Girl who was ‘stolen’ by travellers aged four but reunited with her birth family 53 years later
A girl who was ‘stolen’ by travellers who said they were taking her to Disney World while she was four years old has been reunited with her birth family after tracking them down on Facebook 53 years later.
Susan Gervaise, 57, was taken from Pontefract, West Yorkshire, across the world by a traveller family on the promise that they would take her to Disney World and bring her back home.
Ms Gervaise, born Susan Preece, always believed that her biological family had disowned her and the thoughts of searching for them had not even entered her head.
But incredibly, 53 years on, she was able to locate her family just 30 minutes after her husband launched an appeal on Facebook.
Despite her distraught family in the UK having lived in turmoil ever since 1969 when she was taken, Ms Gervaise insists she was ‘spoiled rotten’ by the travelling community.
But more than five decades later, the mystery and heartache behind the disappearance of the young girl can now end after she was reunited with four of her six siblings back in West Yorkshire.
The mother-of-three now wants to show others that there is hope for missing children after she was finally able to put her biological family’s mind at ease and tell them she had always been safe and loved.
Susan Gervaise, 57, has been reunited with four of her six siblings after she stolen by travellers and taken to Canada when she was just four-years-old. Pictured: Ms Gervaise as a child (left) and now (right)
Susan Gervaise (front left), 57, was eunited with four of her six siblings after her husband posted a message in a local Facebook group
Unfortunately she would never be reunited with her biological mother who tragically died eight years ago, meaning she never found out that her daughter was safe.
Ms Gervaise, a grandmother-of-four, who now lives in Australia, said: ‘As a child I lived with my six siblings in an old vicarage on a traveller’s site. We weren’t travellers.
‘My mum was on her own and we were all in and out of foster care.
‘I was befriended by a couple on the site who were from Scotland, the woman, who I call my mum, had MS and they had two sons.
‘I think they wanted a girl. They asked my mum if they could take me to Disney World and she gave them my birth certificate so I could be put on their passport.
‘Instead, they took me to Canada then Australia and later New Zealand. This was always their plan.’
Ms Gervaise always knew she had her birth certificate but kept being told she had been put up for adoption.
Susan Gervaise (centre left) is pictured with long lost siblings Roger Preece (left), Angela Hall (centre right) and Catherine Bailey (right)
Susan Gervaise (right) at her biological mother’s grave with long lost siblings Angela Hall (left), Roger Preece (centre left), and Catherine Bailey (centre right)
‘I lived with the travelling community and lived a cherished life where I was spoiled rotten,’ she added.
‘My mum died from MS when I was 10, but even then, being raised in the hub of a travelling community I was very loved.
‘I have always been happy growing up. I travelled the world.’
The grandmother, who now runs charity Fresh Start Mission with her traveller husband, 57-year-old Hamilton, only discovered she had been taken when she needed to get a passport to return to Australia from New Zealand, aged 16.
‘The enormity of what happened to me didn’t hit me, I just carried on with my life,’ she said.
Ms Gervaise had to wait until she was 18 to apply for an adult passport and returned to Australia at 19, where she met her husband and had three children and four grandchildren.
Her ‘father’ died when she was 21. She said: ‘It was only when somebody who was adopted asked me what my family back in the UK would be feeling and that was a lightbulb moment for me.’
After her husband instigated the search and sent out a Facebook appeal on the local Knottingley and Ferrybridge Community page in June, her family were located within 30 minutes.
All of her siblings are still alive and all but one still lives around Pontefract.
The grandmother-of-four (wearing a sash) tied in her reunion with her 57th birthday so she could throw a party with her family
She said: ‘When I spoke to my family they were crying hysterically because I was alive.’
The mother, who is in the UK until October 20, coincied her visit back home to meet them during her 57th birthday so she could throw a party with her family.
She said: ‘To this day we don’t know why the police were never involved. I’m thinking it must have been because my mum gave them permission to take me and the fact we were in and out of foster care.
‘But there have been several appeals through Missing Persons over the years and my mum continually returned to the traveller’s site after moving away to look for me.’
Ms Gervaise’s niece, Emma McFadyen, said: ‘It was said that Susan’s mother did go out looking for her over the years, but with no luck.
‘After she died there were so many questions that remained unanswered. Things were different back then. There was no paper trail, no police report.
‘We never thought this would happen. It’s been amazing – especially for my mum. She has Parkinson’s and dementia, so it’s amazing she’s been reunited with her sister before she deteriorates. She’s now complete.’
Ms Gervaise said: ‘It gives a message to anybody who has lost somebody that miracles do happen. There is hope.’