Missouri Woman Still Believes Baby Was Stolen Nearly 50 Years Ago, Despite Evidence She Was Abandoned

For decades, Zella Jackson Price thought her daughter died shortly after birth.

— -- For nearly 50 years, Zella Jackson Price thought her daughter she gave birth to at Homer G. Phillips Hospital was dead.

Price was just six months pregnant when she said she arrived alone at the St. Louis, Mo., hospital to have the baby on Nov. 25, 1965.

"They said, 'Oh, mother, you're so early. What happened?'" Price, 77, told ABC New's "20/20." "They said, 'She's lost a lot of water,' and they put me in a room to the side."

Price, then 26, said she was left to deliver her baby by herself. At the time the baby was conceived, Price said she was separated from her then-husband and became pregnant by another man, whom she later married. Price said a nurse finally arrived and took her newborn baby girl and vanished.

"I didn't never have a chance [to hold her]," Price said. "They asked me, 'Did you want to name her?' I said, 'Yes, her name is Diane.'"

Hours later, Price said, the nurse returned and told her the baby died. Price said she never asked to see the baby and that staff didn't ask her if she wanted to bury her.

Five years earlier, Price said she lost a baby boy she named Michael.

"Maybe something was wrong, and nature said, 'This baby's not prepared for life, so I'll take her back,'" Price said. "I accepted [that it was an] early birth that went wrong."

Decades later, Price learned that her daughter Diane Gilmore, now 50, was alive and had been raised by a foster family. Gilmore, who weighed only 2 pounds at her birth, was born deaf.

Gilmore's twin daughters Melika and Mehiska Jackson tracked down Price on social media, and a DNA test confirmed that Gilmore was indeed Price's daughter.

The mother and daughter were reunited in person this spring. Soon after, Price turned to attorney Al Watkins to find out why she had been told Gilmore had died at birth.

After taking a look into Price’s story, Watkins accused Homer G. Phillips Hospital of selling babies that were born at the hospital, including Price’s daughter.

In the mid-sixties, Homer G. Phillips was a highly respected hospital where many African American nurses and doctors were trained. Many considered it a beacon in the community. It is now a senior residential community.

"The place to buy was Homer G. [Phillips Hospital], and babies were being sold out of the parking lot. It was pay for play, cash on delivery," Watkins told "20/20." "There's no way it could've occurred without a coordinated and cooperative undertaking between multiple individuals and positions of authority."

A group of former Homer G. Phillips Hospital nurses said there's no way Price's story makes sense.

"No nurse would come and tell someone that their baby passed. That was the doctor's role and responsibility," former nurse Xenobia Thompson told "20/20."

The nurses said they are insulted that these accusations have been made about Homer G. Phillips Hospital with no evidence.

But Watkins said he believes Gilmore was sold, and once the adoptive parents realized that she was deaf, they likely tried to return her. He said Price was then put through the foster care system and that the foster family who finally took her in was just in it for the money and likely involved in the cover up.

"It is clear that there were affirmative measures taken by that foster family to mislead Zella's baby Diane," Watkins said.

Barbara Richardson, whose parents Muriel and John Young took Gilmore in as a foster child when Gilmore was 4 months old, told "20/20" that Watkins' allegations are completely untrue.

Richardson said her parents were so excited to welcome Gilmore into their family and that they loved and treated Gilmore the same way they treated her. She resents any implication that her family was somehow involved in stealing a baby and says the reason her family took her in was because she had been left at the hospital.

"When it was time to be released, no one had been to see the child and no one came, you know. She was an abandoned baby, abandoned at birth," said Richardson, who was 25 years old at the time.

Richardson said her parents even went looking for her biological mother when Gilmore was 9 years old. Muriel Young contacted a woman named Zella Mae Jackson in St. Louis, and asked her if she had given birth to a baby at Homer G. Phillips Hospital in November 1965, Richardson said.

"The woman just said, 'No, I didn't have a baby.' So, I mean, what do you do at that point?" said Richardson. "As far as we were concerned, that was not the woman." Price denies ever receiving such a call.

Records also indicated that social workers visited Price's home in an effort to contact her, but she moved and didn't leave a forwarding address. The social workers even called, wrote and visited relatives, according to records. The workers noted that Price's grandmother and uncle were "either unable or unwilling to give any information regarding Mrs. Jackson's whereabouts."

In addition, Gilmore's birth certificate indicates that she was not born at Homer G. Phillips Hospital but at St. Louis City Hospital 1.

Still, Price said no one ever tried to find her. Records do show there was another woman in St. Louis with the same name. And Price said she's sure that Gilmore was born at Homer G. Phillips Hospital.

"They said they tried to reach out to me. Look, I was easy to find. Why are they saying they tried to reach out to me? I'm a licensed driver. I worked at DePaul. I have a social security number, and you can't find me?" Price said. "My relatives said nothing to me that 'somebody was looking for you.' That's the first time I heard of it. Why are they doing this to me?"

The evidence was enough for U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan, who led the federal investigation into Watkins' and Price's allegations. He went public on Aug. 14 with his conclusion that there was no evidence that Price's baby was stolen.

"The only mystery in my mind is why the allegations were made to begin with," Callahan told "20/20."

Watkins suggested that the old documents may have been forged. He said Gilmore's birth certificate was counterfeit, including a fake doctor's stamp.

"[The birth certificate is] signed by a stamp with a Dr. Skaggs stamp. And Dr. Skaggs, if you look at that, was not a doctor as of that date … he was still a teenager at the time of Diane's birth," Watkins said.

"20/20" was able to track down Skaggs, who was a full-fledged doctor when Gilmore was born and is currently retired and living in Florida.

"At the time of that delivery, I was 27 years old," Skaggs told "20/20." "This is my signature on the birth certificate, and it's similar to my signature right now."

Undeterred by the evidence, Watkins has vowed to find answers for the other hopeful mothers who came to him for help. Just last week, Watkins had a successful date in court. A judge ruled that St. Louis had to quickly release medical records for at least two dozen of those women.

And days ago, Watkins went to court again, filing a new case in an attempt to annul Gilmore's adoption by her foster family. If allowed, he said, it would give him further power to issue subpoenas and more deeply investigate her case.

Again asked by "20/20" last week whether he really believed Price's baby was intended to be sold, Watkins said, "I haven't been able to-- I haven't been able to make that leap ... at this point given what I now know."

Meanwhile, Price has focused on making up for lost time with her daughter. Over the summer, Gilmore moved to St. Louis to be with her mother, and Price is learning sign language to communicate better with Gilmore.

"I enjoyed my babies, I really did, and somebody else robbed me of that by telling me she passed. And another family was enjoying that," Price said. "The only thing I got now is love."

"Our bond has gotten stronger, and I feel it's never going to break," Diane told "20/20" using sign language. "Even though we were apart, we're together. And I think it's going to be a long, long time that we'll be strong together."