HARTFORD, S.D. (KELO) — These days, with fast and cheap DNA testing and sites like Ancestry.com or 23 & Me, finding out your heritage is easier than ever. While it’s helped solve crimes and exonerate others, it’s also connecting biological families. But one man’s quest to connect with his blood relatives has not had a storybook ending.
You may never guess by looking at 59-year-old Linda Elhassy today that she was in a love triangle which produced a child.
“I wasn’t sleeping around,” Elhassy said.
For the last 39 years, Elhassy has always maintained there were only two men she was intimate with before her son B.J. was born in 1979. She says one of them was her senior prom date, Brent Davidson.
She says the other was a military man, 11 years her senior. She’d see Howard Jacobson when he came home to Lennox on leave.
“We were together on Christmas Eve night and to Christmas Day, and nine months later, I had a baby. Nine months and three days,” Elhassy said.
When B.J. was born, Elhassy did not fill in the name of his father on his birth certificate.
“I felt like you can’t put anybody down there unless you know with 100 percent certainty,” Elhassy said.
Not knowing who his father is has been something that Elhassy’s son B.J. Olson has struggled with for much of his life.
“You don’t really realize how many times you get asked who your father is until you don’t have one. So whether you’re at school with kids, at the doctor’s office, whether you’re filling out legal documents, everybody wants to know who your father is. And so do I,” Olson said.
So Olson set out to determine with DNA evidence which of the two men was his father. Both Jacobson and Davidson are now deceased. But Olson still wanted to know his roots.
“There was always this half of me that was missing,” Olson said.
After having children of his own, his desire to know the truth got even stronger.
“I saw this stuff for Ancestry.com and I thought, ‘Just maybe,'” Olson said.
So he got the kit and took the test. The results connected him directly to Howard Jacobson’s sister.
Kennecke: When you discovered that you were related to Howard’s sister, did you know immediately that was your dad?
Olson: Yes. For me, my dad was discovered and died in the same day.
Now you may think the story ends there. DNA tests showed with 99.9 percent accuracy that Howard Jacobson’s sister was Olson’s aunt. Mystery solved, but this was far from over. To understand what happened next, you have to go back to Olson’s birth when the state tried to find a responsible party for his medical bills. The Department of Social Services asked his mother who his father was.
“I told them Brent Davidson,” Elhassy said.
However, a 1979 blood test ruled out Davidson. Elhassy says she tried to call Jacobson to tell him he had a son.
“And I did and he kept hanging up on me. And I’d call again and he kept hanging up on me,” Elhassy said.
On the advice of a friend, she wrote a letter to Jacobson’s commanding officer and received this response saying the Army had told Mr. Jacobson to “settle the matter.” A short time later, Elhassy got another letter from an attorney saying Jacobson was not the father of her child and any communication needed to go through the lawyer’s office.
Elhassy: From that point on I was afraid. I didn’t have any money to fight him in any way.
Kennecke: So you just gave up?
Elhassy: I did give up. I did give up.
But just before Olson turned 18, in 1997, the State decided once again it would try to collect money for his childhood medical bills. Elhassy gave them Jacobson’s name. The Department of Social Services sued Jacobson for back child support and medical expenses.
“Right away, if you’re the lucky winner of being my father it comes with an $80,000 price tag, plus medical bills,” Olson said.
Jacobson took a paternity test in Huntsville, Alabama where he was stationed in 1997. Jacobson’s blood test came back that he was not the biological father of William Olson.
That same year, the hospital where Jacobson took the test was the subject of a federal fraud investigation.
We asked a geneticist how a 1997 blood tests compares with a modern day saliva test.
“I would certainly want to look at the procedures they used, how they did the test. But just the technology that’s available. Today versus 1997 is light years apart,” Dr. Robert Pyatt, Director of Sanford Medical Genetics Laboratory, said.
How the old blood test was done will remain a mystery because that hospital doesn’t even exist anymore. All new DNA tests point to Jacobson as Olson’s dad.
“You’ll learn who your relatives are, who you’re connected to, and that’s great. But there’s also other types of information that people might learn that aren’t necessarily that positive,” Pyatt said.
Olson discovered the downside when he reached out over social media to Heather Ulrich, Howard Jacobson’s daughter, to let her know tests indicate that she had a half-brother.
“I explained the situation. I explained the Ancestry.com. And I made sure to let her know, I’m not after any money or anything; I just want to know who I am. And within 22 minutes, she had responded to me with legal documents from 1997 that excluded her dead father as being my father,” Olson said
Not only that, Ulrich has filed a lawsuit in Texas for invasion of privacy against Olson for making the claim the Jacobson is his dad. Her attorney tells KELOLAND Investigates that Olson’s actions amount to cyber stalking. She’s asking for up to $50,000 in damages. Olson says Ulrich is not the only Jacobson family member to deny him.
“My paternal grandmother was our cleaning lady. My catcher on my baseball team is my cousin; a gal that sat behind me in class, another cousin; my grade school music teacher, an aunt. All of them want nothing to do with me,” Olson said.
Elhassy: He cheated us. Cheats don’t get away.
Kennecke: But he’s no longer living.
Elhassy: But his family is. His sister is. And the people of Lennox are. They all thought I was some kind of bad street woman having affairs and don’t know who the father is. I think it’s only fair. He wants justification for me and I want justification for him (Olson).
“I’m just trying to get a name on my birth certificate. 40 years with just one name on a birth certificate. This is an opportunity to change that,” Olson said.
Olson has started a Go Fund Me campaign to cover his legal costs, not only against the woman who he believes is his half-sister, but also to change the law in South Dakota to make paternity relevant after the age of 18, so he can change his birth certificate and get access to any of Howard Jacobson’s medical records.