But, aged 15, I wasn’t dashing down a back street.
My smiley Uncle John was spinning me around the dance floor at his son’s wedding.
Uncle John was my dad Don’s favourite brother. A father-of-four, and a grandpa, he coached kids’ sports games, taught Sunday school and was a Scout leader. But he gave me the creeps. Luckily, living a six-hour drive away, we hardly saw him.
One night, soon after the wedding, I was sitting by the phone waiting for my friend to call. It was around 9pm and Dad and my mum Frieda’s house rules were no calls this late.
As soon as it rings, I’ll pick it up and no-one will know! I thought.
Whipping the receiver to my ear when it trilled, I found Dad had already answered the phone upstairs and was talking to Uncle John’s son-in-law.
‘John’s been arrested,’ he was saying. ‘The cops believe he may be connected to Heather’s mother.’
Since I was little, I’d always known I was adopted as a baby. I loved my parents.
Still, I'd always dreamed of one day finding my birth mum.
Eavesdropping, I heard my uncle had had been charged for the murder of five women whose beaten bodies had been found in barrels on his farm and in his storage locker.
Police had also connected him to four other missing people – including a 19-year- old woman named Lisa Stasi and her four-month-old daughter, Tiffany, who’d disappeared in January 1985.
Now, the cops suspected that Lisa was my biological mother, and the baby was... me...
‘Are you kidding? Is this some kind of prank?’ Dad exclaimed.
I could practically hear his brain ticking, as he tried to process the horrific information.
I didn’t need any time at all. It made perfect sense.
Why would I feel so repulsed when I was near Uncle John, if there was nothing to be afraid of?
Upstairs, it was like John had lobbed a grenade into our home. Tears shone in my stoic dad’s eyes, while Mum ran about searching for my adoption paperwork.
‘What did John do? How could he do this?’ she cried. It was clear my parents had no clue of John’s crimes.
‘I don’t want to lose you,’ Dad choked out to me, tearfully.
It turns out, my parents had tried to conceive for five years and were in talks with several adoption agencies when family members suggested John could help.
A savvy businessman, they thought he’d know lawyers who could organise a private adoption.
Then, 18 months later, out of the blue, John had called my parents, saying a young single mother had died by suicide and her infant daughter was up for adoption.
‘You have to come now,’ Uncle John had said.
So, my parents had gone to pick me up, paid the adoption fees to Uncle John and signed paperwork. A family snap taken, showed a grinning Uncle John bouncing me on his knee.
The following weeks went by in a blur.
The police took samples of my DNA, plus finger and footprints to compare them to the hospital records of baby Tiffany.
What if they take me away from Mum and Dad? I panicked.
When the results came back, there was no denying the truth. I was Tiffany Stasi.
My adoption papers were meticulous forgeries that had duped my parents - and everyone else.
Media banged on our door at all hours, my friends cut all ties – their parents too scared to be associated with my family, and I started home-school.
Then, about a month later, my uncle was officially charged with murdering my birth mum.
My loving parents prepared a statement.
‘Our deepest sympathies go out to the other families victimised... we too have been betrayed by this man.’
Rage boiled inside me that my dreams of one day finding my mum had
Within weeks, Lisa’s mother, my biological grandma, Pat, wrote me a letter.
She'd been on the news too.
‘If our granddaughter is safe and happy and these people have nothing to do with Lisa’s disappearance, and they’ve taken care of this child, we don’t want to take her away. But we want her to know that we’re her family and we love her,’ she said to camera.
When we met, we clicked instantly.
‘You look so much like Lisa,’ Pat told me.
I learnt that, after separating from my biological father, Lisa had fled to a women’s shelter with me. That’s where she’d met John, who was posing as a philanthropist who’d started a program to help women down on their luck.
A fake, he offered her a job, an apartment and childcare. In the meantime, he put us up in a motel.
On January 8, 1985, Lisa had taken me to visit her sister-in-law, Kathy.
The next day, John had picked us up from Kathy’s to go back to the motel.
My mother was never seen alive again.
But soon after, her family began to receive typewritten letters supposedly from her.
I’ve decided to try and get away... and make a good life for me and Tiffany, one read.
Although her body had never been recovered, authorities believed John had bludgeoned her to death in the motel room, likely in front of me.
It also came out that John had doctored my date of birth. Instead of October 12, 1984, I’d actually been born more than a month earlier, on September 3.
At least I’ll be 16 sooner! I’d thought.
But, when my birthday arrived, instead of celebrating my sweet 16, I locked myself away in my room and cried.
Two years on, a jury found John Edward Robinson, 56, guilty of killing three women, including my mother, over a period of 15 years. He was sentenced to death in the U.S.
Soon after, he pleaded guilty to five further counts of murder.
Would he take the location of where he’d buried my mother to his grave?
Aged 18, I was legally adopted by my parents.
As an adult, I was careful who I told about my past. When one boyfriend’s mum found out, she gave me an ultimatum.
‘If you don’t leave my son, I will contact the press,’ she threatened.
Devastated, I broke it off. A decade on, I befriended Roberto at the mall where I worked, and it was love at first sight for me.
Texting, he shared that he wasn’t feeling his best.
If you’re having a bad day, read this, I replied, sending him a link to my serial killer uncle’s Wikipedia page.
Fifteen minutes later, sweet Roberto showed up with comfort food and wrapped me in a hug. We started dating, and married just a few months later, on Valentine’s Day 2013.
I became a stepmum to his two-year-old boy. Before long, we gave him a little brother.
For seven years, I stayed silent about my past despite offers to speak publicly.
Then, coming up to the 20th anniversary of John’s arrest, with my beloved parents’ blessing, I agreed to film a documentary.
Lisa’s mum, Pat, who I’d become incredibly close with, had recently died.
But the producer showed me some old footage of her reading an excerpt from a baby book Lisa had lovingly compiled for me.
‘When you are old enough to read this, I hope you will still be feeling the love I have for you because it’s a love stronger than life itself,’ Pat read.
It hurt that I’d never get to know my mother.
Now 75, John Robinson is appealing his death sentence in the U.S. For me, real justice will be finding Lisa’s remains and giving her the burial she deserves.
Visiting the now empty space where the motel once stood – the place I last saw my mum as a baby – I made a promise.
‘I’ll find you,’ I whispered. And I will.
Follow Heather on Facebook at ‘The Lisa Stasi Effect’
1984: Paula Godfrey, 19, answered a job ad for a sales rep position that Robinson had placed in the paper. He hired her and told her she’d be travelling for training. She disappeared and her body has never been found.
1987: Robinson hired single mum Catherine Clampitt, 27, who vanished. Her remains have never been recovered.
1993: Beverly Bonner, 49, left her husband to be Robinson’s mistress. When she disappeared, Robinson kept cashing her alimony cheques. Her remains were stuffed into a barrel, which was discovered at his storage facility.
1994: Robinson murdered Sheila Faith, 45, and her daughter, Debbie Faith, 15, who had cerebral palsy. Then, he claimed their welfare payments. Their bodies were found in barrels at Robinson’s storage facility.
1999: Robinson met 21-year- old student Izabela Lewicka online. Her remains were found on Robinson’s farm.
2000: Suzette Trouten, 28, was hired as a caretaker for Robinson’s elderly father - who’d been dead for many years. Her body was also found at Robinson’s farm.