Oh, Baby Baby

There's a lot of money to be made in adoptions. Jennalee Ryan moved to Texas to continue doing that.

Eighteen days later, same paper: Potter-Clay's protest was called off, but she and others have formed an organization that will somehow "target" the deadbeat dads. Potter-Clay, who has eight children, is described as being "the owner of a successful adoption agency in Lake Elsinore and the producer of inspirational programs for television."

Two years later, August 1999, same paper: Potter-Clay, of Murrieta, "founder and president of the advocacy group Thursday's Child," is interviewed for a story on the county's weak job of enforcing child-support collections.

Eight days later, Rocky Mountain News (Denver): Jennifer Potter-Clay, the spokeswoman for a "southern California production company" called Silver Spoon Productions, is seeking heartwarming stories for an upcoming series called "The Good News."

"We Listen, We Care, We Help, But We're in Utah."
"We Listen, We Care, We Help, But We're in Utah."
Ryan says she divorced her most recent husband, but divorce records could not be found.
Courtesy of Linda McDonald
Ryan says she divorced her most recent husband, but divorce records could not be found.

"We are here to listen and report good news, 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Potter-Clay says. She gives the company's address in Lake Elsinore.

This is the last appearance of Jennifer Potter-Clay. In a few months, she will cease to exist.

When she's reborn as Jenna Ryan of Temecula, she's not so interested in good news. She has been interviewing inmates of an Alabama prison for her documentary, Inside the Criminal Mind, which is narrated by attorney and true-crime author Vincent Bugliosi. Ryan figured, who else better than the man who prosecuted Charles Manson and cowrote Helter Skelter to narrate her crawl into the crevices of warped minds?

She enters and places second in the Temecula Valley International Film Festival. Now she wants to go to Cannes. She tells the paper that Suzanne Blum, a distributor in Los Angeles, has shown an interest in the documentary. Blum told the Press she was briefly interested in the documentary and that Bugliosi did indeed narrate the film. Bugliosi left the Press a voice mail saying he could not recall the name Jenna Ryan, and suggested contacting his agent if there were any follow-up questions. (After an initial conversation, the agent did not return multiple calls and e-mails.)

"I'm not into glorifying criminals," Ryan tells a reporter for the Press-Enterprise in 2001. "Most are not bad, but what they [have done] is. Every person is capable of crime. For instance, if you are starving, you may steal or even kill."

Her research, the article states, "shows that many who commit crime demonstrated troubled behavior as children."

Thirty-odd years before Jenna Ryan is born, little Jennifer Potter is in Los Angeles County, engaging in one of her pastimes: wishing someone would adopt her.

Between her dad's beatings and her schizophrenic mother's drug addiction, Jennifer is having trouble coping.

And now, the woman named Jennalee Ryan recalls what little Jennifer Potter went through:

"Anywhere I went, I'd, like, look at people...normal people, and just wish and wish and wish that they would adopt me and take me out of the hell that I was in," she says from her home in San Antonio. She figures her interest in adoption sprang from that.

"Psychologically, it's maybe I'm able to rescue [kids], you know," she says, "...and I look at Angelina Jolie, and I kind of see the same thing with her."

Ryan's father, Gerald Potter, is as casual with names as his daughter. He goes by Jediah, or, as his answering machine up near Klamath Falls, Oregon, states, "Jediah the Great." It is difficult to tell if it's tongue-in-cheek.

Jediah denies beating Jennifer. Spanking, sure. But, he says, "I'm a firm believer in ‘spare the rod, spoil the child.'" He says he has "no concept" of why Ryan would say such things, but he hardly sounds troubled by it. "What could one do about it?" he asks.

He's more concerned if these Tales of the Belt originated with Ryan's sister, Linda McDonald, who lives in Riverside County. When told that Ryan vividly described incidents such as Jediah yanking her out of bed by her hair and throwing her to the kitchen floor, ordering her to scrub it on her hands and knees, Jediah still had the feeling that McDonald might be behind it all. He did not suspect his son, Kurt, or his other daughter, Jeanne, neither of whom returned calls seeking comment for this story.

No, there was something about McDonald. Jediah and McDonald don't talk much. And Ryan and McDonald have not spoken in about five years.

This may all be because McDonald considers her sister a sociopath.

"She fits the same exact criteria: the lying, the constantly being in trouble, the lack of empathy," McDonald says, later adding, "If you know anything about sociopaths, they excel in bullshit." When Ryan sought to adopt three kids, McDonald, troubled by Ryan's management of her five biological children, claims she urged state adoption authorities to deny Ryan's request.

But the adoptions were approved. And, in 1993, the Angelina Jolie-like rescuing began in earnest.

That year, Ryan (still Jennifer Potter) incorporated A Silver Spoon Adoptions. It was one of the first adoption facilitation services, which originated in California, and — to the distaste of most licensed adoption agencies — spread to states with facilitation-friendly laws, or, better yet, no facilitation laws at all. A facilitator is basically a baby-broker, earning a fee for matching a birth mother with adoptive parents. The overhead is low and the client base is high.

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