GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. — The message arrived in the inbox of Maia Emmons-Boring’s Ancestry.com account shortly before midnight on the last day of 2018.
“It looks like we’re close matches, so I’m assuming we’re half-siblings,” wrote the stranger. Emmons-Boring quietly removed herself from the New Year’s Eve party and began researching the reliability of Ancestry’s DNA testing.
It had to be a scam, she thought.
Ten months and several Ancestry.com matches later, Emmons-Boring said she knows that’s not true. The man she assumed was her father for nearly four decades is not, in fact, her father.
The truth, it would seem, is far more complex.
According to a recently filed lawsuit, Emmons-Boring now alleges her biological father is the very doctor who, in the late 1970s, was hired by her mother to help her conceive using artificial insemination. Instead of using an anonymous sperm donor — as he told Emmons-Boring’s mother he would — the lawsuit maintains the doctor secretly used his own sperm.
The lawsuit, filed Monday Oct. 28, states:
“Instead of using ‘fresh’ sperm from an anonymous donor to inseminate Mrs. Emmons during these procedures, Dr. Jones used his own ‘fresh’ sperm to artificially inseminate Plaintiff Mrs. Emmons.”
An expanding list of newly discovered half-siblings — people born between 1976 and 1997 — has led Emmons-Boring to suspect she’s hardly the only person who deserves an explanation from Dr. Paul Brennan Jones of Grand Junction.
The lawsuit maintains Emmons-Boring and her sister have at least five previously unknown half-siblings. The sisters claim they’ve been contacted by as many as 3 more individuals who have been linked to the women through DNA.
“I feel [Jones] needs to own up to what he did,” Emmons-Boring told 9Wants to Know in her home in San Antonio, Texas. “I would like to ask him, ‘Why? Why did you do this?’”
It is a question Jones does not appear eager to answer, at least not right now.
“I don’t deny it. I don’t admit it,” he said while standing in the driveway of his home in Grand Junction.
Asked if he fathered these children, Jones replied, “That’s an impertinent question.”
Asked why it was impertinent, Jones said, “Because I’m not going to answer it.”
‘When Maia told me, I was like, ‘What?’’
Jones received his license to practice medicine in Colorado on July 11, 1972.
This year, at the age of 80, he renewed his license once again.
A quick review of Colorado state records indicates he has not received any discipline or medical board actions on his license during his 47-year tenure as a physician.
Women’s Health Care of Western Colorado calls him a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist, as well as an original founder of the practice in 1972.
His only review on Vitals.com includes a perfect five-out-of-five stars. Vitals.com is a website where patients can review their doctors.
In short, there’s nothing publicly available that would indicate anything other than a stellar record for a doctor whose online biography indicates he also served as a U.S. Navy flight surgeon during the Vietnam War.
Cheryl Emmons met Jones in Grand Junction in the late 1970s. At the time, she wanted nothing more than to be a mother, but there was a problem. Her husband had recently gone through a difficult bout with testicular cancer, and the two were worried they’d simply remain unable to conceive.
She says Jones assured her he would use an anonymous sperm donation. At the time, freezing sperm – while possible – wasn’t exactly commonplace. Instead, doctors would frequently rely on “fresh samples” given maybe 30 minutes before the mother’s visit.
“[Jones] said there were medical students, you know, at St. Mary’s [Medical Center], and so, anyway, one thing led to another and we said, ‘OK,’” Emmons said.
In 1980, Emmons gave birth to Maia.
Jones even helped deliver the baby girl.
Five years later, after assisting the family with artificial insemination once again, Jones returned to help deliver Maia’s sister Tahnee.
“We have pictures. Maia has them now,” recalled Emmons. “[Jones] took some pictures of all of us, you know, in the delivery room.”
In the years that followed, Jones periodically would send letters to the family. After she and her family moved to California, Emmons said they randomly ran into Jones at a mall. He was kind and made a point of saying hello to Maia.
“I really thought he was doing a good thing for me and my sweet husband,” Emmons said.
There was only one thing that bothered her, she said. When visiting Jones’ office in Grand Junction, she said, “He never included my husband [John Emmons] in anything, and I thought that was odd.”
Jones did tell the couple to go home that night “and make love so that they would not know if the conceived child was from the anonymous donor...” according to the lawsuit.
In the end, she decided not to tell Maia or Tahnee about the sperm donation. Looking back, she said, it seemed possible – if not exactly probable – that her husband was still their father.
It was a story she continued to tell herself right up until the moment Maia and Tahnee confronted her with a list surprising half-sibling matches discovered via Ancestry.com.
“When Maia told me, I was like, ‘What?’” Emmons said.
‘Our world got turned upside down’
Maia Emmons-Boring’s New Year’s Eve message on Ancestry.com didn’t just inform her that she and the messenger were half-siblings. It contained even more information that shook her to her core.
“My father was a sperm donor in Grand Junction, Colorado,” the message said. “I’ve found three more half-sisters and a half-brother who’s [sic] parents also used the donor at the same clinic.”
She was skeptical at first and immediately looked up the accuracy of Ancestry.com results. What she found online suggested to her the message was almost certainly not a hoax.
Emmons-Boring decided to text her sister.
“Everything ok?” wrote Tahnee Scott.
“Honestly, no. I’m freaked out over something,” replied Emmons-Boring.
“What the heck?! Is it mom?” wrote Scott.
“Yes and no. Nothing you’d expect,” replied Emmons-Boring.
Emmons-Boring then proceeded to tell Scott over the phone the Ancestry.com revelation. They agreed they needed to see their mom.
“At first [our mom] said, ‘No,’ and then my dad, who is very quiet and reserved, he says — he kind of interrupted her — he said, ‘Yes, we used a sperm donor to conceive you and Tahnee,’” Emmons-Boring said.
“Our world got turned upside down more or less,” Scott said.
And that world was not yet done turning.
As the days and weeks went by, Emmons-Boring found more and more “close matches” on Ancestry, as well as 23andme.com. When Scott tested her DNA, her results came back to show both she and Emmons-Boring – both conceived via artificial insemination – also shared the same father.
Emmons-Boring was born in 1980; Scott was born in 1985.
Armed with new information, Emmons-Boring set out on trying to figure out who their father was. Using resources available online, Emmons-Boring said it didn’t take her too long to come to a conclusion.
“It took me about three weeks,” she said.
In March, her attorney requested a genealogy report from Colorado-based certified genealogist Kathleen Hinckley. Using a public family tree posted by Jones’ brother, Hinckley found what she believed to be a common ancestor between Emmons-Boring and Jones.
It was a second cousin of Jones whose DNA was already in the 23andme.com database. That second cousin shared a substantive amount of DNA with Emmons-Boring, according to Hinckley’s report.
“Based on this genetic relationship, it appears the half-siblings may be the biological children of Paul [Jones]or [his brother],” wrote Hinckley.
When contacted by 9Wants to Know, Jones’ brother – a physician currently living in Boulder – said he couldn’t have supplied the sperm because he moved from Grand Junction in 1972.
“I was a sperm donor though, but that was in 1971. So, it couldn’t be me,” he said. 9Wants to Know is choosing not to name the brother as he is not named in the lawsuit.
Through the use of Ancestry.com and 23andme.com, Emmons-Boring and Scott have now found at least eight others they say are their half-siblings.
9Wants to Know spoke to three of them, as well as to each of their mothers. The others have chosen to remain anonymous.
‘I don’t want to have any incriminating evidence against me’
Jones will not say publicly if he is or is not the father of Maia Emmons-Boring, Tahnee Scott or any of the additional half-siblings.
When 9Wants to Know approached him at his Grand Junction home, he said, “My attorney says don’t talk to the press.” He has so far refused to take a DNA test for Maia Emmons-Boring.
When asked if he would consider doing one, he first said, “No.”
Asked why not, he said, “Because I don’t want to have any incriminating evidence against me.”
Jones later suggested he might be willing to consider taking a DNA test if Emmons-Boring would consider dropping her lawsuit against him.
“I would, yes, I would clear this up for them, but not at this time,” he said.
Crystal McPheeters, born in Colorado in 1984, is one of many who said she now feels Jones needs clear this up.
Currently living in Springfield, Oregon, McPheeters was the one who sent Emmons-Boring that New Year’s Eve message. Unlike Emmons-Boring, McPheeters had known from an early age that she was a baby born thanks to artificial insemination.
What she didn’t know, until this year, was who her father might be.
“It was always in the back of my mind. Maybe I’d find him one day,” she said.
Her mother, Diane McPheeters, said Jones also told her he would use an anonymous sperm donation.
“That it would be a medical student or somebody studying at the university there,” Diane McPheeters said. “I had to leave $75 for the donor.”
“People were a little more squeamish about doing something like artificial insemination back then,” she added. “It was kind of a new thing.”
But she didn’t mind.
“I really was desperate to have another baby,” she said.
When Emmons-Boring informed Crystal McPheeters that her father might be Jones, Crystal McPheeters said, “I felt sick. I thought I was going to puke.”
“If it was supposed to be an anonymous donor, it really should have been an anonymous donor,” Diane McPheeters said.
Ryan Gray was born in 1983 and now lives in Broomfield.
His wife, Kari, bought him an Ancestry.com DNA kit for Father’s Day.
“I thought it would be really awesome to do,” she said.
When the “close matches” started to show up on his profile, Gray knew something had to be up. “It was very weird. It was very weird to see that.”
Eventually, Emmons-Boring and he linked up. It was Emmons-Boring who informed Gray that Jones, thanks to Emmons-Boring and Gray’s shared DNA, might very well be his father as well.
“It was just mind blowing. Why would someone do that? I don’t know,” Gray said. “I feel sorry for my mom and my dad because they had no idea either.”
Patty Gray, Ryan Gray’s mother, currently lives in Casper, Wyoming.
“Never, ever did [Jones] tell me that he would be the donor,” Patty Gray said. “I would have remembered, because I would have left.”
“Here is a doctor who is supposed to be a professional, somebody you have trust in,” she added. “He owes all of us an explanation.”
Shawna Hults lives in Piedmont, South Dakota. “It’s right outside of Rapid City,” she said. She was told early on that she had been donor conceived.
But neither she nor her mother had any suspicion, until this year, that her mother’s fertility doctor might be Hults’ father.
“I want to know why. I want to know how many times he did it. I want to know his medical history,” Hults said. “That’s what I want out of all of this.”
“If we would have stayed in Grand Junction, we could have been marrying our brothers and sisters, which is kind of disgusting to me,” she added.
“This isn’t what I had in mind for my daughter,” said her mother, Charlene Madsen.
Denver attorney Patrick Fitz-Gerald represents many of the siblings and, on Monday, helped file a lawsuit on behalf of Emmons-Boring and her mother against Jones.
“Sometimes we have to bring a case to court that the court has never seen before in order to forge new territory,” Fitz-Gerald said.
“We asked him to provide a sample of his DNA which, of course, could rule him out if it was not the case,” he added. “[Jones and his attorney] have not even told us no.”
9Wants to Know has repeatedly reached out to Jones’ attorney for comment. The numerous inquiries have, to date, gone ignored.
‘The thought of meeting these other people is kind of terrifying’
If proven true, this is not the first case of a doctor secretly using his own sperm in a fertility treatment environment, said Dr. Jody Madeira, a professor of law at Indiana University Bloomington.
Madeira said she believes it will not be the last time a sibling finds out about the practice via a website like Ancestry.com.
“This is just the start,” she told 9Wants to Know. “There will be more cases.”
Madeira has extensively studied a small number of cases that have already made it into the public sphere.
Eve Wiley of Texas has been one of the more outspoken children of a physician using his own sperm during artificial insemination. This year, her story helped convince the state of Texas to pass a law prohibiting a fertility doctor from inseminating a patient without her consent.
Colorado has no such law.
It opens those doctors up to the possibility of being charged with sexual assault.
In Indiana, Dr. Donald Cline in 2017 pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice after web-based ancestry sites linked him to dozens of children.
Dutch physician Jan Karbaat is also linked to as many as 200 children.
Maia Emmons-Boring said she plans on working with Colorado legislators to help change the law in Colorado come next year. Currently, in Colorado, even if Jones did use his own sperm, as alleged in the lawsuit, that alone would almost certainly not be a crime, according to Fitz-Gerald.
Emmons-Boring wants to change that.
“I feel like [Jones] needs to own up to what he did,” Emmons-Boring said.
She would also consider meeting more of her newly discovered half-siblings. Earlier this year, she met Ryan Gray in Denver.
“It was strange, but good,” she said.
They remain the only two half-siblings to meet to date.
“The thought of meeting these other people is kind of terrifying,” Emmons-Boring's sister Tahnee Scott said.
They do, however, communicate with one another via a private, online message board. They’ve shared pictures of themselves and they “look a lot alike,” according to Emmons-Boring.
Emmons-Boring remained adamant about one thing, however.
It’s a sentiment shared by all of the half-siblings 9Wants to Know met: She doesn’t consider Jones her dad.
“He’s not my dad. He’s just biologically related to me,” she said. “The father who raised me will always be my dad.”
If you have any information that would add to our reporting on this story, e-mail Chris.Vanderveen@9news.com.
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