true crime

Steve Carter was missing for 33 years. He had no idea.

Steve Carter loved his childhood and his family, but he always had lingering questions about his past.

At 34, the salesman from Philadelphia in the United States knew that he'd been adopted from an orphanage in Honolulu, Hawaii when he was four years old. But he had little knowledge of who left him there — and why.

"I had an amazing childhood," Steve told the What It Was Like podcast. "I was adopted and raised by two individuals who are just phenomenal... They'll always be my parents."

However, the pull to find out more about his past was something he couldn't ignore.

Watch a snippet of Steve Carter's missing story here. Post continues below. 

The desire to learn more about himself began while Steve was getting ready for work one day, when he heard a story on CNN playing in the background. A missing woman had been abducted as a child and found out about it when she went onto a website for missing kids in the US.

He heard the story again while driving in to work. And then he started getting notifications on his tablet.

Finally, he decided to do something about the nagging feeling in his gut, and went on to a website that shares details about missing children in Hawaii. He searched for 'Hawaii', 'missing 34 years' and 'male' — and that's how, in early 2011, Steve Carter found himself staring at a photo of a boy that looked near identical to himself on a missing children's website.


That photo was actually an age-progression rendered image of a six-month-old baby who'd gone missing in the late 1970s, combined with his birth mother and father's photo.

Immediately, Steve knew it was him.

The listing that Steve instantly recognised was about him. Image:


At first, he thought it was a cool finding and showed the picture to his friends, who urged him to go to the police.

He completed a DNA test, which took police months to confirm, but eventually, they were able to tell him that the baby boy pictured on the website was indeed Steve.

He learned his birth name was Marx Panama Moriarty Barnes, and that his father, Mark Barnes, had reported him missing after his mother, Charlotte Moriarty, went for a walk with him on June 21, 1977, and never returned.

Charlotte had gone to a stranger's home and given a fake name for herself and her son, which is where the case became confused. She was taken to a psychiatric hospital, while baby Steve was put in protective care. Charlotte disappeared a few days later, never to be seen again.

Steve Carter went missing when he was a toddler. Image: Tamron Hall Show.


The fake name hampered police's efforts to reunite the baby with any living relatives and instead, he became a ward of the state.

Three years later, he was adopted by Steve and Pat Carter, who raised their son in New Jersey.

When his identity was confirmed, Steve shared that the "guilt factor" eventually set in because he hadn't alerted his biological family about his wellbeing. "I kind of took on a kind of 'guilt factor' because I felt like I should have been doing more to alert [my biological family] that not only am I safe, I'm extremely happy," he said.

"I've got great friends, amazing family and the life that only certain people can [have]."

Steve appeared on CNN after discovering the truth about his past. Image: CNN


A year after Steve learned the truth about his past, he made contact with members of his biological family — his older half-sister, Jennifer Monnheimer, and his father.

Jennifer had been eight years old, living with her father in New Mexico, when she learned that her mother and her baby brother had gone missing. She long assumed they had died, but convinced authorities to reopen the case years later, which is how the age-progression image came about.


"We spoke for an hour," Steve said of their conversation. "... We definitely shared a lot of similarities. Not just genetics-wise... We shared the same taste in certain things and had the same sense of humour."

Mark Barnes told PEOPLE that when he spoke to his son on the phone for the first time, "All I could say was, 'Wow. Oh wow. Wow.'"

He recalled how "rough" it had been to lose his girlfriend and son so suddenly and never to locate them. "I spent about a year and a half going crazy driving around the island," he said.

Steve's birth parents met on a beach about a year before he was born, and he told the What It Was Like podcast that they had a "very tumultuous relationship".

"I found out details later in letters that were sent to me by my aunts that... Charlotte would just take off for days at a time and then come back," Steve explained. "They would just fight. They were very different people. Charlotte was more of a free spirit."

Steve had a lot of compassion for his birth mother, who had left him malnourished when he was put into protective care. 

"If you're not in the right headspace and you're dealing with other things, you might put the oxygen mask on yourself first," he said. "I don't blame her for anything."

As for where Charlotte ended up, Steve believes she might have gone to East Asia for a fresh start. 

"I think she went to East Asia and got caught up in that kind of lifestyle and passed away and she was forever buried," he said. "[She] always wanted to have a good time and I think she found it."


Unfortunately, Steve never got to meet his biological father in person before he died in 2023. 

"We did talk on the phone and exchange letters, but I unfortunately never got to meet [him] in person," he explained, adding that Mark had substance abuse problems into his late 60s that made it difficult to have a stronger relationship.

Despite never being reunited with his biological parents, Steve said there have been plenty of people who his story has inspired.

"I'll never forget taking a bus ride... and one of the women sitting behind me said, 'Wait, you're Steve Carter,'" he recalled. "She said, 'I can't tell you how much your story has given us hope that we will find our child [who has] been missing for 22 years.'

"And for anyone dealing with a missing loved one, always have hope. There is a chance that person is doing well and will surface again to be reunited with you."

This article was originally published on January 11, 2019 and has since been updated with new information.

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