Season Two, Episode 03 – The Long Arm of Coincidence

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JON GERWITZ: Doug Newton called the hospital. And he interviewed witnesses over the telephone. By now it’s almost dark, so that had to been around six o’clock in the evening. Prescott police went on about their business and in the meantime, we were just left not knowing what to do or what was going on. And then about 11 o’clock that evening. 10 or 11 o’clock that evening.

They came in and they gave my wife a sleeping pill and they told me to– ask me if I wanted one and I said no. And they came in about one o’clock in the morning and said, we think we’ve located your son. Shock, you’re just numb. You’re, it’s like a sudden death of a relative. You just go into shock and you stay that way for a long time.

My name is John Gerwitz. I’m in Holbrook, Arizona. And in 1988, April 20th, my son was kidnapped from the hospital in Prescott, Arizona when he was four hours old.

My first child. I was working running ranches. I was running a large ranch. I was living in Payson, and the doctor was in Prescott. We went to an appointment and we determined he was gonna be born that day and it was an exceptionally busy day for a small town hospital. After Douglas was born about two o’clock in the afternoon, I drove from Prescott to Camp Verde to– because I was shipping cattle that day.

And when I returned back to the hospital, approximately an hour and a half later, my wife asked me to go ask the nurses where our son was. I went down to the nurse’s station and when I asked, they freaked out. They just didn’t know– everything went into a panic. Family members were coming in and out, and it was just pure chaos.

AUDIO CLIP: This is a child deduction alert regarding the following child.

JON GERWITZ: My sister Mary, who lives here in Holbrook, which is two hours away from Prescott. Was communicating with my mother, and she called the local police department. And the officer that she called was my roommate in college and my best friend in high school. And I had determined that I was gonna name him after this police officer before he was born. So I named him Douglas. And Doug Newton called the hospital and he interviewed witnesses over the telephone.

AUDIO CLIP: Law enforcement authorities believe the child may be in the company of a male white born In July 15, 19–.

JON GERWITZ: What had happened is a couple had been stalking the hospital that day. She met up with this man. He was a parolee out of Arizona State Prison system. He was a resident of Prescott. She convinced the man that they could go to her hometown and that her family would support them if they had a small child. So they were stalking the hospital that day. Douglas was the only Anglo child in looks. He was actually a quarter Hispanic. But they came into the hospital, the woman put on a nurse’s smock that they hung in the hallway. And told my wife that she needed to take the baby for some more tests and went out the back door.

I can tell you I stopped to go pee on the side of the road on my way home from the hospital. And picked up the gown that the lady had stolen outta the hospital. Or she’d thrown it out the window. You know, in 90 miles a road, I stopped on the side of the road where the gown was. The description was taken to the people. And the Yavapai Sheriff’s Office in the Prescott Police determined they had a suspect. And they were pretty sure that they knew who they were and so they did not release this information. We did not know all this. Come to find out the people that had kidnapped my son, drove to basically my hometown. And they had driven to here. And they went to the police station and it was after eight o’clock and they asked for traveler’s aid.

We have a thing put out by the Catholic Charities, it’s called Traveler’s Aid. And they will give people who are stranded enough money to basically fill your tank up. They literally run outta gas here. By now it’s almost dark, so that had to been around six o’clock in the evening. And in the. Meantime, we were just left not knowing what to do or what was going on. The lady came into the police de station and told him that she was by herself, and the officer that waited on them was Doug Newton. Prescott is in the central Arizona, they could have taken many different corridors.

They could have gone to California, Utah, Mexico. They could have taken the southern route to Texas. Which is– which turns out, that’s where they were going. If they had taken the southern route, none of this would’ve– they would’ve been outta state before anybody knew anything. It’s just amazing that they took the I-40 corridor and stopped in the one place where one man knew something about it. And they interacted with him. He told her that the gas station was closed, that she would have to wait until in the morning. And she could go across the street to the old courthouse and sleep in the parking lot. And he would drive by and check on her.

He got off around one o’clock in the morning. So he had driven by once and shined a spotlight and drove on. And then– or after one o’clock he was on his way home and he said, something told me, go back. So I turned around and went back to the courthouse. This time I got out of the car and took my flashlight and shined it in the windows of the car. And there were two adults in the car. Then knew that the lady had lied to him.

So he got them out of the car and was questioning them. And he opened the car up and there was a blanket rolled up on the back seat. He asked the man what’s in that blanket? The man said nothing, and he grabbed the blanket and picked it up, and then something heavy rolled onto the floor and went thump and out popped Douglas’ foot. He didn’t see his hair. He saw his foot. Wow. Now, this friend was my best friend at high school. He was my college roommate for a year. And we were very close friends and still are. And he said, Jon, the hardest part right then was not pulling my gun and killing him. There had been a spring snowstorm that rolled in.

They gave my wife a sleeping pill and they told me to– they asked me if I wanted one and they said no. And they came in about one o’clock in the morning and said, we think we’ve located your son. But we cannot take a helicopter or a plane because of the storm. They loaded my mother, my mother-in-law, the head nurse of the hospital, and they drove a hundred miles an hour from Prescott to Holbrook. They didn’t know what to do with the child. So they rolled him up in a blanket and they took him to the police station and they stuck him in a box underneath a teletype machine with shredded paper. And that’s where Douglas was when the Amber Alert went out.

AUDIO CLIP: This is a child abduction alert regarding the following child.

JON GERWITZ: Which Douglass was returned by like two o’clock the afternoon on the 21st. So I left the hospital disguised because I couldn’t get into the hospital cuz the press was so bad that I couldn’t get in and out without being swamped. So I disguised myself. I was working as a cowboy and dressed as a cowboy. So I put on tennis shoes and t-shirt and a ball cap. And when we got back to the hospital, they had brought Doug back. And they had the wing, the maternity wing, completely shut down. And that’s the first time the press interviewed me as they– someone actually asked me, are you John Gerwitz? And I said, yes. And we were swallowed up by press from that moment on.

My mother-in-law lived in Prescott and she lived in a house on a cul-de-sac. The police came in and set up barriers on the cul-de-sac to keep the press away. And it was driving my mother-in-law and her neighbors crazy. Cuz they had to show ID to get in and out. So I loaded my son and my wife in a pickup and drove them in the night from Prescott to Phoenix. We stayed with my mother and I flew in a 172 Cessna I for a week to work every day. It was probably 10 days before we could go home. The amazing things about this story is there was one officer outside of Yavapai County who knew anything about it, and he was who my son had been named after, from birth. The officer was appointed officer of the year for the state of Arizona.

There are many things about it that I cannot recall or cannot verbalize. But in all respects, it’s pretty much if you believe in such things as a miracle, and it was manifested in probably 20 different ways. The circumstances and events that happened along the way. Just a miracle. I refused to go to the trial. I couldn’t deal with it. Because of where I was working and the type of work I was doing I carried firearms with me. I was working with law enforcement doing a lot of back country stuff because I had the resources. I was doing a lot of stuff with the FBI, the sheriff’s department in Gila County and the Forest Service and Game and Fish. And this was a time in the eighties when the Arizona Patriots were a big thing. So I carried firearms with me.

And when the police officers came to interview us, I made them take the firearms. Because I was afraid that if I were to come in contact with these people– I didn’t know how I would react. The woman was given 12 years and she was released at six years. The man got 20 years because he was, had a prior record. He was released, I think at 21 years. People were concerned that there may be some retaliation, but Douglas is now. Six foot two and works for law enforcement and is a concealed carry. He had no concerns and I did not either.

From 1988 to 1990, I went– never went anywhere without a gun after that. I was paranoid as could be. I was at a auction. I was pushing a stroller with Douglas in it when he was about eight months old. A guy I worked with who had just gone to work for the sheriff’s office was with me. And we were just acquaintances. And I walked– I stopped and I walked away from the stroller about 20 feet to look at something and Douglas screamed. I turned around. This deputy picked had picked Douglas up out of the stroller. The man was six four, buff. I attacked him.

I had to apologize to him. Because we work coworkers and friends. Douglas was about two. He ran around the corner in Safeway. Shock. You’re just numb, you’re, it’s like a sudden death of a relative, you just go into shock. His mother went into a panic attack. I had to almost box her up and wheel her out of that place. When my daughter was born, she was born in the Flagstaff Hospital and by then they had identification was, it was a whole, the security in the hospital was a whole lot different.

And they started dictating to me their security policy and how I would be treated, what I could do. I said, you don’t understand. What do you mean? I said, when this child is born, I will not leave her side until I feel like she’s secured. So when my daughter was born in 93, I was allowed to go into the hospital and I did not leave her side for the first four hours of her life. But I went into the maternity ward, but I was also, I was on the wrong side of the glass. I was helping the nurses take care of the other children. So the paranoia that it caused me, in my life is– two months after Douglass was born, I was called on a Sunday.

To go to Flagstaff and search for a little girl. I spent three days. We didn’t find her. For two months, we had the man. I begged the sheriff’s department and let me go in there, in the jail. I said, I’ll find out where that little girl is. He murdered her and covered her up. That was too close. My son was two months old. He was an infant. But it’s been a long road to get past the paranoia to get back to where you trusted people. There’s an extreme sense of forgiveness. I can’t hold that because that just eats you. The actual people that stole Douglas, they were pretty easy to forgive. The man who killed the little girl. That took a long time.

Growing up in a small town, Douglas, pretty much– people treated him like a celebrity. And when he was in first or second grade, he came to me very upset. And someone had brought it up and he felt like he should have done something at four hours old. And I had to explain to him, Douglas, you were a victim when you were a baby. There’s– you had no sense of who was who. My name is Jon Gerwitz, and in 1988 on April 20th, my son was kidnapped from the Prescott Hospital when he was four hours old. My first child.