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'Hatbox Baby' heritage still a mystery after 82 years

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Sharon Elliott, AKA "Hatbox Baby" Sharon Elliott, AKA "Hatbox Baby"
"Hatbox Baby" "Hatbox Baby"
"Hatbox Baby" "Hatbox Baby"
MESA, AZ (CBS5) -

Each night this week, CBS 5 News at 10 is highlighting an Arizona Christmas tradition or legend.

Thursday, it's a legend that made national headlines in the early 1930s: a baby found in a hatbox, in the desert east of Phoenix, on a cold Christmas Eve.

The so-called "Hatbox Baby," Sharon Elliott, is now 82-years-old and living in Mesa.

But, the question of how she ended up in the desert all those years ago is still a mystery.

"As the story goes, the Stewarts were coming from, it was Christmas Eve and they were coming from a family gathering," said Elliott. "I don't really know - but, he had car trouble."

So, in 1931, that couple – Ed and Julia Stewart – pulled to the side of a road near Superior.

The wife wandered a short distance into the desert and stumbled upon a cardboard hatbox.

"She called her husband to come over and they kind of gave it a little kick," said Elliott. "They didn't know what was in it - an animal or whatever. And, it turned out to be a baby - which was me."

The story of Elliott, who initially went by the name Baby Marian prior to being adopted, made national headlines.

But, she doesn't believe the Stewarts' discovery was a Christmas Eve miracle.

"It's a little strange," Elliott said. "I think it was a set up."

Based on letters written by her adoptive mother, Faith Morrow, Elliott believes her biological mother was an Oklahoma teenager named Edna Sherman Roe – who appears to have died in a plane crash in 1951.

"I think my real mother might have known the Stewarts and my adopted mom may have been in on it too," said Elliott.

That's another twist to this story.

Elliott didn't find out she was adopted, and the infamous "Hatbox Baby," until her mother finally told her when she was 57.

"I was shocked, of course, wouldn't you be?" she said.

Despite the shock and unanswered questions, Elliott – who has a daughter, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren – insists she's had a wonderful life.

"Of course, I'd like to know, do I have more family - things like that," said Elliott.

But, if she never gets those answers, Elliott said she's okay with that.

"Oh, I don't care," she said. "It's so long ago - doesn't matter to me. I had a nice family. I grew up happy."

Elliott said Roe, the woman she believes was her biological mother, has a niece who lives in Tucson.

A DNA test could potentially answer the question about Elliott's heritage, once and for all.

But, for whatever reason, she said that woman doesn't want to help.

Copyright 2013 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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