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Party of Five

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All the five Ebner siblings had left of each other were mental snapshots turned hazy after three decades. A permanent pile of clothes on the floor. Three small sisters snuggling in the bed they shared. Twin brothers making noise in a playpen. The oldest of the Ebners was just 5 when their single mother suffered a breakdown and they were removed from their Fort Wayne, Ind., home and placed in foster care, later to be separately adopted and given new last names. Scott Richardson, now 33, remembers the day he was taken from his foster home—how, only about 3, he cowered under a table with his twin, Todd. “I remember kind of hiding,” he says. “Then somebody took me away, and he was left there under the table.” Patty Moore, 35, never stopped longing for the day she’d see her sisters and brothers again. “If not,” she recalls thinking, “then I knew we would be together in another life.”

One life, it turned out, was enough. On Feb. 17, in the Fort Wayne home of their maternal uncle, Terry Closson, the five siblings were together again, laughing, crying, embracing—gathered under one roof for the first time since 1967. “It’s my ultimate dream,” says their mother, Sue Bishop, 57, who looked on, somewhat removed from the celebration but savoring the reunion nonetheless.

How her five children lost and found each other is a tortuous tale, by turns grim, murky and heartwarming, pivoting on pure chance and the power of television. In the predawn hours of April 24, 1967, Bishop—split from her husband, Wayne Ebner, suffering from depression and living on welfare—attempted suicide by cutting her wrists after an argument with a male friend. “I remember the three of us girls laying in bed,” says Tammy Sturm, 36, now a married mother of two who teaches kindergarten in Crown Point, Ind. “There was a music box playing above our heads, and in the background I could hear fighting.” The sisters went into the living room to see their mother on the phone with police. “I remember seeing her with a knife in her right hand, and there was blood on the carpet,” Tammy recalls. “It was cream-colored carpet and the blood was very distinct.”

Bishop would spend time in and out of mental wards. Her daughters and infant sons were sent to the Allen County Children’s Home and eventually adopted. In the first year, Bishop—now married for the fifth time—claims she tried to regain custody but was rejected because of her mental instability. She lost track of her children’s whereabouts.

As it happened, all of them grew up in and around Fort Wayne, entirely unaware of each other. The chain of events culminating in their reunion wasn’t set in motion until 1992, when Scott—prodded by his wife, Roxanne—contacted Twinless Twins Support Group International, an organization that counsels twins separated by adoption, death or other circumstances. On March 10, 1992, Scott, who manages an Ashley, Ind., industrial paint shop, appeared on TV with the group’s founder, Raymond Brandt, and told the story of his separation from Todd. As luck would have it, Todd’s adoptive cousin saw the show and phoned Scott with the news that his twin was living in Fort Wayne.

“Your stomach kind of drops out,” Scott recalls of his reaction. Todd Westerman, a divorced and recently engaged furniture refurbisher, was baffled. “I didn’t know I had any other family, let alone a twin,” he says. “I thought it was a practical joke.” But when they met, “it was like looking in the mirror, like I’d always known him,” he says. Twinless no more, he and Scott shared their story on local TV—setting the stage for still another reunion. “A friend called and said, ‘I saw these guys on TV, and they kind of look like you,’ ” says the oldest of the siblings, Sherry Snyder, 37, a licensed practical nurse from Campbellsburg, Ky. “She told me their names and how old they were, and I said, ‘Well, those are my brothers.’ ” A married mother expecting her fourth child, Sherry was thrilled but still unfulfilled. “My desire to find Patty and Tammy was stronger because I had a relationship with them,” she explains. “The boys were babies and I didn’t have a bond with them. I mean, they’re really neat guys, but my desire had been for my sisters.”

She had no way of knowing that one of her sisters had launched her own quest. Over the years, Patty—a Tyler, Texas, medical receptionist—had ordered a pile of Indiana phone books and called every Ebner listed; she also contacted the Montel Williams and Unsolved Mysteries TV shows, to no avail. It was Tammy who would complete the chain. Last month her husband, Randy, called around Fort Wayne and reached a Richard Ebner; though no relation, he recalled that a woman named Patty had contacted him six years earlier, and he had taken Patty’s name and address just in case. Richard passed the information on to the Sturms, who called Patty’s number and found the voice on the answering machine strangely familiar. “I knew it was her because we have the same nasal sound,” Tammy says. “I said, ‘Oh, my God, it’s my sister!’ ” The two planned to meet on Feb. 13. Patty flew to Chicago, arriving at 11:30 p.m. “As soon as I could see the nose of their plane, I was [crying] like waterfalls,” says Tammy. Three days later the sisters headed to Fort Wayne to research the rest of the family. Tammy’s husband arranged for local TV coverage, and again the medium worked magic. Family friends saw the broadcast and called the other siblings, leading to the five-star reunion at Terry Closson’s house.

Sue Bishop’s children vow never to lose each other again. While their relationship with their mother is awkward, the siblings are determined to cement their own bond. Well into the reunion night, they were giddily comparing physical traits. “We got in a circle and took off one shoe and one sock—we all had funny feet,” says Tammy. “We all have a mole on our stomachs. Patty, I showed my tailbone; the boys, I just let them feel it.” Just five kids, picking up where they left off.

Richard Jerome

Lorna Grisby in Fort Wayne