A baby girl found in a parking lot in 2005 changed this detective’s life forever
Det.-Const. Dave Woodhouse was haunted by the “Rachael Grace” case in 2005 and it led him to adopt two children from China.
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There was only one file Det.-Const. Dave Woodhouse tucked away the day he retired from the Toronto police force. Only one case he couldn’t shake. It was the case of an abandoned baby girl with a shock of black hair, found in a cigarette carton under a tree, the odds of survival stacked against her.
Twelve years later, Woodhouse still has her file. He holds onto it because the case inside — of a baby he named Rachael Grace — forever changed the trajectory of his life.
So when it emerged this month that police were investigating reports of an infant abandoned in a Toronto parking lot, Woodhouse was transfixed. The report ultimately turned out to be false and police sources said the baby was never abandoned — but it was enough to send memories flooding back to the now-retired detective constable.
The story began on a cool, spring morning: Saturday, May 21, 2005.
Woodhouse was at his desk at 42 Division in Toronto, chipping away at a report. He was edging close to 50 years old, nearing the end of his policing career. One of the newer cops, “a rookie” as Woodhouse described her, came to the office with startling news.
“We’ve found a newborn baby,” Woodhouse remembers her saying. “Abandoned at the Chinese Alliance Church in Scarborough.”
“Well … alive or dead?” Woodhouse asked.
The baby, a girl of Asian descent, was very much alive. She’d been taken to Scarborough Grace Hospital in healthy condition. Woodhouse went to the church, where the baby had been found on a traffic island in the parking lot. His theory is that someone thought there would be a service that day.
There wasn’t. But the empty, newly paved parking lot was perfect for an unlikely rescuer — a fellow looking to race hobby cars. Tommy Siu heard crying, went over and peered inside the cigarette carton.
And there she was — an infant, barely a few hours old.
“If it hadn’t been for him, I doubt she would have survived …” Woodhouse said in an interview with the Star. “I mean, the odds were against her.”
From the church, Woodhouse went to Scarborough Grace Hospital to see the baby.
He remembers her beautiful little tuft of hair, and that she was crying when he first arrived.
“And, I don’t know, something . . .” he said, becoming emotional, “ … just came over me at that point, something I’d never felt before. And things like this don’t happen in Canada that often, abandoned children . . . so it’s all such a mystery. Why would someone do that?”
Woodhouse looked at the baby in front of him. He thought about what had been taken away from her already. The baby didn’t have a name; protocol dictated she would be referred to as Jane Doe. He didn’t want her identity to be taken away too.
“I found out that the first nurse who treated her was named Rachael, so I named her Rachael Grace, after Scarborough Grace Hospital,” he said. “I put that in my official reports.”
She was released from hospital four days later and transferred into foster care. Children’s Aid was swamped with phone calls from people wanting to adopt baby Rachael Grace.
Police searched everywhere for the baby’s mother. But surveillance tapes were worn and scrambled. Tips poured in from officers on the street and civilians, but Woodhouse said he couldn’t narrow it down.
Eventually, he said, “you just have to lay it to rest. The mother didn’t want to be found.”
By the following spring, Woodhouse had retired and moved from Toronto to Kingston, Ont. He and his wife had had a son, Eamon, the previous September.
But he couldn’t get Rachael Grace out of his head.
“You know, I think about that little girl every day,” he told his wife, Denise. “She haunts me.”
Maybe that was for a reason, Denise responded.
“Maybe she’s trying to tell you something.”
Or maybe she was trying to tell both of them something; Denise divulged, for the first time, that she had always wanted to adopt a baby from China.
“The writing was on the wall,” Woodhouse said.
The couple began reading everything they could about international adoption. In 2011, they brought home a little boy, Cameron He’Ang, then in 2015, they brought home a a little girl, Keave Jiang Kang — and baby Rachael Grace had helped make it happen.
“I attribute it to finding that little girl,” Woodhouse said. “What else would have sparked a conversation like that, if it wasn’t for me saying, ‘Geez, I think of her every day’? ”
Cameron is 10 years old now, and Keave is 4.
Both children had medical issues, with Cameron undergoing several surgeries at Sick Kids Hospital. Woodhouse has spent the last decade going back and forth to China with other adopted fathers, via an organization called Show Hope, to focus on building projects — like playsets — at their medical care centre in Henan province.
“You love on these kids, and some of them don’t make it,” he said. “But others I’ve had the good fortune to see them adopted by families around the world, and to actually keep in touch with these families via Facebook and social media. And I get to watch these kids grow.”
His only regret, he said, is not starting out earlier. He’ll be 60 this year.
All these years later, Woodhouse still thinks about that baby girl in Scarborough.
He has reached out to the agent at the Children’s Aid Society who handled her case, offering his contact information in case her new family ever wanted to call with questions about those first days of her life.
He has never heard from her new family.
All he knows is that she was adopted by a family, and that the agency didn’t have any trouble finding her a home.
But the ripples of Rachael Grace’s case have touched others. Woodhouse’s wife’s niece and her husband were thinking about adopting, but the husband was hesitant, Woodhouse said.
Then, at a funeral where Denise was giving a eulogy, the husband saw Cameron climb up on his mom’s chair and wipe the tears away from her eyes.
That changed things, Woodhouse said. The couple has since adopted two children, and is in the process of bringing home a third — another growing family inspired by a baby they had never met.
“This little baby in Toronto changed the lives of that many more people,” Woodhouse said. “That would have never come to fruition if it hadn’t been for Rachael Grace.”