Dr. Thomas Hicks was a small-town Georgia doctor who was posthumously accused of selling hundreds of babies in illegal adoptions.
More than 200 babies, known as the “Hicks Babies,” were sold by Hicks through a back window of the Hicks Community Clinic in McCaysville, Georgia during the 1950s and 1960s. The motives of Hicks’ actions are unclear. Some of those in his town defend his actions, according to Narratively, saying he was providing a service. Hicks faced legal trouble for illegal abortions, but not for the illegal adoptions.
The story has been featured in many TV specials, including on TLC’s, Taken At Birth, which originally aired in 2019.
The truth about the adoptions came to light in 1997, more than two decades after his death, as some of the Hicks Babies began seeking out their biological parents.
Hicks died at age 83 in 1972. He was born October 18, 1888. He was married and had two children, a son and a daughter. His wife and son both passed away, and his daughter lives in North Carolina, according to Appalachian History. He also has a granddaughter who is sympathetic to the efforts of the Hicks Babies. His wife was a Baptist Sunday school teacher, according to PEOPLE.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Dr. Hicks Convinced Women Who Wanted Abortions to Give Birth, & Said He’d Handle the Adoptions
Dr. Thomas J. Hicks performed abortions in the 1950s, long before abortions were legalized in Roe v. Wade. Hicks’ beliefs did not fully mesh with abortions, and he would sometimes convince women that he would handle adoptions if they carried the babies to term, according to WKYC in Cleveland, Ohio.
In these cases, Hicks would forge a birth certificate and give the baby to adoptive parents in secret from his Georgia clinic. The Hicks Community Clinic has been closed for years, but the building still stands. It sits in a plaza in McCaysville, Georgia with a pizza shop on one end and a barbecue restaurant on the other, according to Narratively. Those who were passed through the window as babies to adoptive parents have stopped by to see where their lives changed direction so early in life.
The method of the illegal adoptions has left many questions for those who started their lives in Hicks’ clinic. His forged birth certificates did not list biological parents. Those who were adopted have few places to turn to track down their origins. Many are hoping DNA will link them to their birth families, and some of them have found biological parents, siblings and parents through DNA, according to WKYC.
The adoptive parents paid $1,000 for the baby, and Hicks would provide housing for the mothers for several months at his farm, a hotel, his apartments or a telephone company building, according to Appalachian History. The illegal adoptions came to an end in 1964, when Hicks was caught performing illegal abortions.
2. Dr. Thomas J. Hicks Lost His Medical License for Performing Abortions Before Roe. v. Wade
Hicks performed illegal abortions in the 1950s and 1960s, along with the illegal adoptions, until he faced legal troubles in 1964 for the abortions. Hicks was performing abortions long before Roe. v. Wade legalized abortions. In a small town filled with economical hardships, Hicks saw a need among pregnant women, although abortions conflicted with his faith, according to Narratively.
“When Dr. Hicks began his illicit practice, abortions were illegal in the United States,” Phil Trexler wrote in the article. “The poverty here in the Copper Basin of southeast Tennessee and far north Georgia, which includes the town of McCaysville, often meant that pregnant women couldn’t ask a relative or friend to help raise their children. The extra mouths to feed were simply too expensive. Stories of young girls dying from botched abortions in the early ’50s still exist in the living memories of those from the region. It is possible that deaths like these convinced Dr. Hicks that something needed to be done.”
He was married to a Baptist Sunday school teacher, according to PEOPLE.
Despite the illegality of the abortions, Hicks would advertise the service at phone booths, bus stations and bridges, according to Appalachian History. He lost his medical license in 1964, but he faced no jail time for the illegal abortions.
3. Dr. Hicks Has an Empty Mausoleum Which Was Searched for Records
Curiously, Dr. Thomas J. Hicks is not buried in a mausoleum that bears his name, but beside it. Investigators opened the mausoleum, searching for records of the illegal adoptions, but found it was empty.
“When they opened it up there was great excitement. But there was nothing in it. There’s nothing there,” Linda, one of the Hicks Babies, told Narratively.
She was present when authorities opened the mausoleum. Some theorized Hicks was buried beside his mausoleum because of concern the grave would be vandalized. Several of the Hicks Babies found the mausoleum was vandalized when they paid a visit in 2018.
His headstone says:
THOMAS JUGARTHY HICKS, M.D.
OCT. 18, 1888 MARCH 5, 1972
WE LOVED THEE FOR THY ASTUTE MIND
BUT WE LOVED THEE BETTER FOR A HEART
THAT WAS GENTLE AND KIND.
GREEN SOD ABOVE LIE LIGHT, LIE LIGHT
GOOD NIGHT DEAD DAD, GOOD NIGHT GOOD NIGHT
He is buried in Crest Lawn Cemetery in Atlanta, Georgia. He died at age 83 in 1972 of leukemia, according to Appalachian History.
4. The Hicks Babies & Townspeople Are Divided on the Doctors’ Actions
Many of those from Hicks small town defended his actions.
“Hicks was providing a service,” Ken Rush, director of the Ducktown Basin Museum, told Narratively. “If there was no demand for the service, Hicks would not have been doing it. He wasn’t going around knocking girls up and holding them hostage in his apartment until they delivered their babies so he could sell them.”
Several in the town told the outlet the story was sensationalized. The sentiments were echoed in other news stories.
“I think he was a good man. As I say, not perfect, but a good man,” Doris Abernathy told WKYC.
The Hicks babies seemed to have mixed feelings about his actions from the Narratively profile. Because the adoptions were illegal and their birth certificate were forged, there are no records of their biological parents which would allow them to find their origins.
“I still don’t know,” one of the Hicks Babies, Melinda, told the publication. “I owe my life to him, but he has also been the cause of so much pain and suffering. I don’t know. He let loose some real chaos into this world.”
Jane Blasio, who broke the story of the Hicks Babies and leads investigative efforts, wrote her thoughts about Hicks on her website.
“In the 40s, 50s, and 60s, a doctor was selling babies from his small town abortion clinic in the heart of McCaysville, Georgia. Doctor Hicks was NO saint and we recognize his dysfunction, the pain he caused many, and have learned to bear it,” she wrote.
John Stapleton, another one of the Hicks Babies, said he did not think Hicks started in the business for profit.
“I know abortion was illegal at the time, and then I think he was running into people who couldn’t afford adoptions,” he told the New York Post. “I think, at first, it was under the table, and then he had seen there was money involved. It turned into a business. [But] I don’t think it initially started that way.”
5. Hicks has a Granddaughter Who has Befriended the Hicks Babies
Dr. Hicks had a granddaughter, Sally Sompayrac, who empathizes with the plight of the Hicks babies. Still, she defends her late grandfather’s actions.
She had particular qualms with the notion of “black market babies.”
“Never has been black market babies,” she told WKYC.
She is a member of a Facebook groups which joins the Hicks babies. She hopes DNA testing will enable them to find their birth parents. Sompayrac believes her grandfather’s actions helped the birth mothers in need and gave the babies life. She noted to the TV station many of them went to good homes and led successful lives.
“He was a good man, a good-hearted man. He’d do anything for anybody – sometimes he’d pay a price for it,” she said.
Dr. Hicks was married and had two children, a son and a daughter. His wife and son have both passed away. His daughter is living in North Carolina, according to Appalachian History.