By most accounts, Donna Green has a pretty good family life.
A dozen grandchildren keep her busy and she has watched six of her children grow into adulthood.
But there is one void that has been aching for four decades: What happened to a seventh child, Raymond Lamar Green?
Just five days after the baby was born on a cold November day in 1978, Raymond was stolen out of Green’s home by a stranger she had just befriended. Now, 40 years later, there are still few clues.
Green doesn’t know if Raymond is still living in Atlanta. She doesn’t know what he looks like. She doesn’t know if he is even alive.
“I been in a land of wonder for 40 years,” Green, 55, said.
On Saturday, as she has done every year, Green will honor her son. This year, at St. Paul AME Church, a few hundred feet from where Raymond was abducted, she will hold a black-tie, fund-raising gala through her small non-profit to bring attention to cold missing children cases and to finally, hopefully, get a clue to his whereabouts. She says up to 100 people, mostly friends, families, volunteers and advocates, come to the annual remembrance.
Over the years there have been glimmers of hope, through random tips, that soon faded.
Like the man in Germany who fit Raymond’s profile and was looking for his natural mother. Or the guy in Belize that someone tipped her too. Neither of their DNA samples matched. In fact, Green has DNA samples in databases all over the world. No matches.
The police say Raymond’s case file was lost many years ago. Recently a forensic artist at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation came up with sketches of what Raymond and his abductor might look like today, but they also haven’t produced any concrete leads.
Donna Green was 16 years old when she gave birth to Raymond on Nov. 1, 1978 at Grady Hospital. He would be her second child, following Raymonda, a daughter born a year earlier.
A few hours after she gave birth to Raymond, Green went up to the nursery to see her seven-pound, eight-ounce son. That is when “Lisa Morris” showed up and introduced herself.
Green recalled that Lisa was about 23 or 24 years old and stood about 5-foot-5, with smooth, light skin, full lips and a mole on her face. She wore a red headscarf. The two stared at the babies through the glass.
“She asked which one was mine,” Green said. “She pointed at a girl and said that was her niece and her sister had just given birth. The last name of the baby she pointed to was ‘Morris.’”
Lisa walked back to Green’s room and the two talked and traded stories.
Lisa came back the next day with more questions. What was the baby’s name? What was the father’s name?
On Nov. 3, the day Green and her baby were set to be discharged, Lisa returned for a third visit. This time she asked for a ride home. The driver first dropped Green off at her mother’s apartment in Carver Homes.“That is how she found out where I lived,” Green surmised.
On Nov. 6, Lisa paid another visit, saying that she had ridden the bus to the notorious former public housing complex in Southeast Atlanta. Green let her in and the two talked. Tony Thompson, Green’s brother, sat in the living room with them tending to another infant, Mike, the newborn son of another sister. Green went upstairs to take a shower.
“It was one of those cold days and we had the heat on,” said Thompson, who at 18 was the man of the house. “I had Mike on my shoulder and the heat was feeling good and we both ended up going to sleep.”
When Green came back down, Lisa and Raymond were gone. A month later, the other newborn in the room, Mike, died of sudden infant death syndrome.
‘I was poor and black’
Green said the Atlanta Police Department came and took a statement, but nothing came of it. Eight months later, in July 1979, 14-year-old Edward Smith and 13-year-old Alfred Evans were found dead in wooded areas four days apart.
Smith and Evans’ death marked what many believe to be the beginning of the “Atlanta Child Murders,” a series of 29 murders of poor black kids that terrified Atlanta from 1979 until 1981.
“It never crossed my mind that Raymond’s disappearance might be related,” Green said. “Kids were just disappearing. It was scary that people could come into your house in broad daylight and take your kids.”
With the rise of the “Missing and Murdered” cases, Raymond’s disappearance faded from the city’s consciousness almost as quickly as it had arrived. The Atlanta Constitution ran one brief story on Nov. 10, on page 62, about the kidnapping — right beneath a feature photo about “Eva’s Knotty Tree.”
“They didn’t give me much help because I was poor and black,” Green said.
In 1981, a woman named Louise Lett was arrested and charged with kidnapping Shanta Yvette Alexander from Grady Hospital. In a strange twist, at the time of Lett’s arrest, she also had a two-year-old boy whom she claimed was her son. The Atlanta Journal reported that because of the similarities in the two kidnappings and the age of the boy, police tried to determine if Lett was “Lisa” and if the boy was Raymond.
But a footprint test proved that the tot was not Raymond.
“Cases grow cold,” said Tina Douglas, a freelance journalist who befriended Green after doing a story on her several years ago. “So, if family members and advocates don’t keep the name out there, it disappears. The effort just wasn’t there to do anything. And that is appalling.”
From the day her son went missing, Green has carried the guilt. She never blamed Thompson for letting Lisa take Raymond.
“I am the one who let her in the house,” Green said. “I was the naïve one.”
Green’s mother blamed her for Raymond’s disappearance. So did her then-boyfriend Raymond Green, the father of her children.
“I didn’t have anybody telling me it was going to be okay. Or to hold my hand,” Green said. “I had to figure it out on my own. How to be normal.”
Twelve years after she split up with her boyfriend, they got back together, got married and had five more children. Her husband died in 1999 and Green continued raising her children, the youngest of which are 20-year-old twins. She has also worked as a drug counselor and drug technician, mostly for teenagers and young adults.
Of Green’s six remaining children, all graduated from high school and two went on to graduate from college. One child manages a hotel. Another is the director of a daycare center.
About a decade ago Green started a small organization, Raymond Green International Outreach of Hope. She maintains a website and a Facebook page, occasionally speaking with women who have suffered similarly.
Green spends much of her time imagining what Raymond might look like today.
“I still remember him laying on the sofa in his blue sleeper,” before she went up the stairs, Green said.
Over the years, starting when Raymond would have been 25, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has been supplying images of what he might look like.
About five years ago, Green met with GBI forensic artist Kelly Lawson to render an alternative set of images.
Lawson, as a favor, interviewed Green and each of her six known children and studied images of their late father to come up with a new age-progressed composite of Raymond, based on all their physical traits.
She also did composite sketches of what Lisa might have looked like in 1978 and 35 years later.
“With age-progression, it’s a lot of guesswork, especially when the baby is stolen at five days old,” said Lawson, whose mother Marla Lawson is a legendary forensic artist who drew the iconic drawing of the Olympic Park Bomber. “I feel confident that he looks like that age-progression drawing.”
Green is counting on it. Sitting in a café in southwest Atlanta, Green reflexively looks at every black man that comes in – wondering.
“The difference is, when somebody dies, you know where they are,” Green said. “When somebody is missing, you are constantly looking, wondering waiting and praying. Every day, you keep waking up hoping that he will come home.”
--Archivist Sandi West contributed to this article.