Who Left Diane Bell on an Amish Porch 40 Years Ago? Abandoned Baby Mystery Answers Coming Tonight (Updated)

Diane Bell’s story sounds like something from a novel or a Hallmark holiday film. Diane was left on an Amish porch as a 3-month-old, over 40 years ago.

Her story was told in an article featured in Lancaster Online which we looked at here last year. From the original article:

Forty years ago, a widowed Amish woman and her daughter watched from their window late one night as someone in dark clothing walked up to their farmhouse near Gordonville, Lancaster County, and left a basket on the porch.

The frightened widow summoned her son from the attached house next door. They saw movement in the basket and assumed it was kittens.

Then they saw a pair of tiny, fluttering hands and knew someone had left them a baby.

The widow, 65-year-old Annie Lantz, sent her son, David, more than a mile on foot to a neighbor with a horse and buggy. From there he rode to a Mennonite home, which had a phone to call police.

Seven months later, Diane was adopted by a local non-Amish family. Diane recently began searching for her roots, which led to the original report in Lancaster Online.

“It’s like being an alien. It’s like I got dropped, and this is where I landed. And this is where I began,” Diane said at the time (see video below).

“Coming from such a small family, it would be a real neat thing to have brothers and sisters and have other people in my life. But if they don’t want to, I understand that too.”

TLC to the rescue?

After learning of Diane’s search for her blood relatives, the TLC series “Long Lost Family” contacted her about participating in the program.

Answers about Diane’s past will be revealed on tonight’s episode, airing at 8pm.

Interestingly, accepting the show’s offer of help to research her past meant she had to give up all of her own efforts to find her family.

Hopefully the resources of a network program have gone further than she could have on her own to find a happy resolution to this mystery.

Diane, who lives in Lititz in Lancaster County, is “sworn to secrecy” as to the outcome. But she’s reportedly excited, so that may be a good sign, explaining she’s “literally been waiting my whole life for this.”

In an interesting twist, apparently Diane has a spitting-image double out there.  Perhaps this is a red herring; perhaps it will feature in the story.

The Amish family who found Diane feels a special connection to her:

Annie Lantz and her daughter, Rebecca, are dead, Bell says. David Lantz, now 75, lives in the same house on Musser School Road with his wife and children, and he clearly recalls the night of Bell’s discovery.

The family, he told Bell, has long regretted not keeping her themselves. Lantz said the Amish community gave his mother a hard time for giving the baby up, Bell says, “but she didn’t feel it was right. She cried a lot about it afterward.”

If Diane had been adopted by that family, there might have already been a second generation of her Amish descendants today (though they wouldn’t be “Bells”, of course). Diane has since happily connected with members of the Lantz family.

Amish interest in the story

Besides the Lantzes, I wonder how many other Amish will be curious of the outcome?

I would bet quite a few, given the local nature of the tale. And in fact, Diane mentions in the original article that there are “a lot of people in the Amish community who want to meet me.”

But these kinds of stories may resonate with Amish for another reason – the Amish themselves have dramatic stories of adoptions and conversions that have impacted their own history and lineage.

For instance, the Riehl family name, found particularly among Amish in Lancaster County, has traditionally been traced to a single eight-year-old boy who was tricked on board a ship traveling from Europe to America.

As the story goes, after finishing his indentured servitude, Lewis Riehl ended up living in Chester County, PA, with the family of Amish minister Christian Zook. He later joined the Amish, married and had at least seven children.

I’ve never seen “Long Lost Family”, but will be glad to learn the outcome of this fascinating story.

Update (Dec 12 2:54 pm): On last night’s “Long Lost Family,” Diane Bell learned that she has a sister, half-sister, and an aunt and uncle.

She also learned the identity of her parents, who are no longer living. You can find a recap of what she learned on the show at Lancaster Online. An excerpt:

“I’m Billie Jean Marie Kolbe.”

Bell is excited to share details of her background, which have been hidden for more than four decades.

“My parents were Judy and Bill Kolbe,” Bell said. “She died two years and two days ago — less than a year before I started searching. He died in 2000. They were no longer together.”

She has a younger sister, Dawn Wunderlich, who lives in Alabama. Her DNA was a 100 percent match for Bell, providing the proof TLC needed to determine her parentage.

“I have a sister — the one thing that I always wanted more than anything in the world,” Bell said. “She’s like my best friend now.”

She also has an older half sister — Angela Martin, who has two children in Chicago — and possibly more siblings on her father’s side.

Her father’s side of the family has not responded to the show’s inquiries, Bell said.

But she is getting to know her mother’s family, some of whom provided pieces to the puzzle of Bell’s past.

Diane’s birth mother and grandmother apparently carried her baby photo, on a keychain and pinned inside clothes, respectively. Diane was able to hear her birth mother’s voice thanks to voice messages saved by her sister.

It’s not totally clear why she was abandoned, but Diane says it may have been a condition for marriage imposed by her father. Whatever the reason, Diane holds no grudge against her mother: “I totally forgive her”…“She had to have done it out of love. There had to have been a reason. She was looking out for my best interests.”

Diane sounds thrilled to have found a sister, and has integrated with her relatives, spending Thanksgiving with her aunt and uncle. “You’d think it would be awkward,” she is quoted as saying. “It wasn’t. I felt like I belonged there.”

Read the full recap here.

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    1. jerry

      Thanks for the Heads Up

      Thanks for the posting. Now I must watch also.

    2. Debbie H

      Interesting story. I was surprised to see the Amish didn’t adopt the baby. I hope you will share the outcome of her search when you find out.

      1. In their latest article Lancaster Online says they’ll post about what happens after the program ends at 10pm, so that’s probably one of the first places to read about it at least. I don’t think I’ll be able to view it, or at least not live, but will be looking forward to know the outcome.


    3. Gina R


      I cut the cable cord so I won’t be able to watch TLC. Hopefully in time a book will be written or show on
      You tube.

    4. Doug

      "Long Lost Family" Online

      The series is available at TLC.com. It may take a few days for tonight’s program to be posted.

    5. Alice Mary

      Good mystery!

      I hope I remember to watch. A TRUE mystery is always interesting to see solved. With so many of us interested in our own ancestry, it may give the rest of us some tips on how to solve our own “family mysteries”.

      Do the Amish (Old Order, progressive, etc.) routinely register births and “adoptions” with the “state”, etc. (for example, if the family kept this baby as their own) that would make it easier to trace lineage? So many MORE mysteries!

      I’m curious about the outcome!

      Alice Mary

      1. Apparently there are cases of Amish who don’t get birth certificates, but I think that is a rather uncommon situation. Here is a forum post from Joe Keim’s Map Ministry site on the topic: http://www.mapministry.org/forums/index.php?/topic/943-how-do-i-get-a-birth-certificate-i-never-had-one/

        I’ll be interested to see to what extent this mystery is actually resolved, and if she actually did reconnect with any blood relations. In the video above you can tell it would mean a lot to her. I guess we’ll find out soon!

    6. I’ve updated the post above with a link to a follow-up story on Diane and what was learned in the episode. Looks like she’s pretty happy with the way things have turned out.

    7. Alice Mary

      I watched the entire program (2 hours, if I remember correctly), investigating 3 different families’ heritage. (Too long, in my opinion!). What was said on the show is that Diane’s Dad was a wife abuser (her Mom said she was drowned in a water trough as punishment for not filling it quickly enough–among other things). When her Dad was away from home for business, her Mom left, fleeing to another state–it SEEMS this might be when she dropped off Diane on the Amish porch. They didn’t say for sure. She went on to have another daughter (Dawn, born in 1979, while Diane was born in 1976). Family members said Diane’s Mom kind of “disappeared” for a few years in the 1970’s–seemingly when she became a mother.

      This was the first time I watched this program. It seems as though the predominant opinion was that these kinds of secrets should NOT be kept. I tend to agree. I knew of a family who adopted 2 boys in the 1960’s (from different families) who were never told they were adopted until their father died (they were in their late teens/early 20’s) It was an awful experience for them and their mother and the rest of their family who were sworn to secrecy for years (I knew their cousin). Today’s more open adoptions certainly seem more humane for all involved.

      I am glad Diane found out what she did, and was very glad to see how much she and her sister resembled one another and “connected.” May God bless them both, and all the newly-introduced relatives.

      Alice Mary

      1. Thanks for the recap, Alice Mary. I hope I’ll have the chance to see more of this program, have only seen the brief promo excerpt on the TLC site.

    8. OldKat

      All other points not withstanding, and I hope that it all works out great for her.

      That said, I couldn’t help but notice where she was raised; Lititz. Possibly the nicest looking, and one of the most interesting towns we have ever visited.

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