The first nine years of Shanta Yvette Alexander’s life, family members would point and whisper that she was the one.
Until the day it exploded at the end of a fist.
“My brother Nicholas and I were fighting. I mean fist fighting,” Alexander remembers. “Then he screamed, ‘That is why I hate you. My real sister was kidnapped. You ain’t my sister.’”
The fighting stopped, and Alexander ran to her mother Sandra.
“She yelled at him. Then she sat me down and told me that I had been kidnapped as a baby. She showed me a scrapbook that had every article ever written about me and explained everything to me,” Alexander said. “I was numb because I didn’t understand. Ever since then, it has been the conversation of every family function. They even nicknamed me “The Grady Baby.”
Between 1978 and 1996, Alexander was one of seven known babies whose kidnappings were linked to Grady Hospital.
All the abducted infants were black. Two were never reunited with their mothers. All the kidnappers were women.
Earlier this month, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on a mother’s continuing search for Raymond Lamar Green, a Grady baby kidnapped in 1978. Late last week, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children released an updated composite drawing of him in hopes of getting new leads.
The seven-known cases are the subject of the second season of The Fall Line, an Atlanta-based true crime podcast, which began airing Wednesday.
Citing the time that has elapsed, a spokesperson for Grady Hospital would not comment on the kidnappings.
Three children of her own
Alexander was stolen Aug. 4, 1981 - just 12 hours after her birth - by a woman named Louise Lett.
Alexander is one of the lucky ones, with police reuniting her with her mother six weeks later. She and brother Nicholas quickly patched things up and she built a relatively normal life growing up with four older brothers and an over-protective mother.
For the past 13 years, Alexander has worked as a corrections officer, first at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, where she witnessed at least nine executions, and now at the Clayton County Sheriff’s office.
She is a huge Atlanta Falcons fan and sells cosmetics on the side.
She has three sons: Darius, Quantavious and the oldest, Xavier Alexander, who is waiting for college acceptance letters.
“I am very protective of my hard heads,” Alexander said of her boys.
That protectiveness runs in the family. Alexander’s mother was a constant presence in her life. Sandra Hughey was at her daughter’s school daily. When that wasn’t enough, she became a paraprofessional to be in the classroom. She became a band mother, making all the trips.
“My mother stuck by me. I am 37 and she still doing it,” said Alexander, noting that she and her mother talk daily. “But I understood why, so it never got annoying to me. She still let me have my freedom.”
‘All we wanted was a baby girl’
Sandra Hughey is 65 now and retired, although she keeps herself busy working on an online bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.
“My husband and I had four boys and all we wanted was a baby girl,” Hughey said. “When she was gone, I used to wake up like I could hear her crying and imagine me rocking her back to sleep.”
Hughey (who remarried and changed her last name from Alexander) said Louise Lett came carrying a large bag and talking to the woman with whom she shared her hospital room.
Lett asked to see Hughey’s baby. When she refused, Lett left.
Later that day, Hughey got up to walk around and find a new gown. She told her roommate to tell the doctor she would be right back. When Hughey left, she noticed the woman in the hall.
“No sooner than I got half way down the corner, I got a funny feeling something wasn’t right,” Hughey said. “I ran back to my room and that baby was gone. She took everything. Even the water bottle was gone. It wasn’t even five minutes. I freaked out.”
That began the longest six weeks of Hughey’s life. She couldn’t sleep and when slumber found her, nightmares filled it.
“They even had a rumor that I sold my baby for $10,000,” Hughey said. “I couldn’t go nowhere. Everywhere I went people were pointing at me.”
Quick police work
Unlike the Raymond Lamar Green case, where there was a perception that police did little to try to solve the case, authorities quickly searched for Alexander, said Laurah Norton, co-host of The Fall Line podcast.
“The mom was still in the hospital when they got the sketch,” Norton said. “The Atlanta Police Department did well on this case. They looked for her non-stop. Having this happen on the backend of the Atlanta Child Murders, changed the scope of the APD so much.”
From 1979 until 1981, roughly book-ended by the kidnappings of Green and Alexander, 29 poor black kids were killed across the city in a series of murders that forever changed Atlanta.
A composite of Lett was done immediately and plastered all over the city and in the news. That composite led to a police tip, which led police to Lett’s Decatur home.
A blood test and a birthmark on Alexander’s back positively identified her as Hughey’s baby and she was back with her original family on Sept. 18, 1981.
“I just wanted squeeze her,” Hughey said when she got her daughter back.
Lett served five years for kidnapping, forgery and fraud. After she was released, she changed her name and moved around, dying in Los Angeles in 1997. Hughey said Lett’s death lifted a heavy burden from her.
“I now know that the woman is not around anymore looking for my daughter,” Hughey said. “I am calm now.”
Hughey, who lives in East Point now, has 16 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren. Those are a lot of birthdays, especially when Alexander celebrates two: Aug. 3, the day she was born, and Sept. 18, they day she returned home.