US attorney says no truth to stolen baby claim in St. Louis

AP News
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Posted: Aug 15, 2015 1:11 AM
US attorney says no truth to stolen baby claim in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Recently discovered medical files further dispute a St. Louis woman's allegations that her baby was stolen from a hospital here five decades ago and a federal investigation into the case has now been closed.

U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan said during a news conference Friday that the medical records show Melanie Diane Gilmore, who was named Diane Jackson at birth, was born at a different hospital than the one the mother claimed.

Adoption and child welfare records previously obtained by The Associated Press also say Gilmore was born at City Hospital No. 1, and abandoned there.

That contradicts the story of Gilmore's mother, Zella Jackson Price. Gilmore's children tracked down Price earlier this year, saying she may be Gilmore's biological mother.

Price said she had been told her child died soon after she gave birth at Homer G. Phillips hospital.

"We can now say with complete confidence that there is no truth to that allegation and our investigation is now closed," Callahan said.

The reunion of Price, a 76-year-old gospel singer, and her daughter drew international attention. A DNA test confirmed they were mother and daughter.

After other mothers came forward with questions about children born at Homer G. Phillips, a St. Louis attorney, Albert Watkins, alleged a baby theft ring had been operating at the hospital, preying primarily on young, poor black women.

Price's story prompted more than 300 other inquiries about children who were born at Homer G. Phillips. Many of those were mothers who said they were told the children had died at the hospital, but were never allowed to see the bodies or provided death certificates.

The AP found death certificates for nearly two dozen of the cases it researched. But even some of the women who were provided with death certificates were not convinced their children are dead. Sloppy record keeping and a little-known body donation program only added to their suspicions.

Watkins, who is Price's attorney, said Friday that it's possible that Gilmore was born at Homer G. Phillips and transferred to City Hospital No. 1. He said his investigation has found discrepancies in the files related to Price and Gilmore. For example, he said, the adoption file says police were sent to find Price when the baby was ready for release from the hospital, but the police department found no such records.

"The discrepancies that exist are so numerous that we can't discount that there are remaining irreconcilable issues, and we are going to continue efforts to reconcile those issues," Watkins said. "This is simply part of a continuing process."

Nearly all of the death certificates obtained by the AP listed "Anatomical Board" as the cemetery or crematory where the bodies were sent. Missouri's state and regional anatomical boards are made up of faculty from medical schools and oversee programs in which bodies are donated to universities for research.

Most women interviewed by the AP said they never gave permission to donate the bodies to science, and were told only that everything would be taken care of for them. The anatomical board has been able to find little information about the bodies it received at the time.

Brenda Stewart, now 67, is among the many women who have requested their medical records. She gave birth to a girl on June 24, 1964. Soon after birth, Stewart was told the baby died, but said she was never allowed to see her. She said she recently received a death certificate, but believes it is forged.

"They still took my baby," Stewart said. "My baby was crying when I delivered her. They did not let me see my baby. They did not let me touch her. That's what I don't understand."

"This death certificate means nothing to me. None of this means anything to me. I still feel the same way."

The federal investigation focused only on Price's case because it was the only one in which a mother claimed that she was told a child had died, and later that child turned out to be alive, Callahan said.

Among the discrepancies is the place where Gilmore was born. The medical files, obtained by the AP on Friday, are written on forms from City Hospital No. 1. The adoption files also say Gilmore was born at City Hospital No. 1. Though Price is black, City Hospital No. 1 served predominantly white people while Homer G. Phillips served a largely black clientele. While City Hospital was primarily used by whites, the AP found records of other black children who were born there.

Price did not immediately respond to a message Friday. But she said in July that she would never abandon a child.

"That's the biggest lie ever told," Price said at the time. "I have five other children. They're all spoiled like they were only children. Why would I give up this one?"

At the time, she said the adoption file was rife with inaccuracies. In addition to listing what she said was the wrong hospital, she said her age and details about the biological father also were wrong.

Watkins has said the information in the adoption file may have been falsified as part of a cover-up. He has maintained for months that Price's daughter, and perhaps other supposedly dead babies at Homer G. Phillips Hospital, were stolen and sold for illegal adoptions.

Watkins said Price's story has remained consistent, relatives have corroborated Price's story that she gave birth at Homer G. Phillips in 1965 but never brought home a baby, and that Price did not abandon or give up her other child.

"Obviously he believed everything his client told him, coupled with an active imagination," Callahan said.

Gilmore was born prematurely on Nov. 25, 1965. Price said a nurse told her hours later that her daughter had died, but she was not allowed to see the deceased infant and never received a death certificate.

Earlier this year, Price received a Facebook message from Mehiska Jackson, the daughter of Melanie Diane Gilmore of Springfield, Oregon. Gilmore's children were searching for her birth mother.

Price agreed to DNA testing that proved with near 100-percent certainty that Gilmore was her daughter. The two reunited in April.

The St. Louis Health Department said it received more than 300 inquiries about births from the 1940s through the 1970s at Homer G. Phillips hospital since Price's allegations received wide media attention.

But the hospital closed in 1979 and records have proven difficult to find.

Callahan said the investigation was slowed by the volume, and elusiveness, of old hospital records. He said Homer G. Phillips records are stored in roughly 4,000 boxes containing paper files and microfiche; files for City Hospital No. 1 are in another 4,000 boxes.

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Associated Press writer Holbrook Mohr is in Jackson, Mississippi.