Huey James interview
Tuesday, May 26, 1998 – 10:30 a.m.
After reviewing the Social Services records from Detroit, Detective Nelson attempted to contact Doris Hammack's former foster parents to learn more about Doris as a child.
He was able to locate Mr. Huey James, formerly of Detroit, who was one of the many foster parents who took Doris Hammack into their homes briefly during her childhood.
Detective Nelson interviewed Mr. James by telephone at the rest home where he lived in Florida.
- Detective Terry Nelson
- Huey James
Detective Nelson: Mr. James, thanks for agreeing to talk with me. Can you hear me okay on your end?
Huey James: Yeah, I got this thing from the phone company that makes you sound real loud. I can hear you fine, but talk slow and clear, okay? My hearing's still not so great. This new hearing aid is junk. They don't make things good anymore.
Detective Nelson: You got that right. Mr. James, I'd like your permission to record this conversation. Makes it easier for me than writing notes.
Huey James: Okay, don't see any harm in that.
Detective Nelson: Mr. James, for the record, would you please give me your full name, age, address, and occupation?
Huey James: Huey James. I'm 80 years old. You can call me Huey, go ahead. I get tired of "Mr. James this" and "Mr. James that" here at the nursing home. I've lived in this nursing home since my last heart attack in '96, the Palm Court Rest Home in Florence, Florida. I'm a widower, and I'm retired, but I worked on the Chrysler assembly line for years. Mellie—that was my wife—she and me used to live in Detroit.
Detective Nelson: I understand that you and she were foster parents to many children.
Huey James: Nine, if you count the two we eventually adopted. Good kids, all of them. Damn shame how their dumb parents screwed their lives up, though. Some people should be spayed before they go breeding.
Detective Nelson: Can't say as I'd argue with you, Mr. Huey. Do you recall a little girl named Doris Hammack?
Huey James: Dorrie? Sure. Always wondered what happened to her. She all right?
Detective Nelson: She's a lovely lady. Seems nice. A bit troubled, though.
Huey James: That's our Dorrie. What's she gotten into? Not jail?
Detective Nelson: Oh, no, she's not in any trouble with us. I can't really say much about it at this point. She's trying to research her past here, maybe find her family, making some statements that we've got to verify. That's why I need your help.
Huey James: Whatever I can do, son. I love talking about any of my kids any day of the week. Let's see … we got her when she was 12, maybe 12 and a half, and only had her for, oh, about six months. She'd been through two foster homes already by then. She was a sweet kid, one of two fosters we had at that time.
Detective Nelson: You happen to recall the other one's name?
Huey James: Sure do. He was one of the ones we adopted. Manuel Diaz. He was a battered kid back then, didn't talk much but very angry. We got him when he was 14, just a month or so before Dorrie arrived. He was almost 16 before he really began to trust us.
Detective Nelson: That must've been a challenge.
Huey James: He's a good fellow now, married, two kids, and still comes to visit me two or three times a year and brings the kids by. Makes my whole week — or month, to tell the truth. All the way down here from Detroit, can you believe it? He and Dorrie, though. Whoooooo-eeee. The two of them sure put me through—what does that commercial call it?—some "Mylanta moments."
Detective Nelson: What, they didn't get along?
Huey James: It wasn't that. She was such a clingy little girl, and he just wasn't ready to be somebody's hero. She kept saying he was like a big brother to her, and Manuel just couldn't take that.
Detective Nelson: Why was that? Sorry, I don't know much about these kids.
Huey James: That's all right. They're hard to understand—even hard to love, sometimes—even when you've got them right in front of you. But the social workers told us when we started being foster parents that they need love most when they're at their most unlovable. It's true. Was for Manuel at first, anyway.
Detective Nelson: Why was that?
Huey James: He had his reasons. See, he got put in our home after the state took him away from his mom and stepfather. The stepdad had beaten his little brother so bad the kid got brain damage and had to be put in a state home eventually. Both his stepdaddy, the scum, and the mom as an accessory got jail time. After that, Manuel didn't want to be nobody's big brother anymore.
Detective Nelson: Wow, that's rough on a kid.
Huey James: I don't mind telling you about it now, although I wouldn't have violated Manuel's privacy back then by talking to you like this. But I know Manny wouldn't mind now. We'd just about got him to open up to us when Dorrie got here, set her eyes on him, and decided right then that he was her wonderful new big brother. Manny didn't want any part of it.
Detective Nelson: He rejected Doris?
Huey James: That's just it. Rejection. But he was so hurt himself, you know? You could see him just gritting his teeth sometimes when Doris would go up to him and hug him. The kid couldn't stand to be touched for the longest time, and Dorrie was such an affectionate little thing, she just couldn't understand that. I tried to explain to her. See, Manuel had gotten a broken arm himself trying to stop the stepdad during his little brother's last beating. "Give him time, Dorrie," I said.
Detective Nelson: Did that help?
Huey James: She was just a kid. She was too little to stop herself. It's a hard adjustment, coming into a strange home. She thought she'd found a hero, but he was just a scared, angry kid himself.
Detective Nelson: Can you tell me more about what she was like as a child, please?
Huey James: Like I said, affectionate, a little clingy, but who wouldn't be, abandoned like that when she was just a kindergartner. Not that anybody had bothered taking her to kindergarten before she went to Immaculata. Still, she was smart, knew all her numbers and alphabet, and could read a few little sentences even then, the nuns said. She was getting good grades too, when we got her, even though she'd been bounced around so much by then.
Detective Nelson: That's admirable.
Huey James: Yeah, we were real proud of her. "She's going places," we used to say, "if she could just get her heart healed up and get those crazy notions out her head." She was such a pretty little thing, too, but so hungry for attention. She was real moody, as I recall.
Detective Nelson: Tell me about that.
Huey James: She'd get a crazy notion in her head, and nobody could talk her out of it, and she'd finally get real depressed if nobody listened to her and really believed her. I tried, and Mellie tried, but some of her stuff was just too much. That's part of what the problems were with the other foster families.
Detective Nelson: What sort of notions?
Huey James: Well, she got it in her head that her parents were murdered or something. It had to do with some bad dreams she'd been having for years. The social worker told us all about this belief of hers and to just disregard it. It wasn't true, you see, not that anybody knows of, anyway. But she believed it, and she'd wake up screaming about some "bad man" out to get her, and my wife or I'd be up for an hour or two just calming her down and getting her back to sleep.
Detective Nelson: That must've been hard on the two of you.
Huey James: It was hard on everybody. Some foster parents can't take such as that, but we were okay with that. We could handle that part of it.
Detective Nelson: Did that go on often?
Huey James: It varied. Sometimes just once a month, sometimes two or three times a week, she'd wake up with that old nightmare. It seemed to depend on what kind of a day she was having, I think. Hey, the kid was doing her best. We knew that. It's a shame when kids are emotionally disturbed like that, you know?
Detective Nelson: Yes, sir, I do.
Huey James: That's why we took in all our fosters. We'd raised our own three and still had all that room at the house. We thought, why not? We've got enough love to go around again. We tried to give them a stable home with us as loving and responsible adults, and I like to think we succeeded. Still, even that's not enough sometimes when the hurt runs too deep.
Detective Nelson: What was it from her history that seemed to upset her most?
Huey James: She always used to say she needed to find out more about her real family, that maybe somebody was still out there who'd rescue her from the system and take her home permanently. I think they'd say today that she had a rich fantasy life.
Detective Nelson: They probably would at that.
Huey James: Anyway, it made it hard for her to get close to us since she didn't want to love anybody when some miracle aunt or uncle might appear someday and take her home. She felt like it was safe to try to love a big brother, but not some grownups who might hurt her again. I understood, but we grieved for her. It didn't hurt my feelings, but I hurt for her, you know? Mellie and I both did.
Detective Nelson: It's hard raising kids.
Huey James: It is, it is. I tried to talk to her some, and so did Mellie. Poor little Dorrie, she hoped so much. They all want to believe something other than the same old sordid family stories, by the way. Dorrie was no different, just kept on believing long past when most kids have given up.
Detective Nelson: What did you say to her? If you remember.
Huey James: We had that conversation so much, I still know it by heart, young fella. I tried to tell her, gently, what her official records showed, that her last surviving relative had simply died, and she had got taken by some concerned lady to Immaculata so she'd be safe. I didn't tell her the truth.
Detective Nelson: The truth?
Huey James: That some selfish woman had just dumped her there and dashed away. I figure it was maybe a neighbor or maybe even a distant relative who didn't want the complication. It happens all the time, friend. Too much. I tried to let Doris know she'd always have a place in our hearts, that she could be in our family now if she wanted.
Detective Nelson: So, what happened with that? I take it that didn't work out?
Huey James: Manuel. She couldn't take the rejection. It seemed to hurt her too much, you know? She kept crying and all when he shut her out, when he wouldn't talk to her, threw her out of his room, and yelled at her. We tried talking to them both, but it didn't help much. She took it way out of proportion.
Detective Nelson: How so?
Huey James: Kids that age, they think tomorrow will never come. The early teens and pre-teens, we learned quickly, it's an age when they think in black and white, absolutes. All high-drama stuff, but hard on you when someone rejects you. You think it's gonna last forever.
Detective Nelson: It's a difficult age.
Huey James: Anyway, she was having such a hard time of it, we—Mellie and I—thought it was best for both the kids if they weren't together. We discussed it with the social worker, and I still regret that it worked out that way. Dorrie thought the social worker was punishing her. It about broke all our hearts. It was the right thing to do, though.
Detective Nelson: Was there anything else that stood out about your time with Doris?
Huey James: No, just that she was a sweet kid. I think I've told you most everything. And listen, I don't want to give you a wrong picture of her. That kid was a survivor. She'd already been through so much. She was just in so much pain back then. She didn't know how to deal with it. She was a kid, and she'd had to handle just too much.
Detective Nelson: Did you ever find out more about her background or relatives?
Huey James: No. Only what I've told you. Makes it hard not to know anything at all about your past.
Detective Nelson: Mr. Huey, I do thank you for taking the time to talk with me.
Huey James: Huey, son. No mister on it, okay? You know, you've gladdened my heart to let me know she's all right today. I always hoped.
Detective Nelson: Thanks for your time, Huey. May I call you again if I think of any other questions?
Huey James: Sure. I don't get many calls nowadays. Tell Dorrie to give me a call. She can come see me sometime, maybe. Sure would like to see her again.
Detective Nelson: I'll pass that along. Thanks, sir.
Huey James: Thanks, son. You made an old man's day.