Mistaken identity

The Spanish woman who needs her grave opened to prove she’s still alive

After an administrative error, a citizen from Seville has been battling for seven years to demonstrate she never died

For seven years, Juana Escudero Lezcano, a 53-year-old woman from Alcalá de Guadaíra, a town outside of Seville in the south of Spain, has been struggling to carry out simple tasks, such as renewing her driver’s license or going to a doctor because, despite being alive, various administrative offices believe she’s dead.

Juana Escudero Lezcano beside the tomb of her namesake.
Juana Escudero Lezcano beside the tomb of her namesake.EFE

This is because there is a woman buried in a Málaga cemetery whose information, including her full name and date of birth, match Juana’s exactly. This strange coincidence has caused their Social Security data to clash, and subsequently seen her registered as deceased.

It was a doctor who first informed her of her death when she visited an emergency room. She was fortunate that her primary care physician took care of her. “He looked at her, not knowing how to break it to her, and told her that according to Social Security records she was deceased,” explains her daughter Marta, who confesses that “the family has not found the funny side of this story for a long time now.”

Juana told the Diario de Sevilla newspaper about the moment she found out: “When she put my name in the computer, I appeared as dead. She turned the screen for me to see. Dead. She still treated me because she knew me and knew my situation was urgent. She told me that we would take care of it later.”

Juana’s mistaken identity has given her problems getting a driver’s license, her widow’s benefits, and going to the doctor

At first, Juana thought it was just computer error and could be remedied in a few days, but later she learned that not only was she dead, but also that she was buried in the Malaga cemetery. Once she recovered, she went to Social Security to clear up the misunderstanding. “At Social Security they explained to me that someone probably made a typo or maybe it was a computer error. But we went to the Treasury, to the courts... and everywhere I appeared as deceased,” Juana told the newspaper.

Juana says she has “suffered for more than six years,” or since May 13, 2010, when she was first registered as deceased. The publication of her non-death in the state’s official gazette has been one of her biggest headaches. A case is published in an official gazette when a person’s relatives cannot be contacted. In the case of the other Juana, they were looking for that woman’s family to inform them that they had to evict the body from the tomb because the family had not paid the maintenance fee.

“That day [in April 2016] we called the Malaga City Council and they told us was that since my mother was buried there and we had not paid the fee, the tomb had been emptied after the legal period and the bones deposited in an ossuary. So what I had to tell them was difficult, because I had my mother in front me and I was talking to her,” explains Marta. Since the family had not paid, the remains of the other Juana were exhumed and now rest in the Malaga ossuary.

After years of dealing with the problem and after making the case public last May, Juana has appealed to the justice system. She filed a petition before a court in Malaga to claim that her information was mixed up with the other Juana. “What I want to be told is who that person was who was buried in that grave, and I want all the information they have because I don’t know anything. I imagine that there will be medical tests we can do,” says Juana, who has offered to do DNA testing “or whatever it takes” to remedy the problem.

Juana jokes that she is dead “to everyone, except the banks”

Last August, she went to the cemetery where she was told, “they have orders to do nothing about this case.”

So far, according to her account, the only explanation she has received is that in the grave there was a person with the same name, surname, and date of birth. In 2011, her husband died and she needed a certification of life to receive her widow benefits. She also needed that certification to renew her driver’s license in 2012.

According to Juana, the place she was treated worst was at the Treasury, where according to her testimony, they said she could be sanctioned for identity theft. “On top of killing me, they fine me, without hearing my story,” she says. She jokes that she is dead “to everyone, except the banks,” since she continues to pay her loans, mortgage, and life insurance regularly. “On the government’s computers I am dead, but for the banks I am alive and kicking,” she laughs.

Juana believes that she has been confused with a sister with whom she has no contact, whose whereabouts she does not know, but she has no relation whatsoever to Malaga province or with anyone who could match the data of the person buried.

English version by Debora Almeida


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