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From newsrooms to living rooms, kidnapping stunned all

The day Steven Damman vanished from an East Meadow market in 1955, Joan Bookbinder remembers, terror invaded her life and that of countless young mothers.

Harvey Aronson, a Newsday staff writer working that day, recalled that many believed the little boy was killed, probably by someone close to him.

And the lead reporter on the sensational suburban kidnapping story, Richard Estrin, said he sat somewhat speechless in Jerry and Marilyn Damman's home as the couple waited for word, any word, about their son's whereabouts.

- Click here to see the latest photos, and exclusive photos from our archives, in the controversy over a Long Island toddler missing since 1955

In living rooms and newsrooms, the story of little Steven's disappearance stun-ned and frightened Long Islanders unaccustomed to such a brazen crime as they raised families and told the stories of Long Island life in the 1950s.

Inside Newsday's Garden City offices, editors and reporters were stunned by the kidnapping and remained suspicious.

"Everybody was sure he was dead, was sure he was murdered," Aronson said.

For journalists, the case of the missing boy had all the ingredients of a good story: emotion, suspense, danger and loads of human interest.

For young mothers, accustomed to feeling safe and secure in the growing mid-'50s suburbs of Long Island, the kidnapping was a chilling wake-up call.

"We all left babies in carriages," Bookbinder, 81, of East Meadow, said Tuesday. "The carriages would be lined up outside the supermarket. At the time we never thought about it. We never worried about it."

That changed after Steven disappeared.

Steven's mother, Marilyn Damman, left the toddler and his infant sister outside the Food Fair market at Front Street and Merrick Avenue while she went inside to shop. When Marilyn Damman came out, about 10 minutes later, her children were gone. Steven was presumed kidnapped but his little sister, Pamela, was found unharmed in her stroller nearby.

Until Steven's disappearance, child kidnapping was unheard of, Bookbinder said Tuesday at the site, now a Waldbaum's, where Steven, nearly 3 years old, was last seen Oct. 31, 1955.

"All I remember were the fears amongst the mothers," Bookbinder recalled. "We changed our ways of shopping."

From that day on, Bookbinder said she and other young mothers pushed their baby strollers inside the markets or shopped only when someone was looking after their children at home.

More than five decades later, there may finally be a break in the case. A Michigan man has contacted Nassau police to tell them he may be the little boy who disappeared in front of the East Meadow market.

"I always thought about it and wondered what happened to that boy," Bookbinder said. "I hope it is that boy."

- Click here to see the latest photos, and exclusive photos from our archives, in the controversy over a Long Island toddler missing since 1955

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