In 1966, Chicago police were dispatched to an apartment in Uptown.
The first thing officers noticed upon entering the apartment, just west of Montrose Beach at 4525 N. Clifton Ave., was the stench. It was overwhelming.
More shocking were the three nearly naked, extremely pale children they found in the kitchen, the floor of which was covered in newspapers and human waste, the Chicago Daily News reported in July 1966.
The siblings — two girls, ages 3 and 2, and a 12-year-old boy — had been locked inside.
Their parents, Martin and Faye Drago — both of whom had drinking problems, according to their son — were arrested. The children were scrubbed with detergent before being taken away. During the rinse, hair began to fall off the head of one child because of malnourishment.
The eldest child, Richard Davis, Faye’s son with a previous husband, had protected and cared for his toddler sisters, Christine and Martina, during their monthslong captivity.
Their lives, however, would soon split.
The girls were adopted by a loving family. Another caring family adopted Richard. But over the course of his life — as he went to college, married and became a schoolteacher in Florida — Richard never stopped thinking about his sisters.
It’s ironic that a habit of watching TV that Richard acquired while locked in that dank apartment as a child — when Bozo the Clown and Garfield Goose kept him company — would ultimately lead him back to his sisters, he said recently in an interview.
Richard and his wife, Renee, began watching a reality TV show over the summer that featured investigator Troy Dunn’s quest to locate and reunite long-lost loved ones.
Richard emailed Dunn, who took the case for free in hopes that the story would be compelling enough to air on his show, “Last Hope with Troy Dunn,” on the UP cable channel.
“It ended up being the most amazing case I’ve ever taken,” Dunn said in a recent interview.
Dunn used news reports from the Chicago Daily News as initial pieces of a puzzle that his team of investigators began to quickly put together.
On Sept. 12, two weeks after taking the case, Richard, Christine and Martina all walked into a restaurant near Miami, Florida, and embraced.
An advance copy of the episode was provided to the Sun-Times.
“If it wasn’t for you, we wouldn’t be here,” said Christine, 52.
“I prayed that you were looking for us,” said Martina, 53.
The sisters live in Tennessee and have families of their own.
“I’m so glad to see you guys, I cannot tell you!” Richard said.
Dunn’s search also revealed that Martin and Faye Drago, who allowed their children to wallow in filth, fled Chicago after making bail in 1966 — only to later return to the city and begin a new life. The couple had two sons, Tony and Marty. The boys, who — in stark contrast — had a loving upbringing, also were at the reunion.
The difference in the way the two sets of siblings were raised was a tough pill to swallow for the two sisters, who still trace strange quirks they’ve carried into adulthood to their childhood days. For Martina, it’s a tendency to frequently ask her kids if they’re hungry. On the show, Christine said she tends to buy too many clothes for her kids.
Police arrived at the door of Martin and Faye Drago in 1966 after their apartment came to attention of rodent control inspectors and health department officials who wanted to fumigate the place. The Dragos were uncooperative.
Martin and Faye are long dead, and Richard harbors no anger toward them. He’s simply happy to know his family.
“The five of us are working on trying to get together and spend a few days around New Year’s,” Richard told the Sun-Times this week.
The episode of “Last Hope with Troy Dunn” will air at 8 p.m. Thursday night on the UP cable channel; more information also can be found online at UPtv.com.