British Columbia·Analysis

Foundling's father: DNA unlocks secrets of serial baby abandonment case

Janet Keall spent decades searching for biological family, but when she finally found the man she believes is her father, she froze.

‘He had no idea about me at all. There was shock and sadness’ says Janet Keall

Janet Keall, shown at age five, was left on the steps of a Prince Rupert hospital in 1977. She's spent her life ferreting out the facts about her past. (Janet Keall)

Janet Keall spent decades searching for biological family, but when she finally found the man she believes is her father, she froze.

Abandoned on the steps of a Prince Rupert, B.C., hospital as an infant, Keall spent 22 years unravelling her origins — and the history of other foundlings left on hospital steps in B.C.

In the process she says she's found five related siblings, her mother's identity and now her father.

Keall, now 39, was adopted and grew up in a loving family, but ended up haunted by the need to know her past. (Janet Keall)

Keall was eventually adopted, but always yearned for the truth of her past.

Recent sleuthing turned up her father's first name and, with help from a friend who dug into high school yearbooks, she soon found the man and sent him her picture.

"He said it was like looking at a picture of himself," said Keall, now 39.

The call to his house was difficult. She said she was terrified until they connected.

"It was just the most touching. The most beautiful conversation," said Keall, a resident of Charlottetown.

"We both just knew. But we are both quite analytical, so we needed to do a proper test."

On May 9 that test came back.

Keall and the man have a 99.9996 per cent likelihood of being father and daughter.

They plan to meet in June, but he does not want publicity, so CBC News agreed not to name him.

Keall's quest

For years Keall learned nothing about her origins, then in the past year she discovered her mother had abandoned a series of babies in the '70s and '80s.

At first she found two siblings — when the story of her search came out, they were dubbed the "Prince Rupert Three." 

But it turned out there were more.

Keall eventually figured out who her mother was, but she'd died in August 2016.

Keall, shown at 8, was a Brownie in B.C. She has spent 22 years searching for answers about her family origins. (Janet Keall)

Then she found more information and more siblings.

She believes at least two other babies named Kenneth and Rose — one born at a Vancouver hospital and abandoned, and one left on the steps of another Vancouver hospital — were siblings who didn't survive.

Death certificates revealed that both shared a rare disorder.

Family unravelled

Keall never imagined she'd discover so much when she began her hunt.

She's always protected the identity of her mother for the sake of her living relatives.

Finding her father this spring was easier than any of her other searches, she said. It turned out that the man had dated her mother in the 1970s for about a year.

After they parted, he had no idea that the woman gave birth to a baby.

An engineer, he went on to marry, but never had children.

So learning of Keall was a shock.

A baby named Kenneth Allan X, found in 1980 outside the Lions Gate Hospital in Vancouver, peers out the open port hole of his incubator. He is shown with nurse Marilyn Dugas. (Colin Price/Courtesy of The Province)

"He had no idea about me at all," said Keall, who has learned to take cosmic twists in stride.

"He just kept saying, 'Thank you for not quitting,'" said Keall. 

Big surprise at finding siblings

She never imagined her journey would turn up evidence that a series of infants were abandoned, and hopes to work on a book to tell their story.

While her siblings allowed their pictures to be used in the past, they are quieter.

This is her quest.

Keall as a toddler in B.C. where she grew up, never knowing that her biological mother lived only five minutes away from the home where a family adopted her. (Janet Keall)

Not everybody yearns to know the secrets buried in DNA, Keall says in a warning to those who dig at the roots of the family tree.

DNA can unlock difficult secrets

"It looks so sexy. You sit down with a glass of wine on a Friday night — and you think 'Oh I'll spit in a cup and I'll find out if I am half Irish,'" she said.

But what if you find more than expected?

"So many people go into it ill-advised, not mature enough, without any previous therapy," she says.

Before delving into genetic detective work, you need to be centred, she says, as the results can shake a person to their core.

Keall lives on Prince Edward Island with her family (Janet Keall)


Yvette Brend

CBC journalist

Yvette Brend works in Vancouver on all CBC platforms. Her investigative work has spanned floods, fires, cryptocurrency deaths, police shootings and infection control in hospitals. “My husband came home a stranger,” an intimate look at PTSD, won CBC's first Jack Webster City Mike Award (2017). Got a tip?