By Michael Eng
Features Editor

Photo by: Michael Eng
East County's Linda Hammer hosts a weekly radio show and Web site dedicated to reuniting people with their loved ones.

It is Saturday afternoon, and hundreds of cars are chasing each other down Fruitville Road. Some vehicles contain entire families, others just an individual out for a shopping trip. Sarasota is at-best an average-size city, but the chances of seeing the person sitting in the car next to you again are paper-thin.

Less than a mile away, Linda Hammer prepares for another show at WTMY 1280 AM’s East County station. Tucked away on Hammock Place of 17th Street, the modest station looks more like a home, and unless you know to look for it, you could drive past without ever knowing.

Each week from this remote location, Linda spends an hour reuniting friends, family and lost lovers from the millions of nooks comprising the world. Known as The Seeker, she uses her background as a private investigator to sift the globe, not for criminals but for missing loved ones.

Since starting The Seeker as a Web site in 1994, Linda has experienced the best and worst of humanity. She’s seen adopted children finally meet their birth parents after decades of separation, lost love rekindled after other marriages failed. But, she’s also watched as searches only reveal horrid and unexpected truths.

“The saddest stories are the ones where I found the person someone was looking for through the Social Security Death Index,” she says. “Especially when I find that they recently passed away. People should look as soon as they can, before it is too late.”

This past Sunday, Linda launched her show on board the Regal Empress cruise ship. For at least the next four months, Hammer will broadcast daily throughout her travels from Tampa to Mexico, Key West, New York, Bermuda, Canada, Martha’s Vineyard and Maine. If successful, Linda may stay out even longer.

Probing history

Linda’s knack for people hunting stems from her career first as a process server for the Sarasota State Attorney’s Office and later as a private investigator for insurance companies in Texas.

“Searching for people is second nature to me and pretty much any process server,” she says. “But, I saw a need to help people find missing friends and relatives and not just dead-beat dads, people being sued or people who defraud insurance companies. I was tired of clearing out rooms when I walked in; I wanted to do something good.”

But, Linda’s idea for The Seeker didn’t surface until she needed to find someone, too.

“I wanted to get back in touch with John Duffy, an old friend of mine,” she says. “One night, I was listening to Casey Casum’s show and thought, ‘What if I could make an announcement on Casey Casum’s show that Linda Hammer was looking for John Duffy?’”

Linda relocated to Sarasota, and with the help of her sister and associate producer Karen Paez, launched The Seeker Web site in 1994. A year later, she debuted as The Seeker on the radio.

Closure

Linda’s Web site is a free resource compiling hundreds of search engines, records departments and phone books from across the globe. Most of the time, these searchable databases are enough to reunite people in minutes. Or, in some cases, unite parents with their children for the first time .

Before using Hammer’s site, Karen Dunn’s father was nothing more than imaginary. The daughter of a traveling military man, Dunn had never met her father and was sure he had no idea she even existed. Dunn started her search from Hammer’s ‘Militarily Seeking’ category. The site connected her with a another person – a military friend of her father’s – who was also looking for him.

“One morning at about 7 a.m., I got a phone call,” Dunn says. “He told me his name, and at first it didn’t sink in. Then, when it registered, I flew out of my bed in wonder. By that weekend, we met. I look just like him. We were both in awe of this whole thing. He had no idea that I existed. He said if he had known, he would have taken me and raised me. Since this all took place, we have really bonded. I’m so much like him. Now my life is complete.”

Linda’s site boasts hundreds of reunion stories from users – most from adopted children who found their birthparents. But, every so often, a reunion story is so extraordinary that even Linda can’t forget it.


A German man used Linda's Web site to reunite this postcard,
sent in 1938, with the sender's widow 63 years later.

From Germany, Fred Bolle used Linda’s site to reunite a postcard sent in 1938 with the sender’s widow, a resident of Pompano Beach. A boy named Helmut sent the card from Cuba to his parents in Germany. Sixty-three years later, it resurfaced in an old book in Bolle’s collection. Linda helped Bolle locate the sender’s widow, and the two have since become friends.

“They aren’t all positive stories, though,” Linda says. “I hear stories that will break your heart, and it does drain on me. But it’s those tear-jerking reunions that keep me going.”

Plans

Although Linda’s site went from 25,000 to one million hits in 41 days – a statistic that gives her concrete tenure in the Web industry, Linda’s ultimate goal is to make searching obsolete.

“I’m a big advocate of doctors taking and keeping DNA samples from every child born,” she says. “These kind of records would make it so easy to keep track and identify people. The Tomb of the Unkown Soldier wouldn’t exist. As extensive as my site is, you can’t open a record that doesn’t exist.”

But, until then, Linda plans to keep her site and the show up and running.

“I can’t possibly help them all, but I’m just a huge billboard out there to remind people that anybody can be found,” she says. “It’s just a matter of time.”

For more information, visit Linda’s Web site at www.the-seeker.com. The Seeker radio show can be heard locally at 2 p.m. daily on WTMY 1280 AM or on the Internet at www.LangCoLive365.com.

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