Sara-Jayne King knew growing up that she wasn’t like the other kids in the neighborhood. She was the only mixed-race girl in a predominately white area. She grew up in Crowhurst in Surrey, which is about 25 miles from London. She remembers looking out the window every morning while growing up, looking across the fields at chickens and lambs.
Sara always felt like she was different than the other kids. Being half African-American, her classmates would always touch her hair because it felt different than theirs. She lived a middle-class existence, and nobody looked like her. She says that she absorbed other people’s views of her. Sara was adopted, so she and her adopted brother didn’t look anything like their parents. They were both mixed-race, and their parents were both white. Growing up, Sara’s parents never told her much about where she came from, or who her biological parents were.
Sara often asked where she came from, and her parents gave her very minor details. They told her that she was originally from South Africa, and they couldn’t conceive a child of their own, so they turned to adoption. When she asked more about her birth parents, her adopted parents shut down.
Sara’s Teen Years
As Sara got older, her feelings of isolation got worse. Things got so bad that when she was 13-years-old, she overdosed on paracetamol. She survived, but she never felt any better. A year after she tried to kill herself, she went into her parents’ room when they weren’t home. She went through all of their papers to see if she could find any proof of her past. While she was going through their documents and other personal belongings, she found a letter addressed to her.
Sara was shocked to see that the letter was from her biological mother. It was written a year after she was born. Finally, she was getting the answers to the secrets of her life, the ones that her adoptive parents had kept from her for her whole life. She learned that her adoptive parents had told her the truth, and she really was born in South Africa. She also found out that her mother, like her adopted mother, was a white British woman. She was studying in the U.K. in the late 1970s, and she fell in love with a white South African man. After graduating from college, she followed him back to his homeland.
When Sara’s biological mother arrived in South Africa in 1979, she and her boyfriend began working at a hotel in Johannesburg. It didn’t take long before Sara’s mother realized that she wasn’t happy in her relationship. It wasn’t long before she turned her attention toward the hotel’s head chef, who was black. The two became romantically involved, but it was risky. In the 1970s in South Africa, couples from different races in South Africa weren’t accepted. They were actually dangerous. Under the sway of Apartheid, the country had prohibited relationships between black and white people. If people found out that the couple was together, the consequences could have been dire.
When Sara’s mother found out that she was pregnant, she panicked. She didn’t know if the baby was her boyfriend’s or her lovers. If it were her lover’s, people would find out that they had a romantic relationship. The only thing that she could do was wait for the baby to be born to find out who the father was. In 1980, Sara was born. At first, she appeared white. Sara’s mother was relieved, and she and her boyfriend named her Karoline. They raised her as any parent would. A few weeks later, they realized that they were wrong.
As Sara got older, her skin got darker. It was evident that she was mixed race, and she could no longer hide the affair. The baby would all the authorities would need to bring her before a judge. Sara’s mother knew that it wouldn’t just be her parents who would be punished if the affair was discovered. Growing up mixed-race in South Africa meant that Sara would be separated from the other children. She would be taken from her parents and sent to an orphanage. With no options left, Sara’s mother, her husband, and their doctor came up with an idea. They claimed that Sara had an uncommon kidney disease and they had to fly to London to seek care for the baby. When they got there, they could safely put the baby up for adoption, and the affair would never be discovered.
A British couple adopted Sara, and her mother flew back to South Africa. When she arrived home, she told everyone that Sara had died of her kidney disease in the U.K. Sara was devastated after reading the letter. She was abandoned because of the color of her skin, and she felt like her birth mother’s dirty little secret.
When Sara grew up, she went to school to be a journalist, but she wanted to speak to her birth mother. She sent a letter and waited for a reply. It wasn’t what she had hoped for. The letter simply said, “Don’t contact me again.” This opened the old wounds, and Sara fell victim to substance abuse and an eating disorder. She lost contact with her adoptive father, and her brother committed suicide. She tried unsuccessfully to find her birth father, and her addiction got worse. While looking for treatment facilities, she found that South African clinics offered more affordable care. In South Africa, she got the care that she needed and connected with her half brother. She felt like she was home and decided to move there permanently. She went on to write a book about her life called Killing Karoline. When a woman uncovered an old letter from her mom, she realized her childhood was based on a lie. It changed the course of her life forever.