By christine keeling
Two Youngstown natives’ search to find whether a woman is their sister uncovered a story they decided to share.
Debbie Frye and Tracy Mercier have authored “Our Father Who Aren’t in Heaven: A True Story of a Career Criminal.”
The book covers their father’s many years of illegal activities and will give the reader a glimpse into life during a notorious time in Youngstown’s history.
“I could tell you stories that would sell a book,” Frye said her father used to say when she came back to town to visit him.
The offer was one she never pursued before. Her father, who is referred to only as Bim in the book, died in 1989.
Some of the things that happened when the sisters were young, and before they moved away from Youngstown to work for the CIA, often were never talked about, they said.
Frye remembered visiting her father while he was incarcerated in West Virginia, she said.
Mercier said her earliest childhood memory was the Secret Service storming their home on the city’s South side when she was 2 years old.
The sisters knew their father was involved in a counterfeiting ring and later an armed robbery and kidnapping of a Youngstown attorney’s nephew during the ’60s. But it wasn’t until a woman from West Virginia contacted them through Classmates.com in 2002 looking for her birth parents that the sisters realized the full extent of their father’s criminal record.
“We were trying to help [the adoptee],” said Frye, “Or we wouldn’t have dug up our father’s history.”
The girls were looking through a box kept in an attic when they ran across an old newspaper article about the counterfeiting operation, they said. It referred to Bim as an ex-convict who already had been sentenced to jail time.
“Wow, 70 years,” Mercier said she thought when she read the article. “What did he do so bad that he got 70 years?”
Bim served only 12 years of that sentence, which was before he met Frye and Mercier’s mother.
The sisters expanded their efforts and found more than 100 articles about their father at libraries. They also tried to contact everyone mentioned in them, including their father’s kidnap victim, they said.
Many of the things they uncovered were “jaw dropping,” said Mercier.
“Everyone we talked to about it said that sounded like a book or movie,” she said.
The adoptee turned out not to be related to the sisters, but the journey healed some of their wounds.
“It really feels good to be able to talk about [my father],” said Frye.
Mercier said they always had kept their life secret, and being able to write the story created closure.
“We survived a father who went to prison, and we didn’t go that route,” she said.
Their book is available at www.OurFatherWhoArentInHeaven.com, amazon.com or Barnes and Noble.