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STAR-CROSSED SEARCHERS AFTER 37 YEARS, LOVERS WHO LOST EACH OTHER TRY TO FIND THEIR CHILD

JOHN P. ELIAS and Eleanor Platt Wozniak have paid dearly for daring to love one another.

He went to jail on a charge of statutory rape. She went to a home for wayward girls. And they were forced to give up their infant daughter for adoption.

Now, 38 years after they met, they have reunited as friends with two goals -- to find their daughter and to clear the record.

Their story began in 1953 in Jamestown, where -- as in many communities in America -- love between a black man and a white woman was forbidden.

So when 17-year-old Eleanor came home pregnant out of wedlock with a black man's child, her father was ashamed and furious. His anger unleashed forces that drove the couple apart.

Elias, 67, and Mrs. Wozniak, 55, know now they were naive.

After meeting in the fall of 1953 in a Jamestown social club, they started secretly dating. Over jukebox music and soft drinks, John, 29, and Eleanor, 17, found quiet conversation, mutual love for the outdoors and dreams of a life together.

"To me, color of skin didn't make any difference," recalled Mrs. Wozniak, who lived in a mixed-race neighborhood and had black friends at Jamestown High School. They were inseparable, riding around town in John's car, spending nights in his apartment.

"We were going to go to Ohio to get married," she said.

On a snowy December night, Eleanor packed a bag and waited for nightfall before climbing down a rose trellis in front of her home. Her parents didn't know it, but she spent the next month living nearby in John's apartment. She quit school, and when John left each day for his welder's job, Eleanor stayed home and out of sight.

Within a month she was pregnant. Against John's wishes, she returned home to tell her parents.

"I thought once they knew I was pregnant that it would be accepted and we could get married," Mrs. Wozniak recalls now.

Instead, "all hell broke loose." When John tried to come for her, her father met him on the front porch with a shotgun, shouting: "You're not coming in this house. No black bastard is coming in my
house."

The nightmare had begun. Eleanor was taken to the city police station. There, she now says, a policewoman called by her parents coerced her into saying John had locked her in his apartment and threatened her into having sex with him. Because Eleanor was three days from her 18th birthday, the statement was enough to indict John on charges of second- degree rape, commonly known as statutory rape.

He knows now he should have demanded a trial, but his attorney told him a guilty plea would mean a lighter sentence, and he didn't want to deny having sex with Eleanor.

"There was no rape," Elias said. "We were planning to get married."

John spent the next nine months in Monroe Correctional Facility.

"I've lived with this for almost 40 years," said Mrs. Wozniak, who is married and lives in Erie, Pa.

"I felt that (making the statement) was the only thing I could do to get things off my back and get things calmed down." She's willing now to testify that she lied, but the process of clearing Elias' name will come after the search for their daughter.

Eleanor visited John once in jail. He gave her a delicate, thin gold band with a diamondlike speck on top that she still wears on her left hand. It was their pledge to each other that they would find their way together again, a pledge they never fulfilled.

When John left prison, he returned to Jamestown. He didn't know that Eleanor had spent the same time in the Buffalo's Ingle-
side Home for Girls, on Harvard Place (now the headquarters for Community Action Organization), where she gave birth to their daughter at 8:15 p.m. on Sept. 13, 1954.

Mrs. Wozniak hesitates, her eyes filling with tears as she describes the day two women whose names she never learned came for her infant.

"I bathed her and dressed her. I stood her up on the corner of the counter by the window. She had curly hair, brown eyes, light-
colored skin. I remember telling her I wouldn't see her anymore."

Eleanor carried the infant to the first floor.

"I looked at her and broke down and cried. I handed Rose Marie to one of the ladies, and that's the last I saw of her."

By then, Eleanor had been persuaded by her parents and others that she couldn't keep the child.

"I didn't feel about colored people as I do today," Eleanor's mother, Iva Platt, says now. "I was raised in the country and I didn't believe in interracial marriages. It broke our hearts that it happened. At that time, we thought we were doing the best for her and the child."

Mrs. Platt, who supports her daughter's search for Rose Marie, regrets that she couldn't help her then. Her husband, an alcoholic, ruled the family. When Elias and Mrs. Wozniak met again a few years ago, the first thing Mrs. Platt did was ask Elias "to forgive me for what I had done."

Mrs. Wozniak doesn't blame her mother. She knows her parents gave free rein to a Jamestown policewoman, a juvenile officer for troubled girls. The policewoman -- now deceased -- kept track of Eleanor Platt even after she turned 18, had her baby and attempted to rekindle her affair with John.

Within a four-day span in November 1954, Eleanor was arrested and charged in Jamestown court with failing to obey her parents and becoming "morally depraved."

She was sent to Our Lady of Charity Refuge, which was then on Best Street, the site now of a state jail for boys, and stayed there for two years.

While she lived at the home, Eleanor had a job caring for the sons of a wealthy Buffalo family. Her own baby, who had been named after a song in a movie, was in foster care and Eleanor was being pressured by her parents, the officer and the nuns who cared for her to sign the adoption papers.

"Once I signed the papers, they said I could go home," she said sadly.

Throughout her stay, Mrs. Wozniak recalls, she was made to feel ashamed of her past. The nuns told her "those things didn't go on and I should just forget it."

But she couldn't forget. For the next 37 years, Mrs. Wozniak searched faces looking for her child. She queried young women she met who were of mixed race. She grew despondent, alcoholic and suicidal. Her sadness deepened when she learned that problems during delivery left her unable to bear another child.

"The one thing that always hurt me is that, as much as she loves kids, she had the one and she had to give it up," said her mother, a tiny white-haired woman, who recalled Mother's Day as an especially painful day for her daughter.

Eleanor and John finally did go their separate ways. When her family rebuffed his attempts to find her, John came to Buffalo and worked at Bethlehem Steel for almost 30 years, retiring in 1983. His wife, Frances, and his two children support his search now.

Eleanor moved a lot and, in her own words, became the wild girl everyone accused her of being. "I really didn't care what I did, because I had lost everything I had," she said.

Her father kept a stony silence even on his deathbed, when he wouldn't acknowledge Eleanor's attempt to reconcile. "That's what hurts," said Mrs. Wozniak. "He went to his grave never saying he was sorry."

Her father's death four years ago freed Mrs. Wozniak. Almost simultaneously, Elias, who lives in Buffalo, turned to his past.

His search took him to Mrs. Wozniak in Erie, and after emotional telephone conversations and a tearful reunion, the couple, with the support of their spouses and families, decided to work together to find their daughter.

They started by running ads in 1988 in newspapers in Buffalo and Jamestown. Desperate, they turned to Dominic Telesco's Center for Reuniting Families, of Buffalo, a service that has reunited 50 families nationwide.

Telesco, a retired county real estate director, and his wife, Sarah, hit a stone wall. They know Rose Marie's adoption was handled by a local agency, but they don't know where she is.

Now they have agreed to let their story be aired Jan. 15 on the NBC-TV program "Unsolved Mysteries" in hopes that a national audience will provide clues.

"I didn't hesitate (about doing the program)," said Mrs. Wozniak, who along with Elias and her mother is spending this week in Buffalo being filmed for the show. Actors will play them when they were young. "I want to do anything I can to find her."

For Elias, finding Rose Marie will help him get over feeling "railroaded" into prison and carrying the stigma throughout his life of a rape conviction.

He said he was angry when he learned, just a few years ago, about Mrs. Wozniak's statement to the police, but he has forgiven her. Now he is concentrating on finding his daughter.

"If she desires to know us, we are ready, but we don't want to interfere in her life," said Elias.

Mrs. Wozniak yearns to know what become of the daughter she has never known.

"Even if she doesn't want to talk to me or to her father, at least I want to know she's happy and all right. I want her to know I love her."

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