THE ORLANDO SENTINEL
July 6, 1993
'COLE BABIES' SEARCH FOR PAST
A WOMAN'S QUEST FOR IDENTITY FOCUSES ON A DEAD MIAMI DOCTOR WHO HANDLED HUNDREDS OF UNORTHODOX ADOPTIONS.
Author: John Donnelly The Miami Herald
The old policeman said in a gravelly voice over the telephone that he knew
all about the doctor. He knew her history. Her business. The deals she
struck with crooked cops. The babies.
And he remembered that two unwed pregnant women traveled to the doctor's
clinic in Miami, gave birth, handed their children over for adoption and
walked out - both in March 1946.
He paused. ''It fits, doesn't it?''
It did. In the hunt for the natural parents of Carole Landis Baker, the
tip fit both Baker's birth date and her doctor.
Baker was born March 3, 1946.
Dr. Katherine Cole delivered her. Cole delivered the two young women's
babies, too. In March 1946.
Baker was one of hundreds of babies adopted through the late Dr. Cole, who
practiced in Miami for more than a half-century. In most of those
arrangements, the doctor never recorded the identities of the biological
parents. She simply listed the adoptive parents as birth parents on the
certificate of birth.
But now Baker suddenly, startlingly, had hope.
She also had company. From the nearly 100 people who responded to story in
The Miami Herald, seven additional ''Cole babies'' came forward. Two birth
parents called. Scores offered help - an aggressive police records clerk,
a helpful Cole relative and a son of a now-deceased Cole lawyer among
And Baker also had a strong lead from the old policeman, William Francis
Renegar, who unexpectedly found one final case rattling around his mind.
In the beginning, Carole Baker, 47, had few facts to work with. From her
birth certificate, she knew Cole delivered her at the doctor's clinic;
time of birth was 9:15 a.m. The mother entered the clinic only 15 minutes
earlier; the natural parents, wrote Cole, were Clyde and Lee Landis.
With no name of her birth parents, the key to Baker's exploration became
the doctor. Did Cole keep records? With whom did she work? Where did the
birth mothers come from? Why did she not record the birth parents?
Over the last several months, a portrait of Katherine Morris Cole began to
On the first floor, Dr. Cole saw patients. On the second floor, she and
her husband, an accountant, decorated their home with antiques and
bouquets of fresh flowers. They found rooms to rent in the neighborhood
and put aside two rooms on the second floor for a lucrative part of the
doctor's business: young, unwed pregnant women putting their babies up for
The women slipped in unnoticed, took meals with the Coles and helped with
chores. After giving birth, they handed over their babies and walked out,
leaving their shame behind.
By a handful of accounts, the women received no money. The adoptive
parents paid the mother's medical expenses and a fee to Cole, usually for
several hundred dollars, sometimes nothing, sometimes as high as $2,000.
She kept her own records of the women and the births, her relatives say.
But two relatives said the records were destroyed after Cole served jail
time in the mid-1960s for attempted abortion.
In Cole's all-purpose baby shop, she delivered thousands of children. She
also allegedly performed abortions in the years before Roe vs. Wade made
Police interest ebbed and flowed. Over 23 years, authorities arrested her
at least seven times - three times for filing false birth certificates and
twice for attempted abortion. A court convicted her only once, in an
attempted abortion case.
When she died in 1981 at age 85, her survivors buried her body in
Graceland Memorial Park, a block southeast of her clinic, in a $135
concrete box. They left no marker at her grave; she wanted it that way.
Ex-cop Bill Renegar had forgotten about Katherine Cole. But when he
started reading the Herald's story June 6 at his Winnebago home in South
Dade, memories spanning four decades came to him.
At 8:38 p.m. that Sunday night, he left a message on this reporter's phone
answering machine. Call if you want to know more about Cole, Renegar said.
A few hours later, he told his story.
''I was a Miami police patrolman in the 1940s,'' he began. ''Crime wasn't
too bad in those days. Al Capone had ruled this place off-limits because
it was the gangster's playground. But there were a lot of small crimes.
And there were a lot of crooked cops running around.''
In the late summer of 1946, he remembered stopping at his mother's home in
Chattanooga, Tenn., on his way from Miami to Northwestern University's
Traffic Institute in Evanston, Ill.
His mother and sister knew Cole when they lived in Miami, and they kept in
touch. On the night he passed through Chattanooga, Renegar's mother was
talking with Cole on the phone.
After she hung up, Renegar asked about it. He said his mother answered
something to this effect: ''Remember when you were going to come through
here in March but canceled your trip? Well, at that time, we helped
arrange for a pregnant girl from Lookout Mountain to go see Dr. Cole. And
a girl from Alabama joined her down there.''
Renegar remembered one other thing: A Chattanooga woman named ''Lolly''
helped make arrangements.
He couldn't recall the names of the pregnant women. ''I just recall that
they were from good families. I'll keep thinking about it.''
The next morning, in an Atlanta suburb, the tip stunned Carole Baker.
''That's just unbelievable.''
But perhaps most overwhelming to her was the overall response. She wept.
''Even if I never find my parents, I know now so much more.''
Fifty-five people had called in the 36 hours after the story appeared. The
first was a woman - ''I'm not a psychic'' - who said Baker and Cole may be
related. She whispered slowly, ''Look in your own back yard.''
And among all the calls, seven ''Cole babies'' told what little they knew
about themselves and the doctor.
''The box has to be opened,'' said Sara Arnwine of Pembroke Pines, a
victims' witness counselor at the Dade County state attorney's office.
''All of us who were delivered by Dr. Cole in the '30s, '40s, '50s and
'60s don't have any roots. Here we are searching until we're 50. She
really did an injustice.''
Carole Baker plans to start a support group with other ''Cole babies.''
She has talked with several. But for now, the focus remained on the one
live tip: ex-cop Renegar's memories.
This reporter pulled newspaper files on Renegar to check his recollection.
Four stories matched his memory exactly. They confirmed that he had
enrolled at Northwestern's traffic institute in September 1946.
It was time to see if he remembered more.
Renegar lives in a 1972 Winnebago, which is parked on the east side of his
home in Cutler Ridge. Workmen still haven't finished fixing damage left by
He has emphysema, yet he chain-smokes More 120 reds. Pill boxes are piled
on a table next to his right arm.
He remembered a few more details from his conversation with his mother.
One was the name of Lolly's church in Chattanooga. Another was a partial
recollection of the name of the unwed mother from Lookout Mountain who
traveled to Cole's clinic. ''I can't be sure about it, though,'' he said.
This reporter had a suggestion: Would he go to a hypnotist to see if he
could remember more?
Renegar coughed again. ''I'd like to help this woman any way I can. Sure.
Sure, I'll go.'' He lit another cigarette, which bounced on his lips as he
The Herald hired Charles Mutter to hypnotize Renegar. Mutter, a
psychiatrist, was independently recommended by Miami police and the Dade
County state attorney's office.
Mutter made no promises. ''He might not even be hypnotizable,'' he said.
An appointment was set in Mutter's Miami office. Renegar, picked up in
South Dade County, carried his medicine in a grocery bag.
Even though he hadn't left his home for more than two hours since the
hurricane and this would be a five-hour trip, he seemed serene: ''I just
hope it's some help.''
An hour later, in Mutter's office, Renegar leaned back in a leather
recliner. Mutter asked him to focus on a spot on the ceiling and told
Renegar his eyelids would begin to feel heavy.
After five minutes of coaxing, Renegar closed his eyes. His face
flattened. His breathing slowed.
Mutter took him back to 1946.
Renegar remained silent for a few minutes, then began to remember details.
He was staying at the Dixieland Motel. His mother and sister lived next to
each other in one-room cabins. He wasn't happy about the arrangement. One
of the cabins was infested with cockroaches.
Back to that night. His mother preparing dinner. His mother calling Dr.
Cole. ''A name keeps coming to mind. That's back ...''
What else did he remember? Mutter asked.
For the next hour, Renegar's mind flipped through various experiences with
Cole. But he couldn't recall anything more about that critical
Mutter said afterward that Renegar had good memory recall, but at the time
of the conversation, Renegar's mind was focused more on going to school.
Carole Baker's search continues.
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