Older woman with shoulder-length dark hair

Nina L. Bardwell interview

Tuesday, May 26, 1998 – 2:00 p.m.

After reviewing the Social Services records from Detroit, Detective Nelson contacted Doris Hammack's former caseworker to learn more about Doris's history.

Nina L. Bardwell is now retired and still living in the Detroit area. Detective Nelson interviewed her by telephone at her home about her memories of Doris Hammack.


  • Detective Terry Nelson
  • Nina L. Bardwell

Detective Nelson: Mrs. Bardwell, thank you for agreeing to talk with us. I'm recording this call if you don't mind.

Nina L. Bardwell: I guess. I'm still not happy about this interview, Mr. Nelson. But my former boss said everything was in order, and his secretary brought by a copy of the records information release permission sheet that Miss Hammack signed, so I suppose it's all right. I will tell you, I still won't talk if I think you're getting too personal about her case. I just don't do things that way.

Detective Nelson: I know you'll do the best you can to help out a former foster child.

Nina L. Bardwell: Go ahead.

Detective Nelson: All right. Let's start out with your full name, age, address, and occupation, for the record.

Nina L. Bardwell: Nina Lotterhaus Bardwell, and I'm 67. I was a social worker in Detroit for virtually all my adult life, but now I'm retired. It's not Mrs. Bardwell. I never married. My work was my life. I live alone at 114 Crosstown Boulevard, Apartment 405B, Detroit, Michigan, with my two Siamese cats, Hissy and Missy, for company.

Detective Nelson: Thank you, Ms. Bardwell. Tell me how you knew Miss Hammack.

Nina L. Bardwell: Some kids stand out from all the ones whose cases you follow. Doris was one of those. It was just my second year as a social worker when I got her case too. Some of your first kids tend to stand out more for you.

Detective Nelson: What made her memorable?

Nina L. Bardwell: The contrasts in her. There was that outer sensitivity. She seemed so fragile and easily shattered, but underneath, watch out.

Detective Nelson: What do you mean?

Nina L. Bardwell: The kid had guts. She was a survivor. You could see it in the set of her chin and in the look of her piercing eyes. I knew if she could make it past those tough adolescent years, she was going to be all right. Plus, I remember her as a pretty nice little girl, emotionally needy and with her share of problems but functional. That's more than I could say for some of the kids I saw. Doris deserved a break. She didn't get much, though.

Detective Nelson: Anything else you can tell me about her background?

Nina L. Bardwell: Yeah, those nightmares of hers. I remember them because of the problems they caused her. Really disruptive and disturbing for several of her foster families. Some of them couldn't hack it, getting wakened up with her screaming and being upset, and then having to stay up with her until she calmed down. They had jobs to go to, and other kids to take care of in some cases. It was really difficult for everyone involved.

Detective Nelson: Do you know what the nightmares were about?

Nina L. Bardwell: Those were the "bad guy" dreams. You'll have to ask Doris for details. We got her counseling, but the dreams never fully faded away. Early on, for the first few years, sometimes she'd also wake up crying, and the foster families would say she asked for her daddy, and she'd be confused, wanting to know why "that woman" was still there, that she didn't want "that old biddy" taking care of her anymore. Sad stuff like that. That's pretty typical. You feel sorry for them, but it wears on you too.

Detective Nelson: So they'd just bring her back?

Nina L. Bardwell: Sometimes. Sometimes we'd go get her ourselves if we thought we had a better placement for her. A shame because she was a winsome, loving little girl.

Detective Nelson: Did she ever say anything about Doris not being her real name?

Nina L. Bardwell: Mm, I don't recall that specifically. I do know we were never sure about her last name. She did have this nutty tale she used to tell, now that I think about it. She claimed that her parents were murdered and that somebody had taken her away to keep her safe. She seemed to think she had some big secret in her past.

Detective Nelson: Is that possible?

Nina L. Bardwell: I suppose so, but it's a common myth among these kids. A lot of them think that. They don't want to remember what jerks their real parents were, so they make up some dark and mysterious story about Mom and Dad being taken away by forces they couldn't help. Mom and Dad are secret agents or missionaries, or they're working at some great new job. In these fantasies, the mythical parents are always going to come get the kids and take them home real soon.

Detective Nelson: And they believe that, even if their parents mistreated them?

Nina L. Bardwell: Sometimes, Mom and Dad were mean to them, but kids rationalized that away, believing their parents had a good reason. That kind of thing. Really tragic, I suppose, but also a pain in the ass, if you ask me. It's hard disabusing them of their fond little notions.

Detective Nelson: Like with Doris?

Nina L. Bardwell: We gave her a full psych workup, but no dice. She got quieter, but she persisted in her beliefs as I recall. Me, I just think she had a hard life at first, and then she read too many comic books.

Detective Nelson: Were you so sure it was a delusion?

Nina L. Bardwell: What, you think we didn't check her out? Her story was just too weird. It didn't add up with the facts we knew about her, which wasn't much. We even had to assign a birthday to her. She didn't even know that. She was just a confused kid who had her wishes and fears and tensions all mixed up. I saw a million of 'em over the years.

Detective Nelson: Ms. Bardwell, the reason I asked is that Miss Hammack is now telling us something very similar, but she's basing it on a real family who used to live here in Oxford, Mississippi, a couple who were murdered about the time when Doris would have been a very young child. Their two children were missing and never found.

Nina L. Bardwell: Two?

Detective Nelson: Yes, there was a brother.

Nina L. Bardwell: Funny you should say that. I remember she got fixated on another foster kid once, got really attached. A little Puerto Rican kid. Saw him like a big brother. Doris cried like her heart was breaking when we had to move her out of that home. But we never heard anything about a big brother from the Catholic girls' home, Immaculata. They were the first to get Doris.

Nina L. Bardwell: That foster home you mentioned, was it a bad place?

Detective Nelson: No, the circumstances just weren't right for a girl like her or for the little boy either with her there. She was going through a rough time then. Wasn't she originally from Mississippi or Alabama or something?

Detective Nelson: Yes, ma'am. From north Mississippi, her records say.

Nina L. Bardwell: Seems like I recall that now. I hate to hear that she's still dealing with some of her childhood delusions. So she's trying to fit facts from some old case into her life history? That's sad.

Detective Nelson: That's what we're trying to find out, ma'am. Is there anything else that stands out for you about Doris?

Nina L. Bardwell: Mm. Let me think. Well, she got extremely depressed as a preteen for a while. It was when she was with that family I just mentioned. No fault of their own—they were a good family—but it wasn't the right place for her. Sometimes it's nobody's fault, but it still isn't a perfect fit.

Detective Nelson: Would that be the Huey James home?

Nina L. Bardwell: I don't have a permission slip from the family, do I, Mr. Nelson? I won't violate someone's privacy, so I can't answer that question. I doubt if Mr. or Mrs. James is still living anyway.

Detective Nelson: He is.

Nina L. Bardwell: Well, you'll need to ask him then.

Detective Nelson: Yes, ma'am. Let's go back to those nightmares of Doris's that you mentioned. Are there any specific details you can tell me about them?

Nina L. Bardwell: Some bad guy who was after her had the starring role. Sounded like she was basing it on somebody she knew or maybe some character she'd seen in the movies—a real jerk.

Detective Nelson: Any idea who it might've been?

Nina L. Bardwell: Maybe it was her real dad or someone else she idolized at first. I know she talked about blood quite a bit. That always figured into the dreams one way or another. Oh, and that ring. It wasn't really much of a ring—no stones left in it, just the setting—but she claimed that belonged to her mother. That's all I've got to tell you, by the way, on that. You'll have to ask her about any more.

Detective Nelson: Do you think—

Nina L. Bardwell: Look, Mr. Nelson, today's my bingo day, and I need to leave soon. I'm not sure what more I can do to help here. Can we wrap this up?

Detective Nelson: I appreciate the time you've given me already. I think that about covers what I needed to know for now. Can I call you back later if I run into any more questions?

Nina L. Bardwell: I suppose. I don't know what else I can tell you, though.

Detective Nelson: Thanks, ma'am. I'll be in touch if need be.

Nina L. Bardwell: All right. Bye.



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