In 1971 Manoli [Pagador], who was 23 at the time and not long married, gave birth to what she was told was a healthy baby boy, but he was immediately taken away for what were called routine tests.
Nine interminable hours passed. “Then, a nun, who was also a nurse, coldly informed me that my baby had died,” she says.
They would not let her have her son’s body, nor would they tell her when the funeral would be.
Did she not think to question the hospital staff?
“Doctors, nuns?” she says, almost in horror. “I couldn’t accuse them of lying. This was Franco’s Spain. A dictatorship. …”
“The scale of the baby trafficking was unknown until this year, when two men – Antonio Barroso and Juan Luis Moreno, childhood friends from a seaside town near Barcelona – discovered that they had been bought from a nun. “
The scandal is closely linked to the Catholic Church, which under Franco assumed a prominent role in Spain’s social services including hospitals, schools and children’s homes.
Nuns and priests compiled waiting lists of would-be adoptive parents, while doctors were said to have lied to mothers about the fate of their children.
The name of one doctor, Dr Eduardo Vela, has come up in a number of victim investigations.
In 1981, Civil Registry sources indicate that 70% of births at Dr Vela’s San Ramon clinic in Madrid were registered as “mother unknown”.
He refused to give the BBC an interview. But, by coincidence, I had recently given birth at a clinic he founded, so I was able to book an appointment with him.
We met at his private practice in his home in Madrid. The man painted as a monster in the Spanish media was old and smiley, but his smile soon disappeared when I confessed to being a journalist.
Dr Vela grabbed a metal crucifix which had been standing on his desk. He moved towards me brandishing it in my face. “Do you know what this is, Katya?” he said. “I have always acted in his name. Always for the good of the children and to protect the mothers. Enough.”
Babies’ graves have been dug up across the country for DNA-testing. Some have revealed nothing but a pile of stones, while others have contained adult remains.
Are these crimes limited to Spain?