ST. LOUIS — Missouri adoption records dispute a St. Louis woman's claim that her baby was stolen at Homer G. Phillips Hospital in 1965 after she was told the newborn had died.
The Associated Press obtained a letter dated May 21 from the juvenile division of family court in St. Louis, citing records stating that the biological mother abandoned the baby. The letter does not mention the biological mother's name, but Zella Jackson Price and her attorney say DNA tests confirmed she is the birth mother.
Among other discrepancies, it said the child was born at a different St. Louis hospital, not Homer G. Phillips.
Price on Wednesday said the letter is rife with inaccuracies, including her age, details about the biological father, the hospital where she gave birth and the notion that she abandoned the child. The letter states that the court "is unable to ensure the validity of the information contained in your file," but did not elaborate.
"That's the biggest lie ever told," Price, 76, said of the claim that she abandoned the baby. "I have five other children. They're all spoiled like they were only children. Why would I give up this one?"
Price's attorney, Albert Watkins, said information in the adoption file may have been falsified as part of a cover-up. He believes that Price's daughter, and perhaps other supposedly dead babies at Homer G. Phillips Hospital, were stolen and sold for illegal adoptions.
Asked for proof, Watkins said Price's story has remained consistent, that 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 children.
"This is a woman who culturally and in terms of her own family would never give up a child," Watkins said.
Price gave birth to a premature girl on Nov. 25, 1965. She 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, although she said she made requests to both the city and the state. Price said the St. Louis vital statistics office told her they couldn't find a death certificate; the state health department never responded, she said.
Earlier this year, Price received a Facebook message from Mehiska Jackson, the daughter of 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 reunion drew international media attention. Scores of other women came forward to question whether their own infants, born from the 1940s through the 1970s, had really died soon after birth at Homer G. Phillips, a hospital that served predominantly black patients until it closed in 1979.
St. Louis police launched an investigation and the city health department set up a number for women seeking medical records. Health Department spokesman Harold Bailey said the office has received 282 inquiries.
To find out what happened to her as a child, Gilmore requested her adoption records. Adoption specialist Jesse Cannon responded with the May 21 letter, which contradicts key elements of Price's story. Cannon declined an interview request with the AP, citing privacy laws concerning adoption records.
The letter says the child was born at City Hospital No. 1, then later abandoned and put up for adoption. City Hospital No. 1 has since closed.
Gilmore's adoption birth certificate does not list the hospital of her birth.
The letter said Gilmore's case came to the court's attention on April 6, 1966, when a petition was filed alleging "the mother left this infant at City Hospital #1 and failed to ever return for it."
Custody was granted to Children's Services of St. Louis on June 6, 1966, Cannon wrote. Gilmore, who is deaf, was raised by adoptive parents but not formally adopted until Dec. 16, 1983. The letter offers no explanation as to why it took so long to finalize.
The court did not release the entire adoption file, citing the need for permission from the biological father.
The letter said the father was reportedly a 29-year-old unemployed truck driver, whom Price said fits the description of her ex-husband, Theon Jackson, who had a child born at City Hospital No. 1 with another woman the same year Gilmore was born. Price said Jackson is not Gilmore's father and that Gilmore was conceived with the man she married after Jackson. That man has since died.
Theon Jackson has since signed a consent form for Gilmore's adoption records to be released, Watkins said.
Price also has requested medical records she says could prove she gave birth at Homer G. Phillips but has yet to receive them.
Mohr reported from Jackson, Mississippi.