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The incredible true story of ‘The Foundling’

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Imagine the shock of discovering that you are not actually the person you, and everyone you know, thinks you are. And that your family is not really your family. Imagine how it would feel to finally know the truth after 50 years of living a lie.

It sounds like the plot for an M. Night Shyamalan psychological thriller, but for Paul Fronczak of Henderson, Nevada, it’s all too real. This page-turning story of self-discovery is laid out in “The Foundling: The True Story of a Kidnapping, a Family Secret, and My Search for the Real Me,” written by Fronczak with Alex Tresniowski.

In April of 1964, Dora and Chester Fronczak of Chicago had a baby they named Paul. A day after the baby was born, a woman dressed as a nurse walked into Dora’s hospital room and walked out with baby Paul. The kidnapping resulted in a nationwide manhunt that was accompanied by a frenzy of media reports.

In response to the kidnapping, hospitals in North America established “Code Pink” – a facility lockdown emergency code employed for infant abductions.

Just over one year after the kidnapping of baby Paul, an abandoned toddler was discovered in Newark, New Jersey. Believing the child to be the missing baby, the FBI brought him to Dora and Chester, who formally adopted the baby and brought him up in a loving home.

In 1974, 10-year old Paul Fronczak was exploring the attic of his family home when he found a few boxes of newspaper clippings and assorted documentation related to the kidnapping. He approached Dora and Chester with questions.

“I kind of just blew it off but it always stayed in the back of my mind,” Paul Fronczak told me during a phone interview. “The older I got, the more I realized that there is no way that I am Paul. Even being called Paul didn’t feel right to me. I knew there was something more to the story.”

As revealed in “The Foundling,” Fronczak now knows his real name (Jack Rosenthal) but will continue to use the name Paul Fronczak until he can find the real Paul and present him with his birth certificate.  

Fronczak says he always felt out of step with his adopted family.

“It’s funny,” he explained. “People have always told me that we are the way we are because of our families. My real family was actually 2,000 miles away from where I grew up as Paul. I wasn’t anything like the Fronczaks.”

When he finally met his biological family, Fronczak says that cloudy feeling of being out of step began to make sense.

“I was actually like my biological family,” he said. “I was drawn to music and acting and all of these things I was never exposed to. When I found out who I really was, and actually met some of my real family, everything made sense to me.”

But in discovering the truth about his real family, he gained newfound appreciation for his adoptive one.

“I’m very thankful that the Fronczaks said I was Paul because they really saved my life,” said Fronczak. “As you read in the book, the stuff I learned about my real family … I came from a pretty dark place.”

The story has been explored by several media outlets, including a Barbara Walters-hosted episode of ABC’s “20/20.” Paul says the exposure has been a godsend.

“I set up a Facebook page and I started to receive hundreds of leads and comments,” Fronczak said. “To this day, I answer every one of them. I still receive tips and I know we’re going to solve the remaining mysteries in this story.”

Among those mysteries: What really happened to kidnapped baby Paul in 1964? And what is the real story behind Fronczak’s twin sister, Jill, abandoned in New Jersey with her brother, Jack?

According to Fronczak, several organizations specializing in DNA analysis have extended their expertise to help him discover his true identity, while continuing to offer support when a potential lead appears.

“CeCe Moore and DNA Detectives have been beyond amazing,” he said. “They have helped me tirelessly for years. Also, Ancestry DNA, Family Tree DNA and 23andMe have all donated DNA kits whenever I find someone who could be the real Paul.”

As Fronczak’s story continues to receive media exposure, he holds out hope of connecting with the real Paul.

“I’ve actually met three people who thought they might be him,” Fronczak said. “Their background and story was a perfect fit but DNA disqualified them in the end. I’ve met so many people over the years that I really want to help because they have no idea who they are. If my story can inspire them to discover their true identity, then I’ve done my job. Living a lie is not living at all.”

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