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Switched at birth: Catholic diocese sued for giving babies to wrong families in 1942

A lawsuit against the Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston claims two boys born at St. Joseph Hospital in Buckhannon in 1942 were switched at birth.

The diocese does not comment on pending litigation, according to Tim Bishop, public information officer.

John William Car III and Jackie Lee Spencer were both born on Aug. 29, 1942, and were sent home with each other’s families because of negligence and breach of duty by the obstetrical or nursing staff at the hospital, according to the suit.

The switch was discovered in 2019 after a DNA test showed Carr and Spencer were genetic matches with each other’s families but not the families that raised them, the suit said.

All plaintiffs, who include Spencer’s wife, Phyllis, Carr’s wife, Bonnie, and their adopted son, Zackery, have suffered a “lifetime of consequences” from the negligence that sent Carr and Spencer home with the wrong parents, the suit said.

The suit seeks monetary compensation for damages.

Spencer’s search according to the suit:

Spencer and his wife Phyllis spent more than 51 years searching for the man listed as his father on his birth certificate. He was told that his father, Shirley, abandoned the family prior to his birth.

When Spencer was 11, he was given a photo of Shirley. Through the years, he asked many of his aunts and uncles for information about him, but no one had useful information.

Fern Hamrick, the woman Spencer believed to be his biological mother, only knew that Shirley was supposedly working as a police officer near Beckley.

In 2003, after Fern’s death, Spencer’s daughter started searching for Shirley as a Christmas gift for her dad. She put an advertisement in the Beckley paper, using the photo Spencer was given as a child, spoke with several of his children and gave him the information for Christmas.

Spencer reached out to one of Shirley’s children, Reba, who put him in contact with her brother, Billy. Spencer and Billy had a DNA test done, which showed they didn’t share a biological father. Spencer was “stunned.”

In 2017, Spencer took an Ancestry DNA test. One of his presumed first cousins also took the test, but the results came back showing no first cousins on his mother’s side and no Spencers as first or second cousins.

After weeks of checking for more names, Spencer was convinced Ancestry DNA was a scam or hoax.

In 2019, Spencer’s last surviving presumed uncle died. While some of his cousins were staying with him for the funeral, he discovered some of them had taken 23andMe DNA tests.

Spencer took one and none of his family was listed in the database. The same first cousin from the Ancestry test was shown as a fifth-eighth cousin. While comparing the 23andMe results to the Ancestry results, Phyllis noticed it now listed a full sibling, Betty May Carr.

One of the second or third cousins Phyllis messaged through 23andMe said he was looking for his father and thought he and Spencer might share some ancestors. The next day on a phone call, he asked several questions about Betty May Carr, Spencer’s mother’s name and where he was born, which Phyllis provided.

The next day, he again called and said after spending hours going through birth records at the Buckhannon courthouse he found out Carr was also born on the same day at St. Joseph.

A call to Carr confirmed that information and that Betty was his sister. Phyllis explained their half-century search and Carr confirmed his eyes were blue — the same color as Spencer’s mom and all 12 of her siblings. Spencer has brown hair and brown eyes.

“Well, I never felt like I fit in here because my mother and dad had brown hair and brown eyes, and so do my brother and sister,” Carr said in the suit.

The next day, Carr ordered a 23andMe test, which showed he and Spencer were switched at birth. All of the people Spencer believed to be his first cousins showed as Carr’s first cousins.

“Many of the people Jack should have known his entire life are gone,” according to the suit. “He feels as though most of his family died all at once. He grieves for the loss of the life he was supposed to have, while reconciling those feeling with the love and gratitude he feels for the family he has known his whole life.”

Carr’s story according to the suit:

He did not look like his family, having blue eyes instead of brown like everyone else in the family. His father would often call him a bastard and accuse his mother of infidelity.

Carr’s father was cruel to him, causing him to grow up in constant fear. Carr was beaten with fists, feet, a razor strap, hickory limbs and a belt.

“John learned at an early age to stay clear of his father when he was working on something,” the suit states.

After one beating, one of the worst he suffered, Carr couldn’t breathe right for months.

Carr was also verbally abused.

On his 18th birthday, Carr joined the Marines, and his father never beat him again. But the years of trauma remained.

Carr’s father often called his mother a whore who cheated on him and said Carr wasn’t his kid.

“On August 18, 2019, John discovered his tormentor was right, but not for the reason he surmised,” the suit states.

It never crossed Carr’s mind or his mother’s mind that he was switched as birth.

Since discovering what happened in 1942, Carr has suffered physical and mental stress, reliving the traumas and realizing it was unnecessary. He now has trouble sleeping and stomach problems.

The suit claims the revelation has also caused one of Bonnie’s medical conditions to flare up.

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