A town’s secret

Dr. Hicks is dead, but folks in this close-knit town remember the chauffer-driven cars dropping off pregnant girls at his clinic.
Tourists walk by on Toccoa Avenue in McCaysville, Georgia. McCaysville is along the border between North Georgia and southeast Tennessee, along with its twin city of Copperhill, Tennessee.



Tourists walk by on Toccoa Avenue in McCaysville, Georgia. McCaysville is along the border between North Georgia and southeast Tennessee, along with its twin city of Copperhill, Tennessee.

It was daytime, “wide open daytime, " Grace Postelle recalled when the Michigan couple arrived at her house in the 1950s with a baby boy still soiled from his birth.

”They bathed him and cleaned him up, " Postelle said of her friends who paid $1,000 for the newborn. “Then we dressed him. He was beautiful, just beautiful.”

In this tiny Georgia town pressed against the Tennessee state border, facts of illegal abortions and black-market adoptions at the Hicks Clinic went unspoken, but not unknown.

”None of this was in the middle of the night, " said Postelle, 70, a native of McCaysville and vessel of local history. “When you see a chauffeur-driven car pull up and a little pregnant girl go in the clinic all alone, you put one and two together. A lot of people would like to close their eyes to it and say they didn’t know. People knew.”

A local judge in this town of 1,000 residents determined that couples from six other states including Arkansas, New Jersey, Illinois and Pennsylvania bought as many as 100 babies from the late Dr. Thomas Jugarthy Hicks.

Locals believe even more babies were sold. Postelle’s friends — who knew about Dr. Hicks because the husband was a native of McCaysville — later returned to get a daughter, she said. She knows another Michigan couple that adopted a baby. Some mothers gave up more than one baby.

Last Sunday, an Akron, Ohio, woman went public with her four-year secret search for information on how her parents bought her from Hicks, a doctor who aborted, delivered and sold babies in McCaysville during the 1950s and 1960s. She wanted to find her mother, but her birth certificate — like birth certificates of other Hicks Babies — lists her adoptive mother as the birth mother. During her search, she discovered nearly 50 other Hicks Babies in the Akron area.

Since the public became aware of the illegal adoptions, Linda Davis, probate judge at the Fannin County courthouse which maintains birth records, has received more than 300 phone calls, she said. Some are Hicks Babies. A few are birth mothers. Others offered information

“We take every call because we’re afraid it might be a piece of the puzzle, " Davis said. The frenzy has brought bedlam to her office, but Davis said she understands why the Ohio woman went public. “As more and more people died, she was afraid” she might not get the information she needs, Davis said. “If she was going to do this in earnest, she needed to go public.”

Hicks is dead, and so is his nurse. The sheriff who arrested the physician for performing an abortion in 1964, the clerk who signed the falsified birth certificates, Hicks’ wife and two sons are dead, too. His daughter-in-law, Sallie Hicks, who lives in Atlanta, said she seldom visited the town and knew nothing about the doctor’s practice. “It’s all come as a surprise, " she said Saturday.

The Hicks Babies are compiling a registry, Davis said. The adopted adults and birth mothers can call or send information concerning gender and birth date. If there is a match, and both parties want to be found, a meeting can be arranged.

Nearly all the local people, those in McCaysville and folks in Copper Hill, Tenn., the town just across the state line where Dr. Hicks lived, believe the women who had abortions or gave up their babies were from other, bigger cities.

In the two towns separated by only a palm-wide yellow line painted in the grocery store parking lot, most people know one another, said Doris Abernathy, Postelle’s sister and recognized town historian.

Families have decades-old friendships and roots so deep that William Beavers lives on Beaver Road. The state line separates nothing, particularly in St. Catherine’s Catholic Church where a bride starts her processional in Tennessee, but says her vows on Georgia soil.

If someone had been pregnant, but later didn’t have a new baby at home, people would know, Abernathy, 69, said.

Sometimes McCaysville had a large transient population as the 150- year-old mining town went through copper booms and busts. But still locals kept tabs on one another.

Many wealthy people flew in their daughters who were “in trouble” to see the doctor who frequently said, “Fix you right up, " residents said.

In 1964, the sheriff arrested Hicks for performing an abortion. Paul Bridges sat on the grand jury that indicted Hicks, and he remembers the patient was a brunette in her 20s from Cobb County.

Hicks surrendered his Georgia medical license to stop the criminal proceedings. He had earlier served time in prison for selling narcotics in Tennessee, and lost his medical license in that state, according to court records and local newspaper articles.

After his release, he set up a practice in Georgia, two blocks south of his Tennessee house.

Abernathy said she isn’t surprised that the same doctor who aborted babies spared others for adoption. “He was a very complex person. He was really a double person, " she said.

Hicks was an active member of First Baptist Church on Toccoa Street on Sundays and on Mondays performed abortions two doors down from the church in his blond brick one-story clinic with green and white striped tin awnings.

“I wonder if he had a change of heart and then started trying to find homes for the babies, " Abernathy said.

Postelle also thought the doctor might have had noble motives. The woman who gave birth to her friends’ son was ill for four months and her medical bills totalled almost the $1,000 they paid.

Hicks “was not making a lot of money from these babies, " Postelle said.

“I don’t know of any that went for more than $1,000. Some went for as low as $100.” Copper Hill mayor Janelle Kimsey-McGee, like many locals, thinks the doctor who was smart enough to diagnose illnesses that baffled Atlanta doctors was astute enough not to create or maintain records about the illegal adoptions.

”Why would he keep records?” she asked. “He was too smart for that.”