of money to compensate them for what they've gone through and what they're going to go through," Ginsburg said of Kimberly and her family.

Mrs. Twigg echoed that sentiment. "No amount of money in the world will bring back our Arlena, and also the years we've lost with our Kimberly."

In addition to learning about the Twiggs, Kimberly has to adjust to a new birthdate. For 10 years, she had celebrated her birthday on Nov. 29, the day Barbara Mays delivered her baby at Hardee Memorial.

But this year, Kimberly will have to wait a few extra days to celebrate her 11th birthday. The real date, she now knows, is the birthday Arlena used to have: Dec. 2.

• • •

Editor's note: In 1991, Ernest and Regina Twigg settled their lawsuit against Hardee Memorial Hospital for as much as $7 million. In September 1992, Robert Mays and Kimberly Mays agreed to a $6.6 million settlement with the hospital.

• • •

Aug. 6, 1993

Kim Mays testifies: 'I want my life back'

By JEFFREY GOOD

Kim Mays' words came softly, but they left no doubt.

"I don't want anything to do with them," the 14-year-old said of Ernest and Regina Twigg, her biological parents, the parents who lost her in a hospital baby swap, the parents she now wants a judge to shove out of her life.

"Do you understand," Kim's lawyer, George Russ asked, "that as a result of this process you cut off any legal rights you may have to inherit any assets or money from the Twiggs? Does that concern you at all?"

The Twiggs won millions of dollars in a legal settlement, but Kim didn't pause.

"Money can't buy love," she said.

In the trial that will decide her future, Kim took the stand Thursday to plead for a divorce from the family that has pursued her for nearly five years. At times her words came in whispers. At times she broke down in tears. At times, her shoulders straightened and her voice rang with anger.

Kim saved her harshest words for her biological mother, Regina Twigg.

"She's intruded into my life," Kim said. "She's a stranger and I don't like her very much. . . . I want my life back."

For five years, adults have been fighting over her. For four days, she listened to the testimony of her biological parents, the family that raised her and psychologists. Except for a brief moment on the trial's first day, Kim had been silent.

Late Thursday afternoon, it was her turn.

Dressed in a brown floral dress, her lips lightly coated with lipstick, Kim touched the gold guardian angel pinned to her chest and walked toward the witness stand. The relatives and reporters and strangers who had jammed the courtroom fell silent.

George Russ, the lawyer representing Kim in her attempt to sever the Twiggs' parental rights, began asking her questions.

"Who are your parents, Kimberly?" Russ asked.

"Robert Mays and Darlena Mays," Kim replied.

It sounds so simple, but it isn't. Kim knows that genetic tests show that she is the Twiggs' biological daughter, that she was switched at birth with another baby in tiny Hardee Memorial Hospital in 1978.

Kim wept when she recalled that day a decade later when Bob Mays told her that the Twiggs were claiming her as their lost daughter. Kim was 9 years old.

"I said, "Daddy, don't let them take me away,' " she recalled. "And . . ."

Kim couldn't finish the sentence. She buried her face in her hands and sobbed. Across the courtroom, Mays looked on. Then he turned and stared at the Twiggs, who sat ashen-faced, holding hands at a table 20 feet from Kim. Kim regained her composure, dabbed at her cheek with a tissue, and went on.

She talked about how she has a life full of family and friends, trips on the boat, nights at the movies, dinner with the only people she wants to be her parents. She said the Twiggs' pursuit of her has filled her with fear that she will lose that life.

"Has your life been normal since this came about?" Russ asked.

"No sir, it hasn't," she said, noting that she has had to miss out on activities with friends and classmates because of the intense court schedule. "I've had to grow up a lot faster."

In 1990, Kim had some visits with the Twiggs and their children, her seven biological brothers and sisters. Kim said she enjoyed those visits, during one of them even calling out to Regina, "I love you!"

But in 1990, when her schoolwork began to suffer and she grew troubled and withdrawn, Mays cut off the visitation temporarily. When Kim tried to renew it by inviting some of Mrs. Twigg's daughters to her house, the Twiggs refused.

Since then, the two families have feuded bitterly in court. And outside of court, Kim said, Mrs. Twigg has done things that have hardened Kim toward her.

Mrs. Twigg has publicly voiced her suspicions that Bob Mays played a role in the baby swap. She earned $90,000 from helping research and promote a book that makes similar allegations about the late Barbara Mays, the woman Kim regards as her mother.

"It made me upset and angry" to hear Mrs. Twigg accuse her father, Kim said. And she is outraged by the allegations about Barbara Mays. "She can't defend herself! She's not alive."

Kim made it clear that Mrs. Twigg is not — to borrow a term from this week's expert witnesses — her psychological mother.

"I don't love her like a real mother."

Kim also voiced anger at the psychologist hired by the Twiggs, Dr. Harold Smith Jr. In testimony earlier this week, Smith said that Kim's dislike of the Twiggs is not as solid as she claims. In fact, he said Kim had said she would visit with the family rather than missing out on car-driving privileges.

She vehemently denied that on Thursday, saying — as she had in an earlier interview with the Times — that she would cheerfully give up a driving permit rather than be forced to visit with the Twiggs. "He twisted my words around."

But Kim saved her sharpest retorts for the Twiggs' lawyer, John Blakely. Kim resents Blakely for joining Mrs. Twigg in calling her "Arlena," the name of Bob Mays' biological child who was raised by the Twiggs and died of a heart defect in 1988.

Blakely told Kim she had once acknowledged asking Mrs. Twigg to call her Arlena. Kim said that her earlier statement resulted from her misreading a question, but the lawyer reacted in disbelief.

"I was a kid then," Kim snapped. "I get distracted, and I can misunderstand questions."

Blakely, undaunted, pressed on. He reminded Kim that Mrs. Twigg had stopped calling her Arlena after Kim asked her to during a recent deposition. He said, "You asked her to stop and she stopped, didn't she?"

Kim fired back, "But she said, "'Kimberly Mays is buried.' "

Blakely seemed to touch a nerve when he asked Kim if she feared hurting her father's feelings by visiting the Twiggs. "Yes," she said, "it would."

"And that concerns you?" he asked.

Blinking back tears, Kim could only manage a "yes."

Finally, Blakely finished his questions and the judge dismissed Kim. She walked to the back of the courtroom, where Bob and Darlena Mays, their lawyers and relatives smiled broadly and wrapped Kim in hugs. As the spectators filed from the courtroom, many stopped to shake her hand.

Then it was out the courthouse door, where the usual throng of camera crews greeted her. "Kim," one voice called out. "How do you think it went?"

She flashed a delighted smile and _ in a brief violation of her lawyers' no-comment order _ exclaimed, "Great!"

Meanwhile, Regina and Ernest Twigg walked down an empty hallway and toward another door. When a lone reporter asked them if they wished to comment on their daughter's testimony, they shook their heads and walked on.

Aug. 19, 1993

Judge: Twiggs have no right to be part of Kim Mays' life

By JEFFREY GOOD

Early Wednesday morning, Kim Mays got the phone call of her dreams. It came from her lawyer.

"They have no claim on you," Art Ginsburg told his 14-year-old client. "You're your father's child."

"Yes!" Kim cried. Goosebumps covering her skin, she jumped up and down. At last, a victory in the struggle that began when Kim was switched at birth with another girl. She cried again, "Yes!"

Circuit Judge Stephen L. Dakan ruled Wednesday that Kim's biological parents, Ernest and Regina Twigg, have no legal right to act as her parents or even visit her. Dakan said the man who raised Kim is her legal father.

"The evidence is clear that Robert Mays is her psychological parent," Dakan wrote in his order. "The Plaintiffs (the Twiggs) are seen by her as a constant source of danger to her father and to her family relationship."

Kim and her family were vacationing Wednesday at an undisclosed Florida resort. In a telephone interview with the Times, they said they were thrilled by Wednesday's ruling.

"We're home free," said Bob Mays, who raised Kim as his own before and after the baby swap came to light in 1988. "I mean, these folks don't exist anymore. They are out of our lives."

He may be wrong. Later Wednesday, the Twiggs' lawyer vowed to appeal as high as the U.S. Supreme Court. John Blakely said that while he hopes to win a quick appellate victory, the fight could continue into Kim's adulthood.

"Even when Kimberly turns 18, it's not over," Blakely said. "When Kimberly has children, the Twiggs will have rights to their grandchildren."

Both families probably can afford the legal fight, after receiving multimillion-dollar legal settlements from the hospital where their babies were switched. But Kim's lawyer urged the Twiggs to stop.

Ginsburg said an appeal could spoil any chance that Kim, who was raised an only child, would one day seek out her biological parents and seven brothers and sisters.

"There may be some doors open in the future," Ginsburg said. "But that's up to her _ nobody else."

In 14 typewritten pages, Dakan brought the first legal resolution to a struggle that has lasted five years, spawned a television miniseries, and left a child torn between two warring families.

In 1978, Kim was switched with another child, Arlena Twigg, in the nursery of a hospital in Wauchula. After 9-year-old Arlena died of a heart defect in 1988, the Twiggs revealed the swap, sued the hospital and tried to lay a legal claim to their lost daughter, Kim.

Bob Mays never got to meet his biological daughter, Arlena. But after Mays raised Kim (his first wife died when Kim was 2), he vowed not to let the Twiggs take her out of the only home she had ever known.

The fight ended in the Sarasota County courthouse, where Judge Dakan recently heard seven days of testimony from psychologists, family members and Kim herself. While the Twiggs wanted the judge to force Kim to visit with them, Kim told Dakan she wanted a "divorce."

Dakan's written decision in the case began by recalling a happier time, when Kim had five visits with the Twiggs in 1990. While Kim enjoyed the visits, particularly with her biological sisters, the arrangement quickly collapsed.

Much of the trial was taken up with the families blaming each other for cutting off visits. "Whatever the reasons," Dakan wrote, "the relationship between the parties went from deterioration to complete disintegration."

Once they got to court, the Twiggs asked Dakan to force Kim to visit with them. As justification, attorney Blakely cited laws that have historically given "natural parents" the right to decide what is best for their offspring.

Dakan rejected that argument, refusing to recognize the Twiggs as Kim's natural parents. He wrote, "To declare the (Twiggs) to be the natural parents of Kimberly Mays requires more than evidence that they may be her biological parents."

Nobody has ever proved how the switch occurred. But after the visits with Kim ended, Regina Twigg began publicly accusing Mays of having switched his unhealthy baby for the Twiggs' healthy one. She attacked Mays in phony letters to Kim's hometown newspaper. And both Twiggs said Kim's wish to be left alone should be ignored.

Dakan cited those actions, and others, in denying the Twiggs' parental rights. Noting recent law requires a parent to show "a substantial concern for the welfare" of a child, Dakan said the Twiggs had not shown such concern.

"The conduct of the Plaintiffs (Twiggs) after the visitation efforts broke down, regardless of how well-intended it might have been, has created a chasm between Kimberly Mays and the Plaintiffs which may never be bridged," Dakan wrote. "She has not been able to develop as a normal teenager and has suffered profound assaults upon her mental, and possibly physical, health."

The Twiggs "have not demonstrated a substantial concern for the welfare of Kimberly," the judge wrote. "Plaintiffs' position is that their interests, whatever they might be, are paramount."

Blakely denied that Regina Twiggs' attacks on Mays showed a lack of concern for Kim's welfare. Rather, he said, they showed that she is worried her daughter is living with a kidnapper.

"If she's concerned about Kimberly's welfare, she's going to want to get Kimberly away from him," Blakely said.

In his appeal, Blakely said he will challenge the judge's denying Ernest Twigg's rights because of his wife's actions. And he will argue that Judge Dakan was wrong to cut off both Twiggs when law requires a judge to first find them "unfit."

"The bottom line is the judge did not find the Twiggs unfit parents _ and biological parents are entitled to have contact with their own offspring unless they are unfit," Blakely said.

Judge Dakan did rule against Kim in one respect, denying her request for a "divorce," or termination of the Twiggs' parental rights.

But Kim still got what she wanted; Dakan said there was no need to cut off rights that don't exist.

The Twiggs "have no legal interest in or right to Kimberly Mays," Dakan ruled. "Robert Mays' legal status as the father of Kimberly Mays remains unchanged."

Further, Dakan cleared the way for Mays' wife, Darlena, to cement her relationship with Kim through adoption. Dakan's ruling gives the Twiggs no right to object to that proceeding.

The Twiggs did not return a phone call to their home Wednesday. Blakely, reached in North Carolina, said that while the Twiggs were disappointed in the ruling, they were not surprised.

Blakely said he had expected an adverse ruling from Dakan and had conducted the trial with an eye to building a case for appeal.

Kim starts high school next week in Englewood, south of Sarasota. Her advocates hope the judge's ruling means she will be able to plan a movie outing or slumber party without being yanked into court.

"She's finally going to be able to let go of the issue and get on with being a teenager," said Leslie Gift, who has logged more than 350 unpaid hours as Kim's court-appointed guardian. "That's what she needs."

Kim, however, said she can't feel completely relieved as long as the Twiggs are ready to fight.

"They're going to go on appealing it," she said. "I don't like it, but they're going to anyway. They haven't listened to me yet."

       
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