When I read Derek’s letter questioning whether I might be his half sister, I didn’t know whether he’d turn out to be a bloody stranger or a blood relative. Neither did he. There was only one certainty. If we were to meet in less than three weeks, I’d better pass every interim moment investigating this bizarre possibility.
Driven by curiosity, I began to check out each statement in Derek’s letter, and when nearly every one proved plausible, I had to admit that Derek was not a stranger to my father, Irving Salomon, nor to his activities. However, it was only when I found Irving’s detailed pocket calendars that I knew Derek might be a relative.
There in my father’s 1959 pocket calendar was a carefully preserved note. It had been written by Derek’s mother, Ethel, and it read, “To Whom It May Concern, This is to certify that my son, Harry A. Taylor II, now six and a half years old, is not the son of Colonel Irving Salomon, and is the natural child of marriage of Ethel Taylor (Mortensen) and Harry A. Taylor I.”
Conceivably, Derek was my half brother.
After Derek and I met, and when I had overcome my initial shock — he was 32 years younger than I and bore a forehead identical to my father’s – we decided to research our possible siblinghood as a team. Together, we tried to reconstruct the relationship between Ethel and Irving, doggedly questioning friends, relatives, and, particularly, Derek’s half sister Frieda. Frieda, with her dimming and conflicting memories.
I had been in contact with Woody Clarke, the district attorney’s DNA expert, and after listening to Woody, I was out for blood – Cecile’s. But obtaining it from my mother wouldn’t be easy. I had decided not to disturb her at age 94, nor to inform her of Derek’s existence.
When I told Woody that it would be convenient to have the test in the Seattle area, he recommended GeneLex Laboratories. He said that Derek and I needn’t learn any medical terms to request what we wanted, which is “reverse paternity testing.” GeneLex would know what procedures were necessary.
Woody explained that the lab would conduct RFLP (restriction fragment length polymorphism) testing, probably analyzing four or five genes, utilizing as many markers as possible. The cost, he thought, should be about $600 per sample. Six hundred dollars per sample? I was overwhelmed that for this price, DNA testing could differentiate Irving’s genetic material from that of the other six billion people on earth.
At the time, I didn’t realize that the lab could only isolate Irving’s genetic material from that of other Caucasian-American males. It could not, for purposes of accuracy, certify that Irving’s genetic material differed from each and every male in the world, because no data on Asians was yet available.
Alice, Irving’s former secretary, had been willing to collect samples of Cecile’s hair, so I called to tell her that it was scientifically acceptable to preserve these specimens in a plastic bag. “But,” I emphasized, “if you’re able to obtain a cotton swab of Cecile’s saliva – or accidentally stick a pin in her, drawing blood – please be sure to place those samples in a paper bag. These specimens need to be air-dried.”
Much to my surprise, Alice said that she could obtain as many samples of Cecile’s saliva as I needed. When Alice worked at Cecile’s, Cecile continually spit into tissues, dropping them into a nearby wastebasket.
At the same time, Alice informed me that she’d found Irving and Cecile’s checkbook for a joint account at a New York City bank. She said that many checks had been issued but that none of the stubs had been filled in. Odd. Cecile was meticulous about this, but Irving might not have been – if he were in a hurry or had something to conceal. Alice said to let her know when I’d be driving up to the ranch. She’d set out the checkbook for me, along with any other documents she thought might be pertinent.
Saturday, September 21, 1996
Early this morning, I decided to visit Derek over the long Veterans Day weekend in November rather than in October. This would give me an additional month for research plus extra time to prepare the questions I wanted to ask Frieda.
About 9:30 a.m., I called Derek to brief him on Woody Clarke’s DNA comments and to ask him to arrange an appointment for us on November 11 at GeneLex, located on Airport Road. Derek agreed enthusiastically. He knew the building, having driven by it frequently when he was giving flying lessons. Until that moment, he’d had no idea that it was a DNA testing lab.
I told Derek that I’d bring samples of Cecile’s saliva and try to obtain some of Irving’s hair from his old military berets or “cowboy” hats – although he’d generously lent these hats to ranch guests who needed protection from the sun. I asked Derek to find out how long the analysis would take. But I did not ask him whether Frieda might be willing to give blood. I wasn’t even sure that Derek had informed her about our meetings.
A moment or two later, Derek told me that Frieda was visiting him even as we spoke and that she’d be happy to meet with us in Seattle. He tempered this news with the comment that he was reluctant to include Harry at our meeting due to his frail health. I was excited, realizing that Frieda now knew – to some degree – the extent of our research and was willing to help us.
I told Derek about discovering the address and physical location of the Renette plus its tenant listings. When I said I couldn’t find any tenant named Mortensen, Taylor, or Benoit, Derek suggested that John Benoit might have lived there under his adoptive name of Beatty.
Eureka! Derek had supplied another piece of the puzzle, or at least another clue. No wonder, I’d been unable to locate a copy of the Benoit marriage license in San Diego County. As I was describing my fruitless search to Derek, I could hear Frieda ask Derek to tell me that she thought Ethel and John were married in Los Angeles in 1963 or, more likely, 1964. When I asked when and where they were divorced, Frieda told me via Derek that they weren’t, that Ethel’s family had chased him away upon her death.
Read Part 1 of The Derek, Frieda, and Abbe Chronicles