St. Louis women question fate of 'dead' babies after mom finds long-lost child

Mom meets 49-year-old daughter she thought was dead
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    Mom meets 49-year-old daughter she thought was dead


Mom meets 49-year-old daughter she thought was dead 05:53

Story highlights

  • Gospel singer Zella Price thought she lost her daughter at birth in 1965
  • She and her daughter were recently reunited
  • Other women are now wondering about their babies' fate

(CNN)An elderly St. Louis woman's emotional reunion with a daughter she thought died at birth is prompting other women to wonder what happened to the babies they thought they had lost at the same hospital decades ago.

The women were all young -- some were teenagers -- when they gave birth in the 1950s and '60s at the now-shuttered Homer G. Phillips Hospital in St. Louis.
They recount similar stories of being told shortly after childbirth that their babies were dead.
    That was the story told to Zella Jackson Price, who had a baby at Homer G. Phillips in 1965.
    Fifty years later, Price, now a noted gospel singer, learned her baby had in fact been placed in foster care and eventually adopted. She was able to meet her long-lost daughter, Melanie Diane Gilmore, for the first time recently in a reunion filmed by CNN affiliate KPLR.
    "It was warm," Price told CNN about their first hug. "I didn't want to let her go, you know. She is so precious."
    Mom reunites with daughter 50 years later
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      Mom reunites with daughter 50 years later


    Mom reunites with daughter 50 years later 01:59
    Gilmore's children knew she wanted to meet her biological mother, so they used a name from Gilmore's adoptive parents to start an online search. It eventually led them to Price, and DNA testing then confirmed Price and Gilmore, who lives in Oregon, are mother and daughter.
    The children surprised Gilmore with news of the DNA match. Seeing her mother for the first time via online video link, Gilmore -- who lost her hearing at age 3 because of illness -- immediately signed the words "I love you."
    "(God) has given me everything the devil has taken from me," Price told KPLR. "I'm getting it back. I'm getting my baby back."
    St. Louis attorney Albert Watkins, who represents Price and two other families with stories about lost babies at Homer G. Phillips Hospital, has asked Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay for help investigating their cases.
    He has said more than 20 elderly black women have come forward.
    "Not only are their stories and the protocols consistent," said Watkins, but "each and every one of them were told that their babies had died, and not one of them can find a death certificate."
    A spokeswoman for the mayor said they will do all they can to help.
    Watkins said that based on historical records, Gilmore's story and adoptive birth certificate, and statements from former hospital employees, he believes the babies may have been stolen as part of an adoption scheme.
    "In the 1950s and 1960s, St. Louis was very segregated," he said. "There was a very strong African-American middle class but there was nowhere for a middle-class African-American couple to adopt a child of color, and it has become increasingly apparent that market need was filled with the employment of highly nefarious and horrid means."
    Watkins says it's not clear whether all those involved -- including the adoptive couples -- knew what they were doing was a crime.
    The mothers who gave birth at "the black hospital," Watkins said, simply had to accept what staff told them.
    "In those days the word of a doctor was as close to the word of God as you can imagine," he said.
    Accepting the doctor's word, however, did not mean the mother lost hope.
    St. Louis resident Brenda Stewart contacted KPLR after Price's story aired, wondering if her baby might also have been stolen when she gave birth at the hospital in 1965, at age 15.
    "As (the baby) came out she cried, she was crying," Stewart told the station. "They held her up for me to see her."
    She said a nurse told her she was too young to have a baby, and that her parents didn't need another mouth to feed.
    Staff took the baby out of the room and came back to tell her the infant had died, but Stewart said she didn't believe them.
    "I have always said for the last 50 years that my child is somewhere," Stewart told KPLR.
    "It still hurts me to know my baby is out there because I never have believed she was dead."