Sixty years after the event, a Málaga woman has brought charges against the city's main hospital, accusing staff of stealing her twin daughters and falsifying documents shortly after they were born, in 1950.
Isabel Pacheco was just 16 when she became pregnant in late 1949 by Juan Pacheco, whom she would later marry and go on to have eight children with. Records show that she was admitted to the Hospital Civil in Málaga in June 1950, and that she gave birth to twin girls. She says that she heard the babies crying shortly after birth but that the pair were taken away immediately, before she could see them, and that she was told soon after that they had died and were already buried.
Isabel Pacheco was told that her twins had died and were already buried
"Hospital staff threatened them, saying there was no more to be done"
"My father wanted to stay in the hospital with my mother but he was told by the nuns working there to go home, because they did not know when the birth would take place," says her son, Andrés.
The following day, his father returned to the hospital and was told by the nuns that the two baby girls and his future wife were well. "My father was very happy, and told his parents and my mother's parents. Everybody then headed to the hospital," says Andrés.
But when the families arrived at the hospital they were told by the management that Isabel was well, but that the two baby girls had died and been buried immediately. "My parents and grandparents were not happy with these explanations, and logically, they wanted to see the bodies of the twins. But hospital staff said that there was nothing else to be done. They even threatened them, telling them to leave, and that there was no more to be done," says Andrés.
Juan Pacheco, the father, called the hospital repeatedly in the days that followed but staff refused to talk to him. After three days, he went to the hospital asking for Isabel's admission forms. He was then told that there was no such documentation to prove that Isabel had been admitted to the hospital.
Juan and Isabel married soon after. In October 1951, Isabel was due to have another baby, and was again admitted to the Hospital Civil in Málaga. She gave birth to a baby boy, the first of eight children. In the section of her admission form referring to previous births, somebody had entered "twin girls one year ago," which had then been partially scribbled over.
Andrés Pacheco has subsequently found the admission forms for his mother's first birth. On it somebody has tried to scribble over the entry referring to "twins."
"The family has always talked about this, because it has always been known that something terrible happened in the hospital that night in the summer of 1950. Something that we have never been able to explain and that we now want to clear up. I want to know what happened to my two twin sisters and I want them to know that we are looking for them," says Andrés.
The admission forms for Isabel Pacheco's stay in the hospital make no reference to the death of her twins, or to any problems during delivery. Andrés Pacheco says that staff said at the time that his mother had aborted. "There is a reference to an abortion but that is not true, my mother never aborted," he says.
Málaga City Hall has searched its burial records at the city's two main cemeteries for any reference to twin baby girls. "There are no clues. They are not on the registry. We know that they were born in June 1950, and we have widened the search to include the months before and after, but there is nothing," says Andrés Pacheco.
"My father died having borne the burden all his life of not knowing what happened to his two girls," he adds. Andrés believes that the twins were sold to adoptive parents, and the documentation relating to their births was falsified. The matter is now in the hands of the Málaga courts.
The Pacheco family's case is remarkably similar to that of around 1,000 or so other people in Spain - parents who believe their babies were taken from them, and men and women who believe their siblings or they themselves were stolen. In each case, the woman gave birth to what she believed to be a healthy child, only to later be told that the infant had died and that it was impossible to see the body. Those babies were then allegedly sold to couples who paid, on average, the equivalent of $8,000. The people accused of doing the selling are in many cases the very doctors and nurses who had delivered the babies.
Like Isabel Pacheco, many of the women who believe their children were stolen were unmarried at the time, a breach of social norms during the strict years of the Catholic Franco regime, and which would have made them extremely vulnerable and unlikely to take their suspicions to the police.