Paul Fronczak’s story is true, but it is filled with the kind of wild twists and turns that you might expect from an overstuffed detective novel.
At age 10, Fronczak happened across a trove of newspaper clippings about his parents, Dora and Chester, who made international headlines when their baby was kidnapped from his hospital bed and found two years later. After confronting his mother, Fronczak discovered that he was the kidnapped toddler in the articles. But his story didn’t end there. In fact, as a new documentary “The Lost Sons” recounts, that was only the start of a decades-long quest. With the help of DNA testing and some intrepid sleuthing, Fronczak discovered that he was not Dora and Chester’s biological son and that the real Paul Fronczak was living in Manton, Mich. having been rechristened Kevin Baty. And, Fronczak found out that he was actually Jack Rosenthal and that he and his twin sister, Jill, disappeared when they were two years old without a trace.
“You could not make it up,” says Ursula Macfarlane, the director of “The Lost Sons,” which debuts at SXSW this week. “If you wrote this as a scripted piece, people would say that’s not believable. You’re not going to have a twin you didn’t know about and she’s not going to be called Jill and you’re not going to be called Jack. There’s a lot of parts that are astounding and harrowing, but there’s also a kind of epic mythical quality to them as well.”
“The Lost Sons” was produced by CNN Films, Raw and Campfire, the team behind “Three Identical Strangers,” the 2018 hit documentary about identical triplets adopted as infants by separate families. Both films grapple with ideas about identity, asking questions about how much of who we are is predetermined by genetics and how much is the result of our upbringing.
“I was very interested in ideas of family and is it nature or nurture that shapes us?” says Macfarlane. “Is it genes or blood?”
Sadly, there aren’t many happy reunions in “The Lost Sons.” Baty was able to speak briefly to Dora (Chester died in 2017), but he was sick with cancer and they were never able to meet in person. He died in April.
“That’s just heartbreaking,” says Macfarlane. “Dora gets some closure but then he’s taken away from her. She loses Paul twice.”
As for Fronczak, his biological parents are dead and his living biological siblings have cut off contact. He still doesn’t know why he was abandoned as a young child, but he remains hopeful that he will be able to find his missing twin, Jill.
“It’s not a Hollywood ending,” says Macfarlane. “It doesn’t get wrapped up in a bow. Paul has a lot of journey still to go. I don’t know what peace would be like for Paul.”
Macfarlane hopes that “The Lost Sons” may shake loose some missing pieces of the puzzle.
“It’s a race against time because there’s not a lot of people left who can tell Paul anything about what happened to him and Jill,” she says. “They’re dead or they’re dying off. He’s still on the quest, but time is closing down on him.”