A month before Tommy Lauver’s first birthday in 1973, his 21-year-old mother Frances routinely took him along on her weekly grocery shopping in Modesto, Calif. That day Robert Coffey, 30—shopping for a son—kidnapped Tommy at knife point, forcing his terrified mother out of her car.
Coffey’s domineering wife Marjorie, 31, an ex-go-go dancer who had a reputation for drinking and taking uppers, had apparently wanted a child badly enough to steal one. Her husband’s two daughters by a previous marriage, who lived with the Coffeys, had not fulfilled that yearning.
No one—local detectives, the press, psychics, not even the FBI—could break the case until one of Mrs. Coffey’s friends recognized Tommy’s picture in the newspaper on the first anniversary of the kidnapping. Police found Tommy in his crib; his feet were bound with strips of cloth so he could not walk, and his dark-brown hair had been bleached blond. The Coffeys, who live just two miles from the Lauvers, were so frightened of being discovered that they had changed Tommy’s name to Shawny and had never allowed him outside.
Thus, one year and 16 days later, Frances Lauver and her handyman husband, Tom, 27, were reunited with their only child. The accused kidnapper, a $600-a-month mechanic, and his wife were arrested.
The neighbor who turned the kidnappers in noted that Mrs. Coffey had once confided that her son had been stolen. “I believe Margie is glad it is finally over,” the neighbor said.