Her eyes told the story first -- eyes that looked everywhere and nowhere, staring at the television cameras that were trained on her that day when she appeared on "Good Morning America." She came dressed in borrowed clothes, she came bearing no name but the name that is given in cases like this, Jane Doe. She came to ask if anyone knew who she was -- a tall order at that hour of the morning.
"I try to remember," she said as a phone number flashed on a screen, the number to call if you knew who she was, "and I can't recall, where I went to school, if I have any friends. sI don't seem to have an interest in something. I don't form a pattern of having parents or family who are responsible for me. I feel I'm left alone in the world. I'm just trying to go about my life as best I can."
Now they know who she is. Now she has a name, a place in a family photograph album, a past filled with the usual childhood dreams and demons, the usual chance meetings, abandoned ambitions. She is the once and future Cheryl Ann Tomiczek of Roselle, Ill., and a few weeks ago her family came to claim her, the family to whom she had stopped talking over five years before.
They were reunited on the grounds of South Florida State Hospital. At the press conference afterwards, 34-year-old Cheryl Ann Tomiczek said she wanted to keep the name Jane Doe.
She said she though it was a beautiful name.
They found her on a September afternoon in Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, 180-acre enclave of banyan trees and cabbage palms right across the highway from the Fort Lauderdale beach. The day was sunny and warm.The police officer and the park ranger who discovered her remember the way the sunlight flickered through the trees where Jane Doe lay naked and dying in a small clearing in the dense underbrush, caked with dirt, her face frozen into a grinning mask, able to move only her eyes.
It was the off-season. Not too much happening on the beach then, the scene having settled down to the out-of-town businessmen, the hookers and vagrants and other birds of prey. That was it, except for the occasional resident or what passes for one in a town where everyone is from somewhere else. Park Ranger Eli Brown went into the woods to investigate when it seemed to him that a couple of cars had been parked there an unusually long time.
He saw the flies first, a cloud of green blowflies that made him think a small animal must have died.
When she appeared on "Good Morning America," Jane Doe was interviewed with the chief of the Fort Lauderdale police, Leo F. Callahan, and with Dr. Jesse Kaye, a psychiatrist from South Florida State. She sat with David Hartman and listened in terror to the banalities of the early-morning chitchat, the strained jokes, the nervous laughter that echoed all around her.
Some massive kind of stress, said the psychiatrist, caused her to barricade her past. "That's somewhat unusual, you know, to have that much forgetfulness. She doesn't remember anything at all."
There was something else that was somewhat unusual about her, said the police chief. "One thing that is unique about her," he said, is that there are no scars, no marks, no tattoos, not even a vaccination scar that we were able to find with the exception of the moles on her face."
"Jane, you're perfect," Hartman said, and in a way, perhaps, he was right: In the country of the young, where possibility is everything, everything could be possible for a woman without a past. To shed a part of one's life as if it were a snakeskin has come to be written into the warranty on the American Dream.
Lacking a past, she became a metaphor. That she was found in Fort Lauderdale fit neatly, it being the kind of town that lies at the end of a dozen dark highways, the ones traveled by the refugees from bad marriages and broken promises and boring jobs. It is also a place peopled by dreamers and schemers who have made it the white-collar fraud capital of the country, by cocaine cowboys and fast-buck artists who scare the wits out of the retirees, the ones who sit blinking in the sun in the condominium communities. There is the commingling of a dozen different subcultures here, the interaction of none. Even the architecture has the look of impermanence, as if it were thrown up on one tumble of the tumbling dice, to be taken down on another.
It is a town, says a veteran observer, with "a penchant for the really grisly crime," the kind of town "that gives you the feeling that the fabric of life is really unraveling." And it is a town that attracts bored young secretaries like Cheryl Tomiczek by the file cabinetful, with its promise of a golden life, a life immune to bad weather and withered emotions.
Cheryl Tomiczek was 22 when she went to Florida. "She went out with a girlfriend," her mother remembers. "Two or three weeks later she called, she said she had a job." Her mother was uneasy. "But what can you do with a 22-year-old?" she says. "What can you do."
The last time Irene Tomiczek heard from her daughter was five years ago. They talked on the telephone. Irene Tomiczek remembers that her daughter sounded "extremely upset. There was someone in the background talking to her. I said, 'Do you want to come home?' Someone said something to her and she screamed, 'I don't want to have anything to do with you.'"
Lacking a family, she was claimed by hundreds of families, families missing a mother or daughter, a wife or sister. There were just as many letters and phone calls, claiming that she is the one who drove off in the blue Torino two years ago, she's the one who climbed into the car headed for Oregon, she's the one who left home, goodbye, so long, and never looked back.
"Crystal would be almost 17 years old," said one such letter. "It is a family trait that during sickness or trauma, the brown eye pigment changes to a blue-gray cast. If you need proof, I will furnish it through further data."
"Jane Doe kind of opened her eyes to the number of women aged 28 to 35 who are runaways," said Chief Callahan. "I think what we are seeing is indicative of the effects of leniency of the Dr. Spock period. It was a permissive period that's beginning to reap its reward. You weren't supposed to disipline kids, you weren't supposed to spank them because it might bruise their poor little psyches. Youngsters weren't brought up to respect authority or believe in accountability. They're frightened by it. They can't cope with distasteful reality, so they just pick up and take off."
The voice came slowly and softly, swept clean of an accent, all expression blasted from her face. "I try to think who I am, I try to be good to myself," she said shortly before the Tomiczeks came to claim her. "But if my memory is gone forever, the people, if I have any people, go with it. If I have any. I don't know if I'll ever know. I try to think positive, but somehow, I just don't feel that way. There doesn't seem to be that realization.
"I think I'm lost and wandering around," she said, staring straight ahead. "I feel ashamed and I don't know why I feel that way. But I try not to think about that. I think that I'll be busy all morning, and then I think that I'll be busy all afternoon. Everything is so nicely planned for me."
She grew up in Roselle, Ill., a mostly rural community to which her parents had fled from a Chicago neighborhood that no longer conformed to their notion of quality. She is the eldest of three children; there is a brother, Robert, who lives in Arizona now, and a sister, Cathy, who lives in California.
She was a quiet girl, a sweet and lovely girl, the family tells one newspaper.
She was a wayward child, a troubled child, they tell another.
She went to schools named St. Isadore, St. Francis, she had dogs that died and left her weeping, she spent long hours in the attic lost in the fantasy of dress-up, away from the Dominican nuns with their white robes and strict discipline.
These were the fragments of her life that surfaced in the hours she spent dreaming under the influence of sodium amytol, in South Florida State Hospital.
"A rather typical state hospital," Dr. Kaye calls South Florida State. There are about 900 patients living in the brightly colored concrete bungalows, indigent men and women culled from the surrounding counties, from Jupiter Inlet to the Dry Tortugas, as the weathermen on the radio are fond of describing the range of their concern.They are men and women with diverse problems, according to Kaye, most of them "psychotic," most of them having "lost some kind of reality contact," many of them having "naturally occuring psychoses like schizophrenia, for example, or severe depression." "SCUTs," as some of the staff call them, as in "schizophrenic chronic undifferentiated type."
South Florida State is going through something of a rehabilitation these days and some of the staff members wear bright yellow buttons reading "Ask me what's good about South Florida State Hospital." The patients don't ask.
When they found her, they found a pair of black slacks and a printed blouse folded neatly next to her. Four Styrofoam cups were scattered nearby. There were 12 cents in one pocket. And that was it.
"We searched the area and that's all we found," said Terry Wright, the first officer on the scene when Eli Brown called for help. "Not a clue, not a trace, nothing." She was taken to the hospital weighing 90 pounds, her body covered with sores and suffering from exposure.
Wright came to talk to her every day, but the woman would tell her nothing, except to say that she had not been attacked or molested. She showed little reaction to anyone or to her surrounding, except for one time. Wright came up to her when her back was turned. Startled she bared her teeth and pointed a long stained fingernail at Wright. "Get away," she hissed. "Get away from me." It was the only time she reacted that way.
No one knows yet what her life was like the last few years. Maybe it was rutted in routine -- a face that turned to an alarm clock every morning, a face painted into gritty resignation for the ill-tempered boss, the irascible customer, the indifferent lover. Maybe it was more exotic than that; a life led on the fringes, perhaps, capsized by catastrophe, beyond the reach of more conventional forms of rescue.
She is 5 feet 7 inches, 123 pounds. She has light brown hair, blue-gray eyes. She wears a size 10 dress, she has two moles on her neck. She has never had children. These were the things they knew about her, blood and bone and sinew. There were so many things they didn't know, what it took to make her happy, whether she found Jesus or some jerk who never remembered her birthday, the eccentric alleys and psychic corners that form a personality. The mystery made her intriguing, made her anyone, rather than someone, a tabula rasa, as Dr. Kaye was fond of calling her, a mirror capable of reflecting whatever one cared to find there.
"I want to find out if I have any family," she said, "but then I think, what if they think they've found the right one and someone comes and says, 'you're not my daughter after all?'"
That was not, of course, what they said. Andrew and Irene Tomiczek had been trying to find their daughter for years after that last anguished phone call. Irene Tomiczek had even given up her career as a palm reader in the hopes that God would then restore her daughter to her. Irene Tomiczek had never read her daughter's palm. The Tomiczeks went to the police, but the police in Florida told them there was little they could do. Cheryl Tomiczek was over 21 and presumably in command of her own fate. They wrote to various government agencies hoping to track their daughter down through her Social Security number. They sent her brother Robert down to look for her. Nothing worked until they saw their daughter's face on the television screen.
"My God, that looks just like her," said Andrew Tomiczek, and called his wife into the room.
Officer Terry Wright took a special interest in Jane Doe's case long before the glare of publicity focused on her. "You could tell she wasn't your average street person stealing Sterno to drink," Wright said. "She could be somebody you knew." She could be, for that matter, someone like Terry Wright -- 32 years old, from a small resort town in upstate New York where the young men work in the summer, and draw unemployment in the winter, and the women who marry the young men watch them grow older and play pinochle all afternoon.
Wright came to Florida because she wanted more than that. She's been on the beat for eight years now, patrolling an area that stretches up the beach from Birch State Park to the Galt Ocean Mile -- Cardiac Canyon, as the cops call it, acres of condominium stretching skyward, filled with retirees. "I handle lot of deaths," Wright said.
And a lot of burnouts on the beach, the kids blasted on drugs, the tramps wasted on wine, the solitary souls looking at the sea, and all the other layoffs from the reality factory that find their way there.
"This is the runaway meccas of the world," Wright said. "You can get anything you want in Lauderdale, and if you can't buy it, you can barter for it. They come here thinking the streets are paved with gold and everything's going to be rosy. They find out differently, most of them. God only knows what happened to her before she got to that park."
That something did happen to Jane Doe before they found her, something so terrible she buried it deep and ditched the rest of her memory along with it, is the opinion of Dr. Jesse Kaye, one of the psychiatrists who has been working with Jane Doe since she was transferred to South Florida State Hospital last November. "Either something very terrible or something that to this person on an emotional level seems very terrible must have happened to her," Kaye said. "The block is deep, it's intense, it's pervasive, it's total."
Or so Kaye has been telling the legions of reporters that have made the pilgrimage to South Florida State, where the interviews with the psychiatrist and his star patient were at times stacked up like planes waiting to land at La Guardia, before Jane Doe became Cheryl Ann Tomiczek and after Kaye stopped charging $100 an hour for his time. The book and movie offers will have to wait, Kaye says, until Jane Doe is more capable of understanding the concept of selling the rights to the story, such as it is, of her life.
She sat in a small courtyard on the hospital grounds, dressed in pink polyester, holding herself rigidly erect, as if a moment's relaxation might shatter her tentative calm. Her blue-gray eyes were drained of emotion, drained of the past. She spoke without inflection. Her days, at that point, had settled down to a pleasing routine: rising early in the morning, working in the hospital's "boutique," where the patients can shop for clothes, working in the hospital's handicraft program, where she made butterflies out of a bit of foam rubber, a touch of glue and some sequins. All around her came the clicks and gurgles and mad laughter of the other patients.
The clothes in the boutique were all donated, older things, which Jane Doe enjoyed folding neatly and putting away on the shelves, but the doctors knew she liked fine-looking things. It came out in the results of some of the psychological testing that they did and it came out in Jane Doe's trip to New York to appear on "Good Morning America." She seemed to greet with particular delight a shopping trip through Berdorf's and Tiffany's. She liked looking at the Lalique crystal, at the better dresses, at the expensive antiques.
"Oh yes," said Irene Tomiczek, "my daughters always had expensive tastes. Why, I myself always liked the finer things in life."
In the evenings, after dinner, Jane Doe was left to her thoughts. She would stare out the window while the other women on the ward watched television, or she would embroider the cross stitch on the stenciled design of a basket of flowers.
The last present Cheryl Ann Tomiczek ever sent her mother was a framed embroidery stitched by her own hand. "I shall pass this way but once," read the pattern Cheryl Ann had so patiently worked. "Therefore any good I can do let me do it now, for I shall not pass this way again."
Her memories still expand only to the months she has spent at South Florida State. She remembers nothing before that, not even the time spent in the hospital letting her body heal. Time has brought back most of her cognitive abilities, though it was hard to talk at first. "I had to push the words out of mouth." She remembers colors now; "it was very nice to remember red, to see brown and to be able to spell brown."
Of life beyond the walls of South Florida State, Jane Doe is terrified.
"I'll be happy, I guess," she said when she was asked about the future. "I'll make friends. When I feel ashamed, I think, 'Learning to sew is progressing, being with people is progressing.' I used to be depressed that I would never remember, but now I think maybe my mind knows what's good for me."
"I think she's afraid to remember," says Dr. Bettina Bennett, the clinical psychologist who is the director of the ward on which Jane Doe lives. "She's searching for something to fit into. She doesn't belong anywhere."
The psychological tests she's taken reveal little -- that she has above-average intelligence, that she has been very depressed, that she is very concerned with height, that she sees herself as very tiny.
When she asked to write stories about a happy an an unhappy girl, she wrote about "an unhappy girl who wasn't allowed to finish her education because of some injustice, while the happy girl fulfilled her goals and became a teacher," according to Adelaide Perez, another of the clinical psychologists working with Jane Doe.
The psychologists thought she must have come from a northern state, judging from the pictures of houses she has drawn for them. They thought, from her submissiveness and her obsession with neatness, that she had come from a very repressive background, perhaps rural, possibly Catholic.
Can you imagine yourself in a college, they asked her.
"No," she said, "In a congregation."
"My boyfriend . . ." was the way they began a sentence they asked her to complete.
". . . is alive," is the way she completed it.
In the end, the tests were like psychological Tarot cards, dealing a different destiny depending on which way they were shuffled, and all that is really clear is how fragile a thing a personality it, how completely it can vanish.
A week after Cheryl Ann Tomiczek found out who she was, her family returned to the hospital to visit here. She refused to see them.
"Chief, what happens if they find out who I am and nobody loves me?" Jane Doe once asked Chief Callahan.
She asked him twice.
She didn't ask the chief what would happen if they found out who she was and there was nobody she loved.