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Social workers knew of 44-year-old Spaniard woman living in box

February 9, 1997

LA CORUNA, Spain (AP) _ Social workers say they long knew about a mentally and physically disabled woman who was kept in an enclosed cardboard box in her family’s home for 40 years _ but did nothing to change her situation.

The woman, Dolores Vina Cotelo, was discovered Tuesday when social service volunteers visited the family’s home in this northwestern city to tend to her elderly mother.

The volunteers heard a ``strange howl″ coming from underneath a sink in the laundry room, which is attached to the home. The 44-year-old woman was found in a small shelter made of cardboard and egg cartons.

Social service officials acknowledged that they knew about Vina Cotelo’s living conditions for more than 25 years, the daily El Pais reported Sunday.

Vina Cotelo apparently had contracted meningitis as a child, and was left with impaired vision and mental disabilities, city officials said.

She was taken to a psychiatric hospital for consultation over the weekend, which city officials said would help them decide how to care for her, the daily El Mundo reported.

The director of La Coruna’s social service agency, Marian Ferreiro, recommended that she be allowed to return to her family.

She apparently was ``well fed and well treated although not in a normal situation,″ Ferreiro told El Pais.

The family said Vina Cotelo sometimes left the shelter. But Ariadna Barral, director of a church social service group that also knew about her, said she mostly stayed inside the box and was fed through holes in its walls.

``She seemed to be in a savage state,″ Barral said.

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