Doug Robinson: Woman finds her birth family — in a 2013 Deseret News article

Published: Monday, Feb. 10 2014 10:00 p.m. MST

William C. Cole, shortly after being reunited with his daughter, Peggy Cole Bennett.

Doug Robinson, family photo -- used with permission

It’s not every day I receive an email from a reader who believes she has found her long-lost father — in an article I wrote. After decades of wondering about a man she has never met or been able to find, there he was, staring at her from newspaper photos that accompanied the article.

A few months ago I wrote a story about Randy Stevens, who had never met his father until, at the age of 57, he tracked him down. By then his father was 88 and had lived a life so adventurous that, as I wrote at the time, it should be a movie or a country song. His was a tale of abandonment, foster homes, surviving the Depression, running away with the circus and the Army as an underage teen, dodging bombs at Pearl Harbor, fathering at least 10 children with five wives and becoming a pro wrestler known, aptly, as Wild Bill Cole.

Stevens, a former Utahn who lives in the Midwest, contacted me to see if I would be interested in telling the story of finding his father. “There are other people out there going through the same thing,” he said. “I hope this helps someone.”

It did. It helped his own sister, who he didn’t know existed.

Debbie Terrell is a 58-year-old Salt Lake schoolteacher with a husband and three children. Urged by her family, she occasionally searched the Internet to find the father she had never met, but it was futile and for the last 20 years she pretty much gave up the search.

During a visit to her mother’s home in St. George last month, she was again encouraged to resume her search. It would be good for you, her mother told her. On a whim one night, after dabbling with Facebook, she Googled “William Carlisle Cole wrestler.” At the very top of the results was the Deseret News story about Randy Stevens, published Sept. 2, 2013.

As she read the story she was dumbfounded. The photos of Wild Bill Cole looked like the same man in the only three photos she had of her father. The story said Cole was from Ogden. She had been told her family originally came from Ogden, and she recognized other clues throughout the story. “I kept thinking, oh, my gosh, this is my story!” she says. Then she came to the third to last paragraph of the story, which described Stevens' attempts to mine information from his father’s memory, concluding with this sentence: “Randy mines an occasional nugget, such as learning that he has another sister; she was born nine months after his own birth.”

“When I read that, I wondered, do they mean me?” says Terrell. She wasn’t certain what to do next, but her family urged her to pursue the lead. She wrote an email to me:

Hi Mr. Robinson, I read an article today that you wrote for the Deseret News. … Your article includes a picture of the same man that's in a photo my mother gave me of my birth father that was taken back in 1955. I think I am the, "sister, born nine months after" Randy Stevens, as mentioned in the third to last paragraph in your article. My birth name is Debbie Ardell Cole. William Cole, as listed on my birth certificate, was 31 years old when I was born. That would make him 88 years old just like "Wild Bill" in your article … I'm writing today to ask if (you will) forward this message to Randy Stevens.

After I forwarded Terrell’s information to Stevens, they exchanged numerous emails before Terrell mustered the courage to talk to him. They wound up talking on the phone so long — sometimes until as later as 1 a.m. — that she used up her cellphone minutes. It was confirmed — they are half-siblings and the progeny of Wild Bill by different mothers, but she is not the sister described in the story. She was not born nine months after Stevens; she was born the next day.

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