BROOKLYN, N.Y. (PIX11) — A year ago this week, Malondya Holt — a mother of two from Brooklyn — called me at PIX11 News and asked for help.
Holt had just watched my investigative series "Secrets of the Sisterhood." It focused on a house on Brooklyn Avenue in Crown Heights where a preacher and his sons seduced women into working for them in the 1960s and '70s. Some of the women dressed as phony nuns to beg for money.
Holt believed she had lived there as a toddler, until her mother vanished. She was raised by her mom's friend, who only knew Holt's mother as Lisa. Holt didn't know her birth date because she didn't have a birth certificate. She knew her birth mother had called her Millie.
"What is your greatest hope?" I asked Holt on Wednesday.
“To find out who I am,” Holt responded, “who my mother was.”
In a remarkable turn of events, Malondya Holt found her answers — and her mom — a year after our report aired. That also happened to be 38 years after they last laid eyes on each other.
Malondya Holt thought her mother was dead. She had heard the stories about vicious beatings and even murders at the house once run by Devernon LeGrand, who was ultimately convicted of stomping to death two teenage sisters and one of his ex-wives. More than 20 people had disappeared from the LeGrand home, most of them women, and Holt feared her biological mother might have suffered a violent end.
Nearly a year went by after Holt told us her story. Then on Jan. 25 this year, while waiting for a flight home from Tampa, Fla., the PIX 11 assignment desk forwarded me an email that had been sent to the newsroom two minutes before.
The writer told me her 64-year-old aunt was living with her in Pennsylvania, and the two of them had been surfing the Internet, seeking information on the aunt’s daughter. They were “Googling” the name LeGrand. On that Sunday morning, they found the PIX11 News story about Malondya Holt’s search for her mom.
I called the niece immediately and that night I spoke to Lucy, who doesn’t want her last name revealed.
“There’s no doubt in my mind she’s my daughter,” Lucy said to me on the phone.
Lucy told me a harrowing story about living in the LeGrand home for three months in 1977. Millie, then just under 2 years old, was with Lucy. Lucy was working for LeGrand’s sons. When she said she wanted to leave the house, Lucy recalled one of LeGrand’s sons took her into a room and beat her with a clothes hanger, in front of 12 other women.
Lucy was hospitalized with severe internal injuries. She told PIX11 her family was threatened. She made the excruciating decision to leave her toddler daughter with another friend living in the house. Lucy signed out of the hospital, eventually moved to South Jersey, and tried a year later to get Millie back -- without success.
She told PIX11 she wrote the Maury and Oprah shows but never heard back. Thirty-eight years went by. Then she found the PIX11 story about Malondya Holt on the web. Part of the problem, in this age of the Internet, is that Lucy was misspelling the LeGrand last name for quite some time.
“I was spelling his name entirely wrong,” Lucy told me, “L-a-g-r-a-n-t.”
PIX11 informed Malondya Holt about the email and we initially connected the two women by phone.
“You’re my daughter, sweetheart,” Lucy said over the phone, as Malondya Holt sobbed.
“Don’t cry, don’t cry,” Lucy said.
“Her real name is Mildred Lucia,” Lucy told us, asking us again to keep her last name confidential.
Lucy and Malondya Holt agreed to meet. PIX11 picked up Lucy in Pennsylvania and drove her to Brooklyn, where Holt’s husband answered the door.
Holt fell into Lucy’s arms in the living room when Lucy walked in ready for a huge embrace.
“I am so sorry,” Lucy sobbed, as the two women clutched each other tight and wouldn’t let go. “I never stopped loving you.”
Lucy and Holt agreed they wanted a DNA test, so PIX 11 took them to a lab used by DNA Diagnostics Center on Queens Boulevard in Woodside, Queens. Lucy returned to Pennsylvania, and two days later, PIX11 turned up at Malondya Holt’s job in Queens, carrying the DNA results — and a dozen, red roses.
“Lucy’s your mom,” I told a crying Millie, showing her the report. “The probability of maternity is 99.99797 percent.”