“I bought my son for three million, and he died. It was punishment.”

Manuel Espí and María Martínez with Picture of LucasManuel Espí y María Martínez in their home in Ontinyent with a photo of Lucas at his First Communion. Photo by Jesús Ciscar.

Family Book in which little Lucas is registered as the son of Manuel Espí and María Martínez. Photo by Jesús Ciscar.

“I bought my son for three million, and he died. It was punishment.”
The mafia which sold the baby extorted the parents for years. Today Manuel Espí is not afraid to speak up.
El País: “Compré por tres millones a mi hijo y murió. Fue un castigo”
Jesús Duva and Natalia Junquera reporting from Valencia May 8, 2011

Over the course of decades, thousands of babies in Spain were seized or irregularly separated from their parents. Today, El País begins a series about the trafficking of these children which will tell the stories of the victims and of those who participated in these schemes. Consult the special section Vidas robadas. Participate in Eskup. Do you believe that you are a stolen child or that you know of a case? Send us an email.

“I bought my son Lucas. I paid almost three million pesetas [about $65,000 in 2010 USD] for him. I was up to my eyebrows in debt. Unfortunately, Lucas died in a fire when he was only 18 years old. I’m convinced that it was punishment for having bought him. Lucas is dead because we didn’t deserve him.”

Manuel Espí Nacher, 77 years of age, was emotional and couldn’t hold back tears; Lucas gave the hint of a smile from an enormous photograph that he took in the elegant uniform of an admiral the day of his First Communion. Almost 30 years have passed since that shady sale, but Manuel has lived with shame and torment ever since. He is one of the few parents to openly confess, without hesitation, to “buying” a newborn. And he is repentant.

He said that his wife, María Martínez Lluch, insisted on being a mother. “She said to me: ‘If you let me adopt this boy, I won’t ask for anything else from you.’ It was her life’s dream.” Manuel and María, residents of Ontinyent, Valencia, had frequently consulted several gynecologists for ten years in search of a solution to their infertility, “until one, the only honest one, said to us: ‘Don’t spend any more money. It is impossible for you to have a child.'”

Manuel was working then in a local textile business. He was about to turn 50. María was employed by a similar company. Decided on adopting a baby, they began an interminable pilgrimage to orphanages and foster homes. Someone told them about Cuenca, and they went there, doubtless accompanied by other relatives, in search of a son. They asked at one site and another…and finally they returned home empty-handed. Later, someone gave a tip about Tereul. Again, the Espís packed their bags and walked around the city. They spoke with various institutions but didn’t achieve their objective there, either. Some time later, they went to a two-story building for single mothers governed by nuns in Zaragoza: Manuel had heard from various people in the scrapyard where he was working that it was easy to adopt there. “The nun told us that it would have to be a handicapped person. We wanted a healthy boy,” Manuel recounted.

Manuel is sick. He suffers from bipolar disorder, and he remembers that at that time he was doing very badly. “I was on the point of committing suicide.” He decided to go to a curandera (folk healer) named Petra in Montaverner, Valencia. Through her and a friend of his wife, he hatched a new plan to adopt a baby. “My wife, a friend named Vicentica, and the curandera cooked everything up and put it into motion,” Manuel recalled.

On April 21, 1982, Vicentica, who with her husband had adopted a six-year old boy because they wanted him to help them with work in the fields, said everything was ready, and they would have to prepare “a lot of money,” without specifying how much. They said he and his spouse would have to go to the door of the Our Lady of Consuelo hospital on Callosa de Ensarrià Street in Valencia and meet a woman who would be waiting for them.

Despite all the time that had passed, Manuel Espí remembered the scene as if it were according that very moment. “My wife told me to take out a lot of money from the bank. When I arrived at the hospital, a woman asked me at the door: “How much money do you have?” I lied and said I had about 500,000 pesetas. She replied that that was too little, and she would need more to pay the doctors, the lawyers, and everyone else who would intervene in the operation. I ended up admitting I had more than 750,000 pesetas; I gave them to her, and she quickly put the bills in her purse.”

That woman, their initial contact in the shady web of baby vending, was a prostitute, Manuel found out later. “She told us to enter the hospital and go to the incubation area. We went. There was a girl there in her 20s who delivered to Lucas. Before we left, she asked us to go to another site because I had to sign some papers. I asked my wife to leave with the boy and wait for me inside the car. When I’d finished speaking with her, the girl had already disappeared. I turned around and left without signing anything. I ran to the car and drove away as fast as I could. I didn’t stop until I’d arrived home.”

The child was “very stiff.” “I realize now that he couldn’t have been a newborn. He must have been a month old. He was very healthy. Clearly, they’d taken good care of their ‘product’!” Manuel said.

He and his wife were conscious that they’d done something dark and possibly illegal. They brought the baby home without a birth certificate or any document that would prove the legality of their “adoption.” What the Espís never suspected was that this would be the beginning of a sinister journey laden with doubts, fears, surprises, threats, and blackmail.

Soon after bringing the child into his home, Manuel was summoned to a lawyers’ office in Valencia about a hundred meters from the hospital where Lucas supposedly came into the world. The lawyers began by demanding 300,000 pesetas in legal fees. “I got angry and shouted that they were frauds because I’d already given 750,000. They responded that if I didn’t give them the money, they would denounce me, and I’d go to prison. We didn’t understand anything they said. My wife and I were practically illiterate. I ended up giving them the money.”

That wouldn’t be the last time. It was merely the first of five distressing payments that were especially large for a pair of textile workers in that time period. The lawyers continued to extort them with threats to send them to prison. Under a Sword of Damocles of blackmail, Espí had to keep giving them money for years. He was so suffocated in that moment, he says, that the director of a bank in Ontinyent offered to lend him up to half a million pesetas without collateral.

Espí calculates that he paid close to three million pesetas ($65,000 2011 USD) in total to different members of the plot. And all to shut their mouths because he had never received a birth certificate or a certificate of adoption. Nothing. The only thing he has, among dozens of photos of the boy, is a Family Book in which, surprisingly, Lucas is registered as the biological son of Manuel Espí Nacher and María Martínez Lluch. But who wrote it, and how, without a doctor’s certificate from a gynecologist testifying that he had attended to María during the birth? How is it possible that the functionary on hand gave them this Family Book without asking for any supporting documents? Doubtless this is because the mafia orchestrated the entire operation and bribed one person after another to close mouths and smooth out sales.

The avarice of the members of the network satisfied, the Espís’ marriage would not again be disturbed by the “leeches.” With the passing of the years, Lucas turned into a spoiled and fussy boy. María satisfied his every whim, and Manuel was quiet and unable to deny him because he had also grown attached to the boy they’d bought.

In adolescence, Lucas fell in love with motorcycles. “He had one that was 49cc touched up so it would run faster, and we passed our days worried that something would happen to him. He always said he wanted to be a motorcycle driver,” Manuel recounted.

The boy didn’t want to study, and at 17 years of age he started to do sporadic work at a gas station and textile workshop. He promised to give part of his salary to his parents, but he didn’t give them a cent.

“We never told him he was adopted. We remember that one Sunday night, we were watching the television, and I felt like telling him, but I didn’t. I know that one of his cousins told him once, but he didn’t ask us anything. Lucas was very free,” Manuel said. “I always had a feeling he would die young,” he added, perhaps because his remorse over having paid for the boy followed him throughout the time they lived together.

His parents worried a lot about the motorcycles, but they were not what ended his life; rather, it was a terrible conflagration in a countryside cabin in which Lucas was spending the night with his girlfriend and another pair of friends. “He wanted to marry that girl. Next year, next year,” he said to us.

“My wife often says to me, ‘We only enjoyed 18 years.’ I always reply, ‘Don’t say ‘only.’ We enjoyed 18 years. We didn’t deserve that much,” he concluded, eyes on the brink of tears.

The Slow Pace of Justice
District attorneys’ offices in all of Spain continue to investigate hundreds of suits presented about the disappearance of twins, the strange deaths of babies apparently born healthy, and irregular or illegal adoptions. More and more cases are coming to light of babies who were registered as the biological children of adoptive mothers who had never been pregnant or given birth.

No charges until now. The majority of suits record the names of doctors, midwives, nurses, nuns, and other intermediaries, but for the moment none have been brought to justice. What’s more, none of them have even been prosecuted, which is causing enormous disquiet and impatience among those reporting the crimes.

Closed cases and archives. The Granada District Attorney’s Office has just put eight of their 29 calls for investigation of possible baby robbers into the archives because of a lack of documentation, the impossibility of finding responsible parties, or the deaths of witnesses, according to the city’s chief attorney, Ana Tárrago. The eight closed cases occurred between 1953 and 1966. “The DA’s Office cannot investigate based on mere suspicion. We have to have more information,” says Tárrago, who recommends that accusers go to court if they don’t agree with her decision.

Probable exhumations. Judges are expected to soon order exhumations of various tombs and burial niches to scientifically test whether the remains there correspond with the babies supposedly buried in the tombs decades ago. There are families who suspect that some graves don’t have cadavers; that is, they are empty caskets. Suspicion is especially intense in La Línea de la Concepción and Algeciras, Cádiz.

ADN Bank. Hundreds of men and women have voluntarily given saliva so their genetic profile will be extracted from it. The purpose is to compare their genes with others’ in order to find similarities proving parentage. This has lead to the creation of a private genetic bank. Until now, the bank has been equal parts encouraging and discouraging, having served to facilitate the reunion of only some of the children with their mothers.

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