By the mid-30s, her father’s lung issues developed into tuberculosis. The prognosis was terminal. When she was allowed to reunite with him in 1937, Dorothea ended up spending much of her time as his caretaker, watching him grow weaker and weaker until he had wasted away to only one hundred eighteen pounds. Within a month of their reunion, Jesse James Grey would pass away.
Struggling, Trudy moved her brood to San Dimas by the end of the year. She started drinking heavier than ever, something the teachers at her children’s schools quickly took notice of. The children were split up among family again, though for some unknown reason, Dorothea was overlooked, left alone with a mother she was terrified of. When the authorities caught wind of their mistake, they returned for her as well as an older sister, Audrey, and her brother, Ray June, the youngest of the siblings. The three were placed in the Church of Christ Home in Ontario, California.
During their registration, the staff described sad, skinny Dorothea as looking visibly malnourished, her too-often empty stomach extending slightly.
The next blow to her psyche came late in 1938. Her mother, who had run off with a lover and a motorcycle gang, had gotten in an accident and died not long after Christmas. She and the rest of the Grey children only found out after they were dropped off at the funeral.
Incidentally, on her death certificate, Trudy’s occupation had been listed as nurse. She had been a housewife her entire adult life.
It was two weeks shy of her tenth birthday, and Dorothea was seemingly all alone in the world. Any hope she may have had of returning to what was left of her family was instantly dashed. She was now an orphan in the truest sense of the word.
For the next couple of years, she was shuffled around the homes of relatives and foster families, never staying in one place for more than a few months. A local foster family that had taken in an older sister of hers wanted to take her in too, but Dorothea fled from their home. In 1944, she moved in with her brother, Jim, and his wife, Louise, in their home in Napa and started her freshman year of high school.
She immediately became popular in her new school, thanks entirely to her bizarre stories. Her brother’s wife was Portuguese, so she told everybody that she was too. In classes, she pretended to struggle with English as her native language was Portuguese. Thus, she needed to have someone translate her homework for her before she could do it. Intent on impressing others, she claimed to have a genius-level mastery of other subjects such as math. Unsurprisingly, not everybody was fooled; school staff were perplexed, then worried. They called up her sister-in-law to try to get the teenager into counseling, but Louise would never get the chance. Dorothea would leave them in early 1945, less than three months after she arrived.
After that, she would end up in the very place she had run away from—in a stranger’s home alongside her sister. She attended two different high schools during her brief stay there, Garfield High School and Whidney High School, but would never graduate.
Life hardened her just as it had her mother, and by the time she was sixteen, she decided that she was going to take control of her own life, no matter the cost.