Women in St. Louis wonder if hospital workers stole their babies

There are 18 women in the St. Louis area who are asking authorities to investigate a hospital, now closed, regarding the possible kidnapping of their newborn infants. 

A lawyer for one of the women, who was reunited with her birth mother after 50 years, says that the mother was told that her baby had died shortly after birth in 1965. But the mother never saw a body or a death certificate.

Apparently, at least 17 other women who had babies at the Homer G. Phillips hospital in St. Louis are wondering the same thing.

Associated Press:

The suspicions arose from the story of Zella Jackson Price, who said she was 26 in 1965 when she gave birth at Homer G. Phillips Hospital in St. Louis. Hours later, she was told that her daughter had died, but she never saw a body or a death certificate.

No one is sure who was responsible, but Price's daughter ended up in foster care, only to resurface almost 50 years later. Melanie Gilmore, who now lives in Eugene, Oregon, has said that her foster parents always told her she was given up by her birth mother.

Price's attorney, Albert Watkins, is asking city and state officials to investigate. In a letter to Gov. Jay Nixon and St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, Watkins said he suspects the hospital coordinated a scheme "to steal newborns of color for marketing in private adoption transactions." In a letter to Watkins, the Missouri Department of Health and Human Services called the allegations "troubling" and said it would like to help him track down relevant documents it might have, such as birth or death certificates.

Gilmore's children tracked recently down her birth mother to mark their mother's 50th birthday. The search led them to the now 76-year-old Price, who lives in suburban St. Louis.

In March, an online video caused a sensation when it showed the moment that Gilmore, who is deaf, learned through lip reading and sign language that her birth mother had been found.

The two women reunited in April. DNA confirmed that they are mother and daughter.

"She looked like me," said Price, a gospel singer who has five other children. "She was so excited and full of joy. It was just beautiful. I'll never forget that," she said of the reunion.

After the reunion, Watkins started getting calls from other women who wondered if their babies, whom they were told had died, might have instead been taken from them.

Their stories, he said, are strikingly similar: Most of the births were in the mid-1950s to mid-1960s at Homer G. Phillips. All of the mothers were black and poor, mostly ages 15 to 20.

In each case, a nurse — not a doctor — told the mother that her child had died, a breach of normal protocol. No death certificates were issued, and none of the mothers were allowed to see their deceased infants, Watkins said.

In the days of segregation, Phillips Hospital catered to the black population of St. Louis. Poor black mothers would be less likely to ask for a death certificate or question why they couldn't see their dead child. Someone - or a couple of someones - may have figured the same thing and started a baby hijacking ring. 

At the very least, the matter deserves a thorough investigation. It may be difficult to develop much evidence or find survivors so long after the fact, but officials owe these women their best efforts to uncover the truth about their children.