Bill Otis and his half-brother Kevin Sewell
Half-brothers Kevin Sewell, 55 and Bill Otis, 64, pose in front of their matching 1999 Dodge pick-ups.
Brother found after 50-year search
Reunion ends long, twisted family drama
—Levi Hill, Hobbs News-Sun
For 50 years, Bill Otis conducted a maddening search, scouring newspapers and phone books, writing letters to the Department of Defense and Social Security Administration, and paying hundreds of dollars to Internet people finder sites in hopes of finding his lost little brother.
For those same 50 years, Kevin Sewell lived right here in the Southwest, unaware that anyone had devoted their life to looking for him.
Tuesday the two men embraced each other for the first time as brothers as tears streamed from their eyes.
“It filled a void I didn’t even know I had,” Sewell said. “I feel sorry for Bill and all those years he searched. That had to be hell.”
“My biggest fear was I was going to die before this ever happened,” Otis said. “I couldn’t stand thinking that he was out there knowing he had family, and they never came looking for him.”
However, Kevin, 55, only had the vaguest idea that he might have undiscovered family in the world. He grew up with a foster family and was never told of the brother and sister he last saw when he was just 4 years old.
“I thought I probably had family out there, but it never really occurred to me that it was like this,” he said.
The story of Kevin Sewell and his older siblings, Bill and sister Andrea Otis, 62, is long and twisted and one that exemplifies a world before cell phones and the Internet.
It began in 1955 in San Mateo, California.
Bill and Andrea’s father left when the children were young, and for a short time, their mother married a Hispanic man named Arthur Torres. The result was Kevin, but within months, Arthur also disappeared, and the children’s mother was diagnosed with stomach cancer.
Doctors gave their mother no hope of survival. Thinking time was short, she sent Bill, then 9 years old, and Andrea to a boarding school, and Kevin was given to a neighboring elderly couple who had never been able to have children.
The couple, Sis and Tex Sewell, adopted Kevin and raised him. Four years after the children were separated, their mother was still alive, and Bill and Andrea returned home. Both of them met their younger brother, but were never fully told why they had been separated, and Kevin was never told the two were his siblings.
“The last day I saw him, we were out on the lawn playing and then my mom coming and me having to get in the car and watching him wave and call my name. I cried because I wanted to stay with him,” Andrea said via phone Friday.
The Sewell family moved across town shortly after Bill and Andrea’s return, and it wasn’t long until Bill joined the military and left for Vietnam.
Three years later, Bill returned home to find the Sewells had left San Mateo and no one knew where they had gone. It had been during those three years that Kevin’s adopted parents had both died, and he was sent to relatives of his adoptive family in Texas, without ever being told he had siblings.
“I think they would have told me eventually, when they thought I was old enough,” Kevin said. “But they both died before they could tell me.”
Kevin’s relatives didn’t keep him long before leaving him at a boy’s ranch, where he stayed until he turned 18.
Kevin had disappeared so completely that neither Bill nor Andrea could find him, and it started Bill on a search that would occupy much of the next 50 years.
Bill Otis was desperate to find his younger brother. The separation of his family pained him deeply, and perhaps it was partly the anger he felt at losing his brother that drove him so hard in his search.
“It is almost impossible to lose someone, so I thought,” Bill said. “I knew the name of his parents. I knew his family was from Texas. It may take me a little while, but I thought, ‘I can do this.’”
He went as far as hiring a Los Angeles police investigator to search for his brother but to no avail. He would travel to Texas and pick up phone books, looking for the Sewell name. He called dozens of Sewell families and wrote letters to every government agency he could think of that may have a record of his brother.
He searched like that for nearly 35 years and then came the advent of the Internet.
“I probably looked for him four times a year,” Bill said. “I would search for him a while and give up, and then after a few months, I would start all over again.”
Bill spent thousands of dollars on people finder Web sites, paying $30 fees for information on Kevin M. Sewell, but none of them panned out.
“I have spent enough looking for him that I could take all of us on a trip to Hawaii,” Bill said.
It wasn’t until a few weeks ago when he had several moments of enlightenment that his search began to bear fruit.
Bill shifted his search to New Mexico and searched for all “Sewells,” not just his brother. One Web site brought up the name of Kevin’s wife, Tempi Sewell. The moment he saw the name, something struck Bill.
“I can’t explain it,” he said. “I just knew in my heart I was close when I found Tempi’s name. It was the first time ever I found any additional piece of information about him.”
The Web site listed Kevin M. Sewell as Tempi’s relative, and Bill gladly paid the fee to get more information about her. He found where the couple lived in Placitas and their phone number, but when he called the number, no one answered.
He did another search and found a list of homes in the same area and neighbors and called the closest one, who told him Kevin and Tempi had moved to the Hobbs area several months earlier. However, the neighbor didn’t have a number for Kevin, but thought a real estate agent in the Placitas area might.
She asked Bill to call back the next day, and she would try to find a number for Kevin. “My wife called information, and they said the number was unlisted,” Bill said. “I was going to take a bull horn and drive around Hobbs trying to find Kevin. I was that determined to find him.”
Later that day, Bill called the former neighbor a second time and was told his phone number had been passed to Kevin and to expect a call. The next 12 hours were some of the longest in Bill’s life as he waited for Kevin to call.
When the call came, Kevin planned to tell Bill he had the wrong Kevin Sewell. “The only reason I called him was to tell him he had the wrong guy,” he said. “I thought he had to be crazy. I waited until the next day to call because I didn’t want to tell him I wasn’t his brother that late at night.”
Kevin didn’t get a chance to tell Bill they weren’t brothers.
Bill dominated the conversation, naming off the things he knew about Kevin’s past before Kevin could give him the news.
“When he said my parents’ names, I knew it was true,” Kevin said. “We just cried. There were no words for a long time. We just cried.”
That phone call was two weeks to the day the pair sat down for an interview, and both still couldn’t hold back the tears when describing how their lives have changed.
“It has been pretty overwhelming,” Kevin said. “I have been talking to my sister in Pennsylvania. I will get to meet her soon. I am not even sure how it has changed my life. It is all still just sinking in. I like it. I am looking forward to meeting everyone. I have heard some great stories, and I understand I have some really remarkable past relatives.”
“Until two weeks ago, my wife didn’t understand why I wasn’t as close to my family as she is with hers,” Bill said. “In two weeks, I have gone from not understanding why my wife is so close to her family to seeing it as perfectly normal. It fills a void.”
“It is the most wonderful thing in the world,” Andrea adds as she listens to the pair via telephone. “I want to scream it out to the world. Our family is a whole family again. I never thought I would get to see him before I died.”
The Odds and Ins
Perhaps the oddest thing about the long disconnect between the siblings is how much the brothers have in common.
Both went on to jobs in construction—Bill an engineer and Kevin a contractor. Both are animal lovers and dog owners.
And perhaps oddest of all is in 1999, both bought new 1999 Dodge Ram 1500 pickups in identical cherry red paint. Kevin and Tempi already have plans to visit Bill and wife Sue in California later this summer and spent several weeks meeting the 25 cousins, 50 second cousins, and dozen or so third cousins Kevin never knew he had. That’s not to mention the in-laws of all those relatives and Bill and Sue’s friends.
“I have planned a barbecue at the house, and all my friends are asking if they can come meet my brother,” Bill said.
The journey is complete for Bill and Andrea. More than 50 years after they last saw their little brother, they are reconnecting and making whole their lives.
A journey still remains for Kevin, but it is one he isn’t sure how to approach. He still has another half-brother on his father’s side, and perhaps several other siblings he has never met.
“I haven’t even thought about that,” he said when asked if he would look for them. “Bill said I have at least another half-brother that we know about. I think I would like to meet him.”
There are many archeological sites in and around Placitas. These sites may soon be classified as an area of critical environmental concern; further protecting the rich history in known and unknow locations.
We have been here before
Before the first pyramid was built in Egypt, before there was wine or use of the wheel, there were people living in Placitas. People not terribly unlike ourselves. Waking in the morning to the sun over east mountain. Watching the moon set beside Cabezon while listening to the baritone woofing of our great-horned owls, the manic coloratura of our coyotes. Men and women earning their livelihoods, raising their children, making their tools and clothing and art, dying, and returning to the ground beneath their—and our—feet.
How do we know this? The way that, 12,000 years from now, our very-great grandchildren will know we were here: by the traces we are leaving behind.
Archeologist Rebecca Procter last month completed a review of known archeological sites in the area for the Las Placitas Association [LPA]. She found close to 300 such sites—Sandia Cave being the best-known—entered in the state registry and is certain there are many others known only to locals or as yet undiscovered.
“The Placitas area comprises a unique New Mexico cultural-resource landscape, in that all known human occupations in New Mexico are represented within it,” Procter says. “From the Paleoindian period [as far back as 10,000 BCE] to the present, human beings have lived on this land. All human occupations between these periods are represented here, though not all are yet equally well documented or understood.”
How do these traces speak to us? In many ways. A petroglyph of a macaw, a Caribbean native, tells us Placitas lay along a trade route extending south to that sea. The foundation stones of field houses tell of standing architecture—hence more permanent human presence —at these places. Equally important, says Procter, is our new appreciation of the relationships amongst all sites.
“We now appreciate that we must consider the total cultural landscape adequately to understand past human systems. Regardless of a lack of visual impressiveness, small, ephemeral sites have very important information to contribute to science. It is not possible to understand the full range of activities of pre-ceramic Archaic peoples by focusing only on long-term campsites in watered locations. One must also know what these same people were doing at hunting sites or at stone tool source sites in the uplands.”
Of course. Any one of our homes says only so much about the life we lead. To more completely appreciate that life, we need also to understand the role of many other places: the post office, the church, “the Merc.”
Recent decades have brought unprecedented human presence to Placitas. Three thousand households now share the place with its perennial populations of bobcat, bear, and wild mustangs. For the last 20 years, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has been leasing 170 acres just north of the residential area to a French strip-mining company. Our newest contributions to the archeological record are orders of magnitude greater than the “small, ephemeral sites” our very-great grandparents left behind.
In an effort to preserve evidence of the ancient life ways in the area, LPA is calling upon the BLM to designate land it manages near Placitas an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC). BLM is currently developing a new 20-year plan for this land, and LPA believes its classification as an ACEC will provide the best wraparound protection for its flora, fauna, and archeological riches. “This designation would provide an appropriate level of protection for surviving cultural resources, as well as preserve the scenic and wildlife habitat qualities of these lands,” explains LPA’s Reid Bandeen. “Activities such as mineral extraction and motorized off-road vehicle use in these areas would be prohibited. By limiting future damage to these sites, BLM will be acting in accord with its mandate to adequately address the conservation of these irreplaceable resources and ensure their availability to future generations.”
Information on BLM’s planning process is available at the Rio Puerco field office Web site: www.blm.gov/nm/st/en/fo/Rio_Puerco_Field_Office/about_the_rmp.html.