The Tragic Disappearance Of Steven Damman

How many times have you left a child outside while you popped into a shop? Maybe you left your son or daughter in the car; maybe you told them to stay put on a park bench while you ran into the bank. "It would be quick," you said. "Don't talk to any strangers. I'll be right back."

On Halloween, 1955, a mother in East Meadow, on Long Island, New York, did something like that. Marilyn Damman was in a hurry, and her two children, an infant daughter named Pamela and a 3-year-old boy, Steven Craig, were holding her up. It can feel impossible to navigate a crowded supermarket with a carriage and a toddler in tow. So she left them just outside the market door and ran in. She only needed bread; she would just be gone for a minute. 

When Mrs. Damman came out, neither child was there. The Charley Project relates that baby Pamela in her pram was found several blocks away. The boy, little Steven Craig Damman, has been missing ever since.

Threats and blind alleys

Thousands of volunteers joined the frantic, "house by house, ditch by ditch" search for little Steven, covering about 20 square miles (per the Carroll Daily Times Herald). It was not clear how Pamela had ended up so far away; Steven was only 3, and couldn't have wheeled her through traffic if he wanted to. This was clearly a kidnapping. Steven's father, a 26-year-old Air Force sergeant, made a desperate public announcement: "My wife and I are beside ourselves with worry and anxiety. We'll promise to forgive you if you'll only bring him back to us."

The Charley Project notes that a month after Steven disappeared, the Dammans received a series of ransom notes, demanding money in exchange for Steven. The ransom went up with each letter, starting at $3,000 and ending up at $14,000 — a huge amount of money at the time. However, it was a fake. A student at Columbia University had read about the case and thought he could make some money off of it.

What happened to Steven?

No trace was ever found of 3-year-old Steven, but for a while, people thought they'd found him. In 1957, a box appeared in Philadelphia containing the body of a small boy. The boy looked very much like Steven: the same color of eyes and hair, approximately the same age, and even a matching scar. But the boy, dubbed "the boy in the box," did not have another of Steven's scars, nor did their footprints match.

Other theories have come up, too. In 2009, according to ABC News, a Michigan man named John Barnes announced that he was Steven Damman. He had long suspected that his family was not his birth family, he said. He believed his mother, on her death bed, indicated to him that she was not his real mother. Barnes began researching missing children born in the 1950s, in hopes of discovering the details of his real birth, and he was able to find Steven Damman's story. The FBI took his claim seriously and tested his DNA. Barnes, somewhat predictably, had no relation at all to the Damman family.

If Steven Craig Damman is alive, as of 2022, he is 70 years old, blond or formerly blond with blue eyes, a scar under his chin, and a birthmark on his left calf.