The Stolen Babies Of Spain

Over five decades, as many as 300,000 newborn babies were stolen and sold in Spain, primarily by the Roman Catholic clergy administering the nation's hospitals. At first, the clergy thieved at the instruction of Spain's fascist leader, General Franco, who sought to remove newborns from the homes of politically suspect parents. Explanations vary as to why the thieving didn't stop after Franco's death in 1975. In some cases, it was the profit-motive. (You could get a lot of pesetas for a healthy newborn.) In other cases, clergy sought to help the children by removing them from heathen mothers and planting them in good, Catholic homes. The epidemic of baby-theft ended only after the Spanish government wrested control of adoptions from the churches and hospitals in 1987.

The racket went like this: A woman gave birth, the baby was removed from the room, and some time later the mother was informed of the baby's death. Often, the mother was denied permission to view her child's body. Other times, the doctors presented her with a prop corpse they kept in the hospital's freezers. As grieving parents attended funeral masses dedicated to empty coffins, a loose affiliation of priests, doctors, nuns, and nurses colluded to deliver the baby to eager adoptive parents. The crime was repeated in hospital after hospital, city after city.

This bizarre story of Spain's stolen babies went largely untold until March of this year, when victimized parents first addressed the Congress of Deputies in Madrid. The precise details of the en masse abductions still aren't widely understood, despite a cover story in Time and a flurry of shorter print articles last spring.

That'll change a little come Tuesday, when BBC2 airs This World: Spain's Stolen Babies. According to the Daily Mail, the doc focuses primarily on a woman named Manolo Pagador and her search for her son, who may or may not be a 40-year-old Texan named Randy Ryder. That's him at the top of this article, in a BBC2 photo borrowed from the Daily Mail. There, the caption reads: "Randy Ryder as a baby being cradled in a Malaga hospital in 1971 by the woman who bought him."

The doc airs at 9 p.m. in Britain, and will live on the internet thereafter.