“What had happened at that time was not done by me alone, it was done by his father too,” she says, making the point repeatedly. Smith feels she shoulders too much of the blame from the family for everything that’s gone wrong.
Meanwhile Donna, who lives in New Jersey, believes a different version of the story. “I was put in foster care when I was two months old because basically my butt looked like raw hamburger,” she says. She also says her father told her that her mother broke her eardrum. “I’ve never been able to hear out of it, and I’m assuming that's true,” she says. (“She’s lying,” says Smith.)
The decades-long dispute over how the Stecker children ended up in foster care—and subsequently Eddie’s death and the fallout—has poisoned the Stecker family tree.
“There’s a whole big thing going on in the family here … [It] stems back to Eddie’s death,” says Smith. “And I can’t get all the pieces together.”
Donna refuses to speak to Stecker.
“[She doesn’t] like the fact that I talk about what happened.”
Donna doesn’t speak to either of her parents. Stecker visits his biological father every few months out of “obligation,” but says he can’t stand it.
“He wants to tell you about things you did wrong since the day you were born,” says Stecker. “Here’s a man divorced from my mother for 46 years and he’s still complaining about things she did when they were married. ‘Can you believe she shellacked my bongos?’ This was a few months ago!”
The family situation became “volatile” when Stecker first started posting his story on the Internet in the early days of deciding to become an advocate.
“I put the story on MySpace about five years ago and all hell broke loose.”
Stecker says Donna stopped talking to him “when I told her what I was doing with all this stuff ... [She] said I was doing everything I was doing for personal gain.”
“I know this sounds horrible but he’s been using my brother’s death for years as a means of getting attention,” says Donna. “It was a tragedy, but he needs to let it rest. He’s devoting his life to his brother Eddie ... I personally think it’s wrong. If this is his way of dealing with it, then he can deal with it but I said, ‘Leave me out of it. My abuse days are over.’”
Stecker didn’t see or speak to his mother for about 14 years, though they recently started communicating via text message, frequently quibbling over the details of biographical information he posts on his page.
“I said, ‘Chuck you’re making me look like trash on Facebook and I don’t like that, because that’s not he way it happened,’” says Smith.
Still, she says she supports her son and wants to bridge the gap. She says she hopes he finds the records, to settle some scores. She also supports his dream of being a voice for other abused kids.
“Chuck is trying to do what he couldn’t do for himself [as a kid],” Smith says.
Philadelphia foster and adoption records from the late 1800s to 1970 are stored in urban archives section of Temple Universitys’s library. Last week, Stecker met with representatives of Turning Points for Children, the agency created when Children’s Aid Society and Philadelphia Society for Services to Children merged, requesting permission to obtain his record. In a few weeks, he’ll have another answer, but not all the answers. They will release his record to him but not Eddie’s. Donna says she “could care less.”
When Charles, Edward and Donna first arrived in foster care, they were placed together with temporary foster parents. Press reports indicate that on Feb. 15, 1967, Charles and Eddie were moved to the home of Donald and Lillian Bedford at 29 E. Seymour St. in Germantown. For whatever reason, Smith says, the Bedfords only wanted boys, so baby Donna stayed behind.
Don Bedford was a 45-year-old house painter; Lillian was a 42-year-old housewife. Married 13 years, they had no children of their own. The couple received $24 a week for each child.
“Social workers … introduced us to our new mommy and daddy,” recalls Stecker. “When we went in, there were toys and a crib ready for us. It seemed like a good place to be to a 4-year-old.”
PW's 2015 Philly Spring Guide