An unconscious woman who has been hospitalized for four months has finally been identified by her family, solving one mystery but opening another: Why did it take so long?
Michelle Bateman, 43 - a mother, daughter, sister, and friend - went into cardiac arrest on a park bench in Kensington on Aug. 13. She never regained consciousness.
Her sister said she filed a missing-person report with an officer in Kensington. A police spokesman could not find a record of it Monday.
A check of public records shows that Bateman has been arrested nearly a dozen times in Philadelphia alone. Police said, however, that the fingerprints they sent nationwide in August - at the request of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, which was trying to identify her - did not come back with a match.
Her family and a friend said Monday that all of their efforts - missing-person reports, calls to several hospitals, jails, multiple police precincts, even the morgue - had produced nothing.
"We didn't know," said Debbie Connelly of Casselberry, Fla., an older sister. "That's why we were hunting for her. You still hope, but you have that niggling in the back of your mind that something happened to her."
The first and only clue, she said, was a story about a "Jane Doe," unconscious and in a persistent vegetative state, that ran in The Inquirer over the weekend. The photos showed her sister's face and two of her three tattoos.
Social workers at the hospital had asked for the newspaper's help last week after striking out with missing-person websites, calls to hospitals and health and community centers, and a TV news report about her in September.
Michelle Bateman was born in Philadelphia and moved to Lower Bucks County as a child, the second youngest of six. She has five children, ranging in age from 6 to their mid-20s, none of whom were living with her.
"We have aunts and uncles. ... We have cousins all over the place," said another older sister, Sandi Williams of Lake Mary, Fla., who was flabbergasted that neither the hospital nor the police had been able to identify her sister.
"She's got a heart of gold. She never hurt a fly," she said. "If you were hungry, she would feed you. She is a good person. I love her to death."
She also was clearly troubled. A public-records search found multiple arrests and incarcerations for prostitution, solicitation, and buying drugs. The last sentence in public records, 18 months for promoting prostitution, was handed down July 30. A bench warrant was issued Aug. 16 - three days after she was hospitalized - for violation of probation.
Hospital officials said there was no evidence of drugs in her system. Friends and family spoke reluctantly about her criminal record but argued that it should have made it easy to identify her.
"It is inconceivable to us that her fingerprints didn't come back," said Williams. She said she also filed a missing-person report by phone and had several conversations with the officer, who at one point told her he had been to her last known address, in Kensington, and spoken with someone who might have seen her recently.
Lt. Ray Evers, a Police Department spokesman, said Monday that he was trying to determine which officer she had spoken with and would not characterize what had happened until knowing more about the conversation. He could find no record of a missing-person report.
The fingerprints, he said, dated to an Aug. 26 request from the hospital.
"There wasn't a match to those fingerprints," Evers said. Although he did not know the reason in this case, he said, sometimes "it is hard to get a great roll [of fingers] from someone who is not cooperative or is unconscious."
It was not unusual for Bateman to be out of touch for a while, her sisters said, but they started worrying about her in early August - a week before her medical crisis.
"She would always call her mother on her birthday, Aug. 6. Even if it was a couple of days late, she would call and apologize," said Williams, who said she filed the missing-person report a week or two after that.
On the evening of Aug. 13, firefighters and paramedics responding to a 911 call found a woman in cardiac arrest in a park at Kensington Avenue and Tioga Street.
They tried to resuscitate her and took her to the emergency room at Aria Health's Frankford campus, where a heartbeat was restored after 45 minutes. She was transferred a few hours later to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where she has been unresponsive ever since.
With no known identity, no Social Security number - and no health insurance - the hospital has been absorbing the cost of her care while trying to find out who she is, a spokesman said.
The only identifying marks, which yielded nothing until they appeared in the newspaper, were three tattoos: "Bruce," in a ribbon surrounded by a red heart; and two that appear homemade, "David" and "Dave."
But someone on the street apparently had seen something at the park adjacent to the Market-Frankford line's Tioga station.
"Her girlfriend called me up and said something happened to her and they took her away in an ambulance" a day or so before, said Bruce, an ex-boyfriend of Bateman's who would not give his last name in order to protect their 6-year-old son, whom he is raising alone. He did not know the caller's name.
"I have been trying to find this girl for four months," said Bruce, adding that he had called two police precincts in Kensington, asked about ambulance calls from that park - although it is not clear that he had the correct date - and talked to people in the neighborhood as well as phoning the morgue.
He also called several hospitals nearby. He did not consider Penn, in West Philadelphia.
Bruce said he was in a halfway house and she was addicted to heroin when they first met but that he has been clean and sober for years and believed she was, too. He said they had not been in regular contact - they last saw each other on Mother's Day two years ago at his house in Bensalem - but he was eager to find her.
On Saturday, Bruce saw his ex-girlfriend's picture in The Inquirer.
"I thought about it all day long," he said, knowing that the family would be in shock. "I got another paper, and I took it to her daughter and I showed it to her."
Bateman's mother, who brought legal documents to the hospital to confirm her identity Monday, declined to reveal her daughter's identity or speak with the media.
"We have been looking for her, and we have been overwhelmed trying to find her. Knowing where she is and knowing that she is OK is enough . . . that is most important to us," she said in a statement released by the hospital.
Bateman's sisters in Florida, meanwhile, are furious about what happened.
"We want an explanation," Connelly said. "There is no way that anybody tried to contact the family. There is no way that they took her prints and didn't get a hit."
The memory that Connelly prefers to carry is one of Bateman - nicknamed Mouse, for her squeaky voice as a baby - repeatedly reading Peter Rabbit to her daughter when she was about 4 years old.
"Michelle could recite the book from memory," Connelly said, choking back tears, and her daughter "would act out the parts of the book."
"I think that's my favorite memory of Mouse because she was a really good mom. . . . We miss her, and we love her."