The possible identification of a woman in a historic photograph may have solved a small mystery in Livermore -- and reunited a family estranged by tragedy for almost six decades.
A recent story in the Times-Herald profiled the new book "Livermore," a city history compiled by local historian John Christian and members of the Livermore Heritage Guild. The article featured a 1940s-era photo from the book showing a woman posed next to an old Livermore taxicab.
On the morning that article appeared, Dublin resident Richard Wilson was enjoying his morning routine of reading the paper in his car before starting work.
"I'm thumbing through the paper, and right at the top I see a picture of a lady sitting on a car," he said. "My eyes caught this picture and it says it's an unidentified woman around 1945. I'm looking at this picture and thinking that my mom's brother lived in Livermore, and damn, this looks like my mom."
The surprise of seeing the photo was bittersweet. Wilson's mother, Hazel Wilson, was shot to death in the family's Oakland home in December 1957, when Richard was 14. Thomas E. Purvis, a convicted killer, had met Hazel Wilson during his parole. He was arrested shortly after her death and convicted of her murder.
Convinced he was seeing his mother's photo, Wilson grabbed the phone and called his sister, Barbara Cabrera, of Castro Valley.
"I said, 'Barbara, are you sitting down? I'm looking at this picture, and I swear it's mom.' She got all excited, and I tell her I'm going to go down and buy another paper and send it to her." Calling his sister was not something Wilson had done frequently.
"Since 1957, since that time 56 years ago, in all that time I've probably seen my sister 12 times," he said. "And she lives in Castro Valley, only 15 miles away."
The siblings' separation began almost immediately after the death of their mother. Their father, Ernest, they said, turned to alcohol. The family moved to San Lorenzo, then back to Oakland. Richard, 14 at the time of the murder, and older brother Charles, 18 at the time, married young and moved out of the home. Young Barbara, was left on her own much of the time.
"I just kind of raised myself," she recalled.
At the age of 15, Cabrera went to live with her brother, Charles, and his wife. A few years later, she met and married Jamie Cabrera, her husband of 43 years. The couple moved to Castro Valley, where her father lived with them for a time. Barbara and brother Richard spoke rarely and briefly, their bond damaged by the trauma they'd lived though.
"It hurt my dad so bad, knowing his kids never spent time together," she recalled. "We never spent Christmas together, never a birthday or Thanksgiving. We just lived all these years separately."
Neither Richard nor Barbara have seen brother Charles since the day they buried their father two decades ago. They believe he still may live in the Bay Area, and hope to hear from him to complete the family reunion.
The black-and-white photo that started it all remains part of a collection housed with the Livermore Heritage Guild. Despite its inclusion in the book "Livermore" and multiple showings lately, no one else has come forward to identify the stylish young woman posed against a taxi. Guild members have compared the photo to images of Hazel Wilson, but so far can't confirm it's the same person, although her appearance and pose lend support to the idea.
"What's stunning is that in the photos (Richard Wilson) sent us, his mother is posed in two photos up against cars," said Loretta Kaskey, who coordinated the book project. "You never know the historic value of a photo at the time it's taken ... and here is a family where a photo definitely resonated with them."
Today Richard, 69, and his wife Corra, have two children and three grandchildren. Cabrera, 64, has three children, 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Both siblings believe the photo is of their mother, but can live with the remaining uncertainty.
"We may never know," Cabrera said. "I think this is from the Lord, a little joy ride, and I count it as a blessing whether it's her or it's not. It's brought us together. We can talk about things. We're not getting any younger."
Wilson agrees, and says the two will sit down together soon for a long-overdue visit.
"We've talked more in the past (few) weeks than we have in the past 56 years," he said excitedly. "We've got to compare notes on what's been going on in our lives."
Despite the tragedy, he's grateful for a life that includes the family he and his wife raised after the loss of his mother.
"That man took away from me -- and from my brother and sister -- our lives," he said. But "had this not happened ... I wouldn't have my two granddaughters, my grandson. It's like a coin that has two sides. But it was a hell of a price to pay."