Doris Hammack interview
Thursday, May 21, 1998 – 10:15 a.m.
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A woman with a Detroit driver's license showing her name to be Doris Hammack claims to be LeAnne Izard, one of the missing children from the infamous Izard murders of 1958.
The following interview was conducted by Detective Nelson at the Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department on May 21, 1998.
- Detective Terry Nelson
- Doris Hammack
Detective Nelson: Let's start from the top, ma'am. Please tell me your name, age, address and occupation.
Doris Hammack: As I'm sure the officer I spoke with first has told you, I've always believed that my name was Doris Hammack. But lately I've come to believe that was a name given to me, that my real name was LeAnne Izard. I see from your expression that you recognize the name.
Detective Nelson: Yes, ma'am. It's well‑known in these parts.
Doris Hammack: It's well‑known to crime historians in most parts, detective, since the murders made the national news. I've seen the news reels at your library's Historical Media Research Center, by the way. Very moving. I hope you understand this is not some passing whim of mine. I've looked for my real family — my real identity — for years.
Detective Nelson: Certainly, I understand. I hope you understand that I have to ask you some questions and also to look at that evidence you mentioned to Deputy Wise. I don't mean you any disrespect.
Doris Hammack: I hope so. To answer your questions, from what was known of my history before Immaculata — that's the Catholic girls' home where I was first abandoned in Detroit — I'm told that I was originally from this area. There was a letter that accompanied me, saying that I was born in 1955 and was from north Mississippi. It didn't even include my birth date, if you can imagine. You don't know what it's like to go through a year as a child, wondering, "Is this day my birthday? Was yesterday? Is tomorrow?"
Detective Nelson: That must've been difficult.
Doris Hammack: I decided early on that I was going to find my real family when I grew up. I've looked ever since. I'm telling you this to explain that I can't be precise about my age since I don't know what month I was born in, but I believe I'm about 42 years old now.
Detective Nelson: OK. Go on.
|Excerpt from 1998 Doris Hammack interview|
Doris Hammack: I grew up in foster care, and I've lived in Detroit all my adult life. I live there now in a small apartment, Number 116F, at 503 Bondurant Lane, Detroit, but I'm subletting that for the next six months. I'm temporarily house‑sitting for a friend of a friend. I'm sorry, I can't recall that exact address at the moment, but it's also in Detroit. I can get you that information later, if you like.
Detective Nelson: That's fine for now. So you believe you've found some new information about your history? How did that come about?
Doris Hammack: Over the years as time allowed between work and other obligations, I've visited countless small and large Mississippi towns on weekends and my vacations, looking through birth records and newspaper clippings, trying to find some lead.
Detective Nelson: Why not move to this area?
Doris Hammack: No offense to you, sir, but I make a better living in a larger metropolitan area. I'm a seamstress and have worked for many of the better Detroit clothing stores. It's not much, but it's more than I'd be able to make working in the smaller towns of this state.
Detective Nelson: I understand. Please, go on.
Doris Hammack: Well, to finish answering your question about my occupation, I'm primarily a seamstress making fitted garments, particularly wedding gowns and men's suits. I've also done many other jobs over the years, detective. I prefer to work hard and pay my own way, and for a woman on her own, sometimes that takes more than one job.
Detective Nelson: You do other jobs in addition to working as a seamstress?
Doris Hammack: Yes. I call myself a seamstress, but if you choose to investigate my history further, you will also find that I could just as easily call myself a waitress, a delivery person, a sales clerk, a secretary, a food service line worker and even once a telephone salesperson. You know, those awful people who call you at dinner to sell you tickets, coupons or light bulbs for various charities? I've done a lot of different things.
Detective Nelson: You work all of those different jobs now?
Doris Hammack: Not anymore. I'm middle class now and well‑established enough as a seamstress that it's all I have to do.
Detective Nelson: Yes, ma'am. Tell me about what brought you here to see me today.
Doris Hammack: I really believe I've found my true identity in the Izards' story. Nothing else has resonated like this one has. What's more exciting for me is that I also have some physical evidence I can show you. I think you'll find that this ring, which I've had since childhood, matches the one your newspaper reported missing from Mrs. Izard's body — my mother's body — when she was found murdered. I'm sure you have some insurance photos or descriptions of her ring for comparison.
Detective Nelson: That's possible, ma'am, but I'd have to check into it and compare the rings. It looks like the stones are missing from this one. Do you still have them or did you sell them?
Doris Hammack: Neither. They've always been missing for as long as I can recall. I used to wear it on a string around my neck, but when I arrived at Immaculata the nuns there wouldn't allow me to wear it because they said the empty prongs kept catching on the fabric of my good wool sweater, and a charity case like me didn't need to be spoiling the nice clothes they'd given me. I remember that, so I know I've never had the stones.
Detective Nelson: I see.
Doris Hammack: I know I've always thought of this setting as my mother's ring too, and I was very upset back then not to wear it.
Detective Nelson: What's this piece of fabric?
Doris Hammack: It's what remains of a baby blanket of mine. The entire blanket was with me when I arrived at Immaculata, but that's all I have left now. The nuns took my blanket away that first day, saying a big girl like me didn't need a security blanket.
Detective Nelson: They gave it back to you later?
Doris Hammack: No, one of them, Sister Mary, cut off this patch of it and gave it to me to carry in my pocket. I was so grateful, and it became a habit for me to slip it into my pocket each morning and feel that comforting, fuzzy swatch whenever I was feeling worried or sad or alone. I got out of the habit when I was older, but I kept the blanket piece for sentimental reasons.
Detective Nelson: I see.
Doris Hammack: It probably means more to me than it does to my case. I realize that. I'm not certain the fibers in it would be useful to you either, but I thought it might be helpful, so I brought it along just in case.
Detective Nelson: If we can be brief here, please give me a thumbnail sketch of your childhood.
Doris Hammack: My memories are pretty hazy. They start mostly at Immaculata. I was dropped off at the Immaculata Home for Girls, a Catholic children's home in Detroit, on August 23, 1960. It was a Tuesday.
Detective Nelson: Do you know who dropped you off there?
Doris Hammack: A woman. She refused to give her name and managed to slip away. I often wondered if it might have been my mother, but the nuns were convinced she was a stranger. Whoever she was, she left me stranded there with just a small suitcase of clothes, this ring on a ribbon around my neck, and a letter.
Detective Nelson: What happened next?
Doris Hammack: I'm told I cried in my sleep a few times when I first arrived, scared that the mean man was going to come get me and be my daddy, or that the old biddy was going to take me away again. That's all in my records, and I'll sign a release form so Social Services will answer your queries, if you'd like to check them.
Detective Nelson: That would be helpful. Thanks. Go on.
Doris Hammack: Anyway, no one knew what I was talking about, and they assumed I was talking about neighbors or friends of the relative who died before I was brought to Immaculata. I certainly wasn't much help. I was five at the time and emotionally distraught from all reports.
Detective Nelson: Did you know anything about your identity at that time?
Doris Hammack: I did know my last name as Hammack, and the authorities did make an effort to track down family. There was an imprecise reference in my records to a Mr. Howard Hammack who died in the Detroit area at about that time. It took them months to track down this information on a Hammack. He was eventually believed to be a relative of mine. By then, all his papers were gone, nobody remembered him at the apartment complex listed, and the trail was cold.
Detective Nelson: So as far as you know, Howard Hammack is a dead end?
Doris Hammack: Well, in 1978, I hired a private detective to look into the Howard Hammack reference. The private detective was able to locate a family who had lived at that apartment complex at the same time Hammack did. My PI's report said they recalled that this Howard Hammack man had a quiet little girl — some young relative they thought — who arrived a long time after he took the apartment.
Detective Nelson: Is that all they knew about him?
Doris Hammack: They remembered that he had an accent and that he was a loud man who drank a lot. They didn't know what had become of him or what happened to the little girl.
Detective Nelson: They couldn't give you any other details?
Doris Hammack: That was about it. I never could find out more. I don't even know if you could still get in touch with those people. Or the detective, for that matter. I was lucky to get that far back then. I'm not sure it really matters. Nobody ever knew if we were actually related. I don't think we were.
Detective Nelson: And what happened to you after you came to the Catholic girls' home?
Doris Hammack: That particular place was a short-stay program. They believed that homes were the best place for girls to grow up, so I was placed in a foster home fairly soon. In a series of foster homes, actually. I never really took root, changing homes because I was depressed or the foster parents had to move away. Or I caused trouble.
Detective Nelson: What kind of trouble?
Doris Hammack: I was mostly a good kid but mixed up. I had nightmares about a bad guy coming to get me fairly often, and that made nighttime hellish for several of my foster families when I was younger. In my teen years, I went through a rebellious period, got hauled to juvie court for some minor offenses — stealing some makeup at this fancy department store, and once for spray-painting my name on the side of a building. Dumb, huh? I mean, my name of all things.
Detective Nelson: It's more common than you'd think. Was that the worst of it?
Doris Hammack: Yes. I made it through somehow and moved out of my last foster home when I was 18 and got my first job. I was dead broke, but I roomed with two other girls who had come up through the system about the same time as I had. We made ends meet. I've been on my own ever since.
Detective Nelson: It sounds like you've had a hard life, but you've made your own way. I can understand why you want to believe you've found your family after all these years.
Doris Hammack: Don't patronize me, detective. I'm doing my best with the hand I've been dealt. Everybody's life is hard. Some people's hardships are just more evident than others.
Detective Nelson: Yes, ma'am.
Doris Hammack: And please don't paint me as the poor little orphan girl who's clutching at straws and making up stories. I heard enough about my wild imagination when I was growing up. I'm not looking for your sympathy. Like you, I want hard facts.
Detective Nelson: Of course. However, you mentioned that some people criticized you for having a vivid imagination when you were a child. Who told you that?
Doris Hammack: Social workers, foster parents, the nuns at Immaculata. Sometimes my school teachers. Mostly, it's what Sister Mary and Mother Superior Joan always used to tell me whenever I landed back at Immaculata and they were trying to discipline me for being such a willful child.
Detective Nelson: Willful?
Doris Hammack: You know, disobedient. Not offering up my suffering to God but trying to talk to people about it. Telling lies — the vague memories of mine that they always believed were lies anyway — spitting out those dry Communion wafers, throwing my rosary against the wall and refusing to say a novena again when I was too tired.
Detective Nelson: What kind of things did you say that they called lies?
Doris Hammack: Telling people that something awful that had happened to my family, claiming that I had a big brother who was going to come get me and make everybody real sorry they were treating me so bad. That kind of thing. I was a sensitive child, and being alone was painful. They did their best. I suppose I was a handful for all the adults who tried to help me.
Detective Nelson: I see. Is there anything else you can tell me?
Doris Hammack: Not really, unless you're interested in the various theories I've had over the years. I've sometimes wondered if the scary man in my dreams was my real father. But he doesn't look like the pictures of Richard Izard that I've seen in the newspaper archives recently, so I guess that's not likely.
Detective Nelson: You're sure Richard Izard is not the man you dreamed about?
Doris Hammack: I am, and I was so disappointed. I had hoped to recognize the photo of my father. But maybe this "dream man" was some other relative, or maybe he was just somebody I made up because I was such a troubled child. I suppose it doesn't matter. Abandoned kids have got a million stories and fantasies about who they really are. That was one of mine.
Detective Nelson: I understand.
Doris Hammack: Now today, I keep thinking that all the questions that have haunted me for years will be answered if I could just find out where I came from, who I was, and why I was abandoned at Immaculata. There have got to be some secrets buried in my past.
Detective Nelson: Yes, ma'am. But sometimes the surface is all there is to a story, too.
Doris Hammack: There's got to be more for me though. Sometimes I feel like I won't ever be settled until I know more about who I am, who my family was, if any relatives might still be around. Wouldn't that be wonderful? And if there's anyone still living who might still remember me as a child and recognize something about me today? It's terrible to be all alone, detective. Terrible.
Detective Nelson: I can believe that, ma'am. Are you here for long?
Doris Hammack: No, just a few weeks. I'm house‑sitting, as I said, and I should go back to Detroit fairly soon. I hadn't intended to be here this long, but then I found the information on the Izards that matched information about my childhood. I can't leave until I find out more.
Detective Nelson: Have you been able to find any other corroboration?
Doris Hammack: Not yet. It's so difficult trying to pry your complete records out of the foster care system. They're scattered in dozens of files in different offices and storage facilities across Detroit, I'm told. Immaculata closed years ago, so basically all I've got to go on is what the foster families and the social workers put in my files. Not that there's likely to be much in there that's helpful to my search, but I keep digging.
Detective Nelson: Have you been able to access any of your foster care record?
Doris Hammack: I've seen most of it, but there are gaps in the paper trail. That's to be expected, I suppose, with the number of children they supervise and with all my moves. I don't have money to hire a lawyer to help me out, so I've done most of the legwork myself.
Detective Nelson: You must want to know pretty badly. Does it matter that much at this point?
Doris Hammack: It's obvious you grew up knowing who you are, detective. I didn't.
Detective Nelson: Yes, ma'am.
Doris Hammack: I've been operating on hope for a long time, to tell the truth. Until I found this Izard case history and the mention of the ring, I'd about come to the conclusion that there wasn't enough information in my old letter to point me to my real history, or that the letter itself was intentionally misleading about my past.
Detective Nelson: What made you think that?
Doris Hammack: I don't know, except that it was so vague and never led anywhere. Until now, that is.
Detective Nelson: Well, Miss Hammack, I appreciate your taking the time to come in and talk to me. Like you, I have many unanswered questions. For example, if you are in fact LeAnne Izard, how did you end up in Detroit? Who changed your name? Why not leave you at the murder scene in your playpen or kill you there? Where's your brother?
Doris Hammack: I understand, and I have some of the same questions. We may never know the whole story, but I have to start somewhere. That's here.
Detective Nelson: I hope you do understand, ma'am, because there are people around here who are going to wonder what you're up to. I feel I ought to warn you that if you make your theory known, some people are going to get pretty upset at you. They're likely to wonder if you have some ulterior motive and are trying to con people to get the Izards' estate, if there's anything left of it, or just some notoriety.
Doris Hammack: Look—
Detective Nelson: Now hold on. Sit back down, and let me finish telling you this. Somebody's got to. I'm trying to help you. You see the kind of skepticism you're going to face?
Doris Hammack: I see, all right. Yes, I do. I'm used to it.
Detective Nelson: Ma'am, you're a nice-looking lady — beautiful in fact, if you don't mind my saying so — and you seem real nice, even with this far‑out story you're giving me. But there are people who are going to resent you just for coming down here and stirring up trouble.
Doris Hammack: It's not my intention to—
Detective Nelson: I understand, but people around here liked the Izards, and more than a few families still remember them. They won't take kindly to someone they think is messing with their friends' memories. No offense, but that's the kind of thing that's likely to come up. Are you prepared to face that? Do you really want to pursue this?
Doris Hammack: Detective, I must. I will not give up. I'm sorry if I hurt people by bringing all this up again after all these years, but this is my life I'm trying to recover. They're going to have to understand.
Detective Nelson: But you're not the only one involved in this.
Doris Hammack: If you're talking about my brother, well, I think he must be dead or else so lost and obscured in a social services system that I'll never find him. I hope to continue looking for traces of him, of course, but I've got to find out who I am first. That's where I start.
Detective Nelson: OK, but—
Doris Hammack: Detective, I have to tell you something. I've spent my life living with some bad dreams. No one ever believed there was any truth to them, and I wasn't so sure either. When I read the reports of the Izard murders, sir, some of those dreams were right there and I realized they weren't dreams. They were memories. Won't you please help me? Won't you at least try?
Detective Nelson: All right then, if you're that convinced. I must admit that your story and that ring of yours have hooked my interest. I'll look into this for you. Where are you staying?
Doris Hammack: I'm at the Dewdrop Inn out by the bypass. Here's my number, detective. I'll be looking forward to hearing from you.
Detective Nelson: Well, I don't know as how quickly I'll be able to help you. Maybe you'd better go on back to Detroit and wait.
Doris Hammack: Detective, I'll be waiting wherever I am. I've saved a little and I don't spend much, so I can afford to stay for a few weeks this time. I feel like I'm so close to finding out.
Detective Nelson: OK, I'll try, ma'am. I'll sure try. If you'll let me borrow your, uh, artifacts, I'll look around a bit. I'll see if I can dig up something for comparison from the Izard evidence files and maybe get a little forensics work done if I find anything interesting. That's "if," you understand. I can't make any promises. I'll have to look all that up about the Izards. That far back, it'll take some time to find the case files.
Doris Hammack: It was April 11, 1958, detective. It was a Friday. I can't leave these things with you right now. I want the Oxford Eagle to print my story. I have an appointment with the editor in a few hours, and I think they'll want pictures.
Detective Nelson: I don't think that's such a good idea.
Doris Hammack: I don't care how crazy I sound, Detective Nelson. I just want to shake loose any information I can. If that means people will hate me, then I can live with that. I have before.
Detective Nelson: Yes, ma'am, but I don't think you understand what you're stirring up.
Doris Hammack: Then I guess I'll learn. I'll bring my artifacts back to you later tonight or early in the morning. Please take good care of them. I don't want them to end up on some shelf, gathering dust. They're all I have of my past life — my real life — and I want them back. You can assure me I'll get them back, just like I gave them to you?
Detective Nelson: Yes, ma'am. We'll give you a receipt, and we'll take real good care of them.
Doris Hammack: All right. Good day, then. And thanks.
Detective Nelson: Bye, ma'am, and you're welcome.