children
This devastating photograph from 1948 seems unreal. Surely people can’t sell their children in the United States, even in the 1940s? Family members accused the mother of being paid to stage the photo, which may have been part of the story, but unfortunately, she was dead serious about selling her children. Within two years all of the children pictures, as well as the baby she was carrying at the time, were sold off to different homes. Just a few years ago the scattered siblings tried to find each other, and their stories are of raw survival and heartbreak.

Before being picked up for national newspapers, the photo first appeared in the The Vidette-Messenger of Valparaiso, Indiana on Aug. 5, 1948. The children looked posed and a bit confused as their pregnant mother hides her face from the photographer. The caption read:

 

“A big ‘For Sale’ sign in a Chicago yard mutely tells the tragic story of Mr. and Mrs. Ray Chalifoux, who face eviction from their apartment. With no place to turn, the jobless coal truck driver and his wife decide to sell their four children. Mrs. Lucille Chalifoux turns her head from camera above while her children stare wonderingly. On the top step are Lana, 6, and Rae, 5. Below are Milton, 4, and Sue Ellen, 2.”

“No one believes it,” Lance Gray said about his mother RaeAnn’s horrific and dramatic life story. In 2013 the then 70-year-old RaeAnn Mills reunited with her 67-year-old sister Sue Ellen Chalifoux for the first time since they were seven and four. By the time of their reunion Sue Ellen was dying of lung cancer but RaeAnn was grateful for the brief, bittersweet reunion. “It’s one of the happiest days of my life,” RaeAnn said of the trip she took with her son to visit Sue Ellen a few months before she passed away. Sue Ellen could no longer speak when they met, but she could write. “It’s fabulous. I love her,” she wrote of her sister RaeAnn, but minced no words about her birth mother: “She needs to be in hell burning.”

David McDaniel, who was in his mother’s womb at the time of photograph, never got to meet Sue Ellen before she passed away, or their older sister Lana, who died before the siblings started reconnecting.

According to RaeAnn, she was sold for $2 to farmers John and Ruth Zoeteman on Aug. 27, 1950. Her brother Milton was crying nearby during the transaction, so the couple took him as well. Their names were changed to Beverly and Kenneth, and although their birth mother’s situation was dire, their new home wasn’t much of a salvation.  They were often chained up in a barn and forced to work long hours in the field. Milton remembers being called a “slave” by his new father figure, a label he accepted at the time because he didn’t understand what it meant.

Although it seems that RaeAnn and Milton were never officially adopted by their abusers, their brother David (born Bedford Chalifoux) was legally adopted by Harry and Luella McDaniel, who only lived a few miles away. David, who says his adoptive parents were strict but loving and supportive, remembers riding out on his bike to see his siblings, and unchaining them before going back home.

RaeAnn left home at 17, shortly after undergoing a brutally traumatic situation. As a young teen she was kidnapped and raped, which resulted in a pregnancy. She was sent away to a home for pregnant girls, and had her baby adopted when she returned.

As Milton grew older, he reacted to the beatings, starving, and other abuses with violent rages. A judge deemed him a menace to society, and de spent a number of years in a mental hospital after being forced to choose between that and a reformatory (a juvenile detention center.)

The woman in the photograph remarried after selling/giving away her five children, and had four more daughters. When her other children eventually came to see her, she’s described as completely lacking love for her estranged children, or having any regret for letting them go.

David McDaniel defended his mother’s coldness as evidence of a different, hardscrabble world. “As soon as my mom seen me, she said, ‘You look just like your father,’” McDaniel said. “She never apologized. Back then, it was survival. Who are we to judge? We’re all human beings. We all make mistakes. She could’ve been thinking about the children. Didn’t want them to die.”

Milton had a different perspective on the situation: “My birth mother, she never did love me. She didn’t apologize for selling me. She hated me so much that she didn’t care.”

 


  • stuffNnonsense

    Heartbreaking

  • mannybakshi

    So sad 🙁

  • xasi, ??????, miskas

    ok, but why ?

  • ManlyMan

    god what a sad story. It’s amazing those kids survived at all, and became decent people.

  • nunnya business

    I remember hearing about this and seeing the pic a couple of years ago. I swear this pic brings me to tears every time I see it. Myself being a mother of 3 wonderful, beautiful children I honestly don’gt see how anyone could ever ever ever do anything like that. I would have done whatever I had to possibly do to keep them. It is beyond heartbreaking.

  • disqus_0ithdigXbx

    Oh gosh, knowing the story is even worse somehow…

    • Thomas Heath

      Yes I know it personally because the boy in photo on the bottom right Milton Chalifoux is my father along with my aunt’s

      • Joanne Lewis

        Is he alright? Is he still alive? I hope he is okay and well!!! Obviously, he then had a family. SO sorry to hear about his childhood. I don;t think I would have survived! If he is still living, give him a hug from me! OOO

        • Thomas Heath

          My father Milton passed away Dec 28, 2016

          • Joanne Lewis

            I’m so sorry to hear I just missed him. SO sorry for your loss!!!
            Joanne

          • Thomas Heath

            Thank you Joanne Lewis

          • Joanne Lewis

            Hi Thomas,
            Your welcome. If your father shared his experiences with, you should get ghost wrtier, and write a book about together. People wold be interested in his life. It could be a tribute to Milton.

      • matilda26

        I FEEL SORRY FOR THE PLIGHT OF YOUR DAD/ NO HUMAN BEING SHOULD HAVE TO UNDERGO SUCH SUFFERING AND HUMILIATION/MAYBE HE IS NOW INA BETTER PLACE /I WISH YOU AND YOUR OFFSPRING GOD’S ETERNAL LOVE

  • Jessica S.

    such a awful story!! I am sure there are alot of stories out there like this that doesn’t make the news.. people are just awful!! I lost along time ago faith in people.. I like to believe in god but so hard to believe when why he lets stuff like this happen?

  • Debra

    I wish you would do an in-depth article on Foster Parents. Too often children slip through the cracks and are left with people who mistreat them and starve them. Putting desolate children with brutal people what are they thinking!

    • Amy Gregories

      Or they get so depressed that they just simply medicate them. If they act out they medicate them. They put all the blame on their previous living situation, when in fact those children would prefer to go back to their own blood. They get more money off the skins of a medicated child.

  • Angel bluu

    I’d never ever give away my kids,their moms a disgrace. So sad Milton and rae Ann,had such a hard upbringing.

    • Ernie

      Don’t forget that this was a world without welfare or any social services at all. The parents were evicted and left to starve in the streets, along with their children. They literally had no money.

      We all like to think that we could never do the unthinkable, until the unthinkable is the only option we have.

      • matilda26

        A very understanding and thought provoking response/Talk is easy/Action (MOST TIMES) is very difficult/Shows how humans think in vey different ways when the chips are down

      • Bethany McGregor

        Except there WERE in the 40’s and 50’s… Even as far back as the 20’s you could give your child to the state and there were orphanages… the Orphan trains in during the depression were a way for children from the city to be taken around the country looking for people to adopt them.

        • Asyuka

          I would think that the lady wasn’t educated enough to know of those options; I would like to believe that as a mother, she wouldn’t have sold her children if she wasn’t desperate for the children and her survival

      • Patricia Loewy

        They weren’t the only one though. This happened to many, many families and their mothers did not sell them. She had four more kids… so her situation improved and she didn’t try to get her kids back. Three of the four hadn’t been adopted, so there was no legal barrier to getting them back.

  • doridotcom

    This may be true of some children in foster care, but not of all nor even of most. As a preschool teacher in a “special needs” facility, I saw my fair share of fostered kids. Most of them were treated well, some were utterly adored, and only once did I see a situation that caused me to call in an alert.

    • Brody Jackson

      There were no ‘agencies’ back then for child welfare. We live in a modern, partially sane world. The one brother would go and unchain his 2 siblings in the barn?! Good grief if anyone got wind of that going on today they would put those 2 people that bought those children under the jail. From start to finish there would have to be some massive incompetence in a government agency for this scheme even to begin. The one son went to a mental institution instead of juvenile jail. I wonder what I would be like if I had been chained in a barn as a child and used as a slave. It’s mind blowing to comprehend what a child must be feeling as he/her is chained in a barn freezing and starving and they never did anything wrong but be born to the wrong ‘human’. It pisses me off more than I can convey.

      • pinky

        There most certainly were child welfare agencies back then.

      • matilda26

        I sincerely share your sentiments/What abhorrent people to chain kids and call them slaves because of their background/May those rotten people burn in Hell/

  • It’s the same subject matter, yes. Multiple websites will often tackle the same story. This wasn’t my source material, however, I linked to my source in the article.

  • Brody Jackson

    Even wild animals would not do this to their offspring. It’s unconscionable no matter the circumstances unless in some odds defying situation of imminent death for the children. Which it was not. People of character protect their family under every circumstance – especially difficult ones. Not sell them to save their own skin – it’s the EXACT OPPOSITE. You do everything you can for them even at your detriment. People like this woman should be neutered at a minimum. I see she had 4 more children, I be they had it little better. I don’t care what point in history you lived, this is unacceptable no matter the world around you.

    • pinky

      Not true. animals wild and domesticated will often abandon and even eat their offspring .

    • Joanne Lewis

      I completely understand, and agree with you, but even in the 50s it was illegal to give/get information about birth control. I can’t believe she went on to remarry, and have 4 more kids. Just disgusting!

  • Did I miss in the story where the father died? These children were in a 2parent household. Why didn’t the father prevent the sale of his children? Or does he get a pass?

  • matilda26

    what a disgusting situation for those poor kids/And the ones who purchased them did not give them a good deal either/All this in a CHRISTIAN COUNTRY/ ABSOLUTELY SHAMEFUL/ I AM SURE THEY MUST BE IN A HEAVENLY WORLD NOW/cannot imagine this happening in a country like America/It brings us to the topic of Welfare/ Are we to do deny it to the weakest link in our Society/There is a generational problem in Poverty and it is almost impossible to escape its claws/So no matter what those rich bastards may tell you (either in America/Australia/England it is our Christian Duty to look after OUR Brother/s I rest my case

  • matilda26

    The scenario is present day America/Kids brought up in rough neighbourhoods/killings/drug dealings and the rest but most importantly unable to get out of the ghetto in a hurry/Some of these kids grow up in these harsh surroundings/rebel against it/And the next thing we know that these kids land up on Death Row/WHAT A FUCKIN DISGRACE

  • Virus “TRF” TRF Clan Leader

    i want to buy the children

  • joanndoud

    This is certainly not the only instance of parents selling or giving away their children due to financial crisis. Look into the Great Depression.

  • Fafa Krekre

    Even though it was a “distant time”, and they had to do “whatever it took to survive”, and that the lady was desperated for the “children and her survival”, and bla, bla, bla, and whatever other justifications some people might find for the matter; what I have to say is: Whether it was back in the 40’s, or in 1500, or year 1A.C., the human been is/was always the same specie. Just STOPPING MAKING BABIES!! How? Stopping having sex! The lady not only sold the 4 kids showing in the pic, but also the one she was carrying and, in addition to that, if it wasn’t enough, she had another 4 KIDS!!
    Desperation? Survival? Starving? My behind!!! All BS! The lady was a bad seed, period! Not worth of having come to this world and not worth to have had the grace of God to procreate.