She helps others find the life she never had
After a life of difficult family relations, a St. Petersburg private eye helps others reunite and rebuild.
By PAUL SWIDER
Published January 4, 2006
The irony is as poignant as it is painful: A young girl emotionally estranged from her mother embarks on a series of poor life choices that brings her three failed marriages with a child from each, no job prospects and no safety net. She doesn't just overcome these circumstances, but uses them to create a successful business reuniting families and giving others the second chance she has only recently found herself.
"I was the girl on the beach crying," said Lynn-Marie Carty, a St. Petersburg private investigator and president of Reunite People, which since 2001 has set up more than 1,000 reunions for those who thought they'd never again find their loved ones.
"I didn't have anything," the 48-year-old from Massachusetts said. "I didn't have a dollar. Three kids, and I was worrying about what we would find to eat."
But she adds: "I wouldn't trade any of it."
Carty's travails started when she got pregnant at 16. She ran away from home and got married, but she was divorced 18 months later and returned to finish high school. Home was no treat, though, because her "mentally challenged" mother had never shown her any affection and wouldn't even touch her, she said.
She moved to Florida, where she would marry and divorce twice again. She held several odd jobs but nothing fulfilling, though she was model pretty and was once a finalist in the Mrs. Florida pageant.
She reached out to her mother and even arranged for her life-saving brain surgery, but she still has never found the maternal bond she wanted, even though she supports and houses her.
At one point in the mid '90s, Carty discovered a knack for investigation when she helped with the Babyland lawsuit regarding Royal Palm Cemetery and the disinterment of infant remains as part of a construction project.
She found research and exploring to be a reward, but the dark side of investigating for attorneys was distasteful. Then she saw a Sally Jessy Raphael show about reunions and thought she had found her calling.
"Everybody is searching for the love that might make them complete," Carty said. Most of those using her services are children that mothers gave up for adoption or fathers who left children behind. She said her life experiences give her a natural empathy for her clients. "I'm able to put myself in their shoes."
Carty rattles off inspiring stories about fathers who lost track of children after a divorce; people who became suicidal and regained a will to live after finding their roots; and adoptive mothers who helped their children find birth parents.
She is working with a woman from Seminole who, pregnant at 16 like Carty, gave up a daughter for adoption. On Saturday, that mother will meet the adoptive mother in Inverness before meeting her daughter this spring.
Carty has such a record of reunions that she has been a frequent guest on television shows like the one that inspired her in the first place.
She also has a book coming out later this year, A.K.A. Angel P.I., and is in talks with the producers of Extreme Home Makeover about a reality show based on her family. Carty's three children have also become investigators, and the family works on reunions and more conventional investigations.
Carty's expertise doesn't always win out, at least in her own life. Her attempts to reconcile with her mother never worked, which she says helps drive the reunion urge.
She is on good terms with all her ex-husbands, insisting that the marriages were her mistakes because of her "zero self-esteem." But a stab at researching her genealogy floundered.
"I got rejected by my own family," she said. It turns out her fair features and mane of blond hair had more to do with a Norwegian ancestry than her Italian background suggests.
Her father, the son of a police detective, was born out of wedlock. But Carty said the detective's descendants take the view that because there was no marriage, there is no family connection. She says she thinks she inherited the detective's investigative skills, which are the talents she applied to turn her life around.
"I feel like if everybody in society did what they are good at and volunteered, we could all be angels," she said. "When you do the right thing, good things happen to you."
Carty does extensive work on the Internet, scouring databases and posting queries on message boards for the 60 or 70 cases she has active at a time.
Recently, she heard from her own past. A boy who fought for her - and lost - back when she was 16 found her online and will be coming to visit from Massachusetts soon. But even if he doesn't turn out to be her "Mr. Right," she said her work makes her thrilled to wake up every morning.
"Now that I've found my passion in life, I'm the happiest I've ever been," she said. "Everyone says, "You've got a cool job.' They're right. I created it myself."
[Last modified January 4, 2006, 01:07:18]
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