Suit seeks to restore parental rights in lost baby case
Nov. 24, 2015
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Fifty years after a St. Louis gospel singer said she was told that her daughter died at birth — a claim disputed by authorities — and months after the 76-year-old woman learned that her daughter was still alive, a judge is being asked to restore the birth mother's parental rights.
Attorney Albert Watkins announced the petition Tuesday in St. Louis Circuit Court in which Melanie Diane Gilmore seeks to invalidate her 1983 adoption and re-establish Zella Jackson Price as her legal mother.
Gilmore was born prematurely on Nov. 25, 1965, at Homer G. Phillips Hospital, which mostly served black residents until it closed in 1979. Price said a nurse told her that her daughter had died, but she was not allowed to see the deceased infant and never received a death certificate. She said she was stunned earlier this year when she learned that her daughter was very much alive. DNA testing confirmed with near 100-percent certainty that they are mother and daughter.
But authorities questioned Price's claim and now believe she abandoned the baby. U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan said in August that medical and adoption records showed discrepancies in Price's story. He said there is no evidence that the baby was stolen.
Price did not respond to an interview request.
Watkins said Price has never wavered from her story, and he stands by her. He said medical records from 50 years ago are inconsistent and incomplete.
"The ambiguities contained in the discovered medical records are beyond the pale and cannot be reconciled with facts," he said.
Watkins said giving parental rights back to Price would allow Gilmore to be an heir to Price's estate. It also gives him, as Gilmore's attorney, legal access to more details about her birth. But the suit was necessary beyond pragmatic reasons, he said.
"This is, on an emotional level, something really important to both of them," Watkins said.
Price's baby-stealing claim prompted concern that other black women from that era were perhaps also victims of baby theft. The St. Louis Department of Health urged any women with concerns to come forward, and more than 300 did.
Many of those women made similar claims: They were told their children had died at Homer G. Phillips, often by a nurse instead of a doctor, and were not allowed to see the bodies or provided death certificates. Watkins suspected that a baby theft ring was operating at the hospital, preying primarily on young, poor black women, with the stolen babies sold for illegal adoptions.
But there have been no substantiated claims of baby theft.
Gilmore was living in Springfield, Oregon, when her daughter sent a Facebook message to Price that led to the reunion.