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Long Island Newsday January 21, 2000

Oath Leads Pals on Quest

Commercial real estate developer Guy Hart spied a familiar cab parked near a payphone in his native Syracuse one autumn day and stopped to greet boyhood friend John Wainman, whom he hadn't seen in months. " John's a good egg," Hart said later. He's a little wacky, now, too. But he's a good egg."

Hard and Wainman exchanged pleasantries. Then, gazing down at the sidewalk, Wainman shuffled his feet and said, " I suppose you don't remember the pact."

Momentarily jolted, Hart said, "Oh, my God! " and suddenly did remember. Forty-two years ago when they were between 14 and 15 years old, he, Wainman and Joe O'Brien had interrupted their basketball game to wonder where they would be when the calendar turned to the year 2000. They swore an oath: no matter what, they would meet at the stroke of midnight on December 31st 1999 on the steps of what then was O'Brien's house at 409 Wendell Terrace, Syracuse.

Wainman confided to Hart that he had more on his mind than just pact. He needed to see O'Brien. He needed help, to make something straight in his otherwise zigzagging life. Hart, 56, looked at Lehman and said, "John, I'll be there," and he left.

Hart immediately telephoned O'Brien's 800 voicemail number. A highly decorated FBI agent and co-author of Boss of Bosses, O'Brien runs his own company, O'Brien Investigations Inc, with offices in Manhattan, Queens, Rochester and Ithaca. (The book is based on 600 hours of recordings from a listing device O'Brian and fellow agent Andrew Kurins planted on the Staten Island mansion of then mob boss Paul Castellano in 1983.)  Hart left this message, "Joe, I just saw John. He reminded me of the pact. Call me."

"Not a minute later," Hart said Joe calls me back in my car and says, "We're meeting on my porch steps of the stroke of midnight." We got a good horselaugh out of that, and then Joe says "You know something? I'll be there." Then we got to talking. I told a little about John and his ex-wife Nancy. John told more of the story New Year's night when they actually met on the porch of Joe's old house. Right away Joe said "I have to talk to Nancy". I said, " Joe, its 1:00 in the morning." Joe said, "Its New Year's Give me her number. And he called her up, and then he drove over to Baldwinsville, where she lives, and he saw her. She told him the whole story.

Wainman and Syracuse Nursing School graduate, Nancy Wallace, with dating steadily in 1966 when Nancy became pregnant. "I was 23," Nancy said. "It sounds odd, but it's not odd when you're that Catholic. I never could tell my parents. It would have broken their hearts. In fact, I didn't even tell my siblings until after my parents were in the ground. Nobody in the family could believe it. They never had a clue."

"I had a friend, another nurse, who moved down to Long Island. She said she'd help me. I told my family I wanted to travel for awhile, and I left. A friend just had twins. She had a difficult birth and was partially paralyzed for awhile. So I could help with the twins. Her husband was in the service and got out on a hardship case, which it really was. They were the three of us with twins, the babies, and me pregnant. I was so pleased not to be alone. I met periodically with the social worker from the Suffolk County social service department. I had the baby in the hospital in Riverhead, Jan. 20, 1966. They let me name her, though I don't know what happened to the name. I named her Michelle Joanna. I assume she was adopted in Suffolk County and grew up there."

"I returned to Syracuse feeling very alone and afraid. John was to have joined me, but he got scared and never did. So he felt pretty rotten. We got together, again. I needed that. I needed to be held by somebody who knew what I was going through. Well, I got pregnant again. We got married, and I had Jennifer. She's an only child. But she's not.

The marriage lasted five years. Nancy eventually returned to school and became a nurse practitioner, specializing in gerontology. She remarried, too. Jennifer, now a marriage and family therapist, is finishing requirements for doctorate in psychology. Nancy spent a quarter-century trying either to learn what happened to Michelle, to help Michelle find her, or to pass along health information that might be helpful to Michelle. "I've spent thousands getting my name in every registry that exists where adopted children may search for their biological parents, " she said.

Confined now, to wheelchair, Nancy has two malignant brain tumors and not many months to live. She told O'Brien she had two wishes: "that before I died, she said, "I would find Michelle; and that I would live long enough to see Jennifer have a child.

Jennifer Wainman-Sauda's daughter, Riley, was born August.

O'Brien, reached yesterday Tennessee, where is working on another case, said he thought he close to find Michelle's adoptive family.

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"The tough problems we solve right away. 
   The impossible ones ... may take a little longer." 
Joe O'Brien

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