PIX11’s Mary Murphy first began reporting on this story back in 2014. See her original video piece from 2015 above, and read her new story, published Tuesday, below:
BROOKLYN — A Brooklyn woman who finally learned her real name and birth date in February 2015 — on the same day she was reunited with her biological mother after 38 years — lost her mom to lung cancer Tuesday.
“I’m blessed that I had her in my life,” Malondya LaTorre Johnson told PIX11, from her new home in North Carolina. “I made my peace with her.”
Back in 2015, PIX11 reunited Johnson with her biological mother, Lucia LaTorre, nearly four decades after LaTorre had escaped an infamous house on Brooklyn Avenue in Crown Heights. LaTorre had been badly beaten by men working with a phony bishop, Devernon Legrand, who went to prison on rape and murder charges. Legrand used to force dozens of women to dress up like phony nuns and beg for money on the streets.
Malondya Johnson, known as Millie, was only 2 years old when her mother left the house on Brooklyn Avenue. Johnson was left behind and then raised by her mother’s friend, Rita, at another home. Johnson had contacted PIX11 in February 2014, after seeing an investigative series that talked about the house on Brooklyn Avenue.
What is your greatest hope?” I asked Johnson in 2014.
“To find out who I am,” Johnson responded, “who my mother was.”
At the time, Johnson thought her mother was dead.
She had heard the stories about vicious beatings and even murders at the Legrand home. Nearly a year after Johnson’s interview, in late January 2015, LaTorre contacted PIX11 by e-mail, after seeing Johnson’s 2014 story on the internet.
PIX11 informed Johnson about the email and we initially connected the two women by phone.
“You’re my daughter, sweetheart,” LaTorre said over the phone, as Johnson sobbed.
“Don’t cry, don’t cry,” LaTorre said.
“Her [birth] name is Mildred Lucia,” LaTorre told us.
LaTorre and Johnson agreed to meet. PIX11 picked up LaTorre in Pennsylvania and drove her to Brooklyn, where Johnson’s husband answered the door.
Johnson fell into LaTorre’s arms in the living room when the Pennsylvania woman walked in, ready for a huge embrace.
“I am so sorry,” LaTorre sobbed, as the two women clutched each other tight and wouldn’t let go.
“I never stopped loving you,” LaTorre said.
After DNA testing confirmed Lucia LaTorre was Millie’s mother, Johnson learned she had an older half-sister and a younger half-brother. She became especially close to her sister and spent quite some time with her mother over the last six years.
But Johnson acknowledged it was tough getting over the hurt of being abandoned.
“It’s always been difficult,” Johnson told PIX11. “It was hard to give her that mother love I was longing for. When she was dying, I had to forgive her.”
Johnson revealed the woman who raised her, Rita Holt, died of the same illness that claimed her mother: lung cancer.
“To have two mothers die of the same illness is a little much,” Johnson told PIX11.
Johnson said LaTorre had moved from Pennsylvania to Texas to live with her son. LaTorre visited Johnson’s new home in North Carolina this year and spent about a month there. When LaTorre visited her older daughter in New York, she was diagnosed with the cancer.
“They told her she had less than six months,” Johnson said. “She was back in Texas with her son. We did a lot of FaceTime videos.”
“They put her in hospice a couple of weeks ago,” Johnson added.
LaTorre was 70 years old when she died and requested that her ashes be spread over Atlantic City, where she had spent a lot of her life.
Johnson told me she wanted me to know about Lucia LaTorre’s death, because PIX11 played a key role in reuniting mother and daughter.
“I’m grateful for finding out who I am,” Johnson — who now formally goes by Malondya Lucia LaTorre Johnson — told us. “I wish we had more time together.”