Zephany Nurse, a South African girl who was kidnapped from Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa on 30 April 1997, when she was two days old has finally been found by her parents. Zephany was reunited with her biological parents, Morne and Celeste Nurse after 17 years.

Celeste Nurse delivered Zephany on 27 April 1997 by caesarean section in the Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town, South Africa. Celeste described a person in a nurse’s uniform, comforting her, while her baby was still in the nearby cot. She then dozed off, still groggy from the operation. When she awoke, a nurse kept asking her where the baby was, at this point Celeste realized that Zephany had been taken.

The hospital contacted the Police for assistance in searching the Hospital. Only a few untraceable items were found, Zephany’s baby nest, a baby garment and a handbag with no identifiable items. A pillow was found in a tunnel that was intended to provide women in labour direct access to the ward from the street. The tunnel also provided access to the old main building, psychiatric department and out-patient section. At the time access was unrestricted.

The Nurse family believes the kidnapper took precautions to move through the ward unnoticed. The pillow was probably used to fake a pregnancy, as no one questions a pregnant woman moving around in a maternity ward. The woman now dressed as a nurse in maroon pants and oatmeal top, made an effort to befriend the mothers in the ward. One of the expectant mothers, who remembered the kidnapper’s face, had spoken to her briefly. On another occasion, this same mother found this same woman holding her baby. When questioned, the woman replied that the baby had been crying and she was comforting her. In a later interview Celeste said: “Her (the kidnapper’s) intention was to steal a child, She didn’t care which child it was.” Five days after Zephany’s birth, the Nurse family went home without their daughter.

Celeste clung to the hope that what happened was not real, or a kind of sick joke and that someone would bring her daughter. “We came home to nothing” she said. Every year since the kidnapping, The Nurse family would celebrate Zephany’s birthday on the 28 April, in an attempt to keep the search for her in the media. Celeste has also given a number of interviews, many of the times when other kidnappings have occurred, always offering support to the affected families.

In at least two instances the Nurse family was given hope that their baby girl would be returned home. One woman, whose neighbors had not noticed her pregnancy, was investigated by the police. However, while the child closely resembled the missing Zephany, it was a boy. In another instance, after almost 12 years of no news, in July 2009 the Nurses received a phone call in which a woman whispered, “I know about your daughter,” and asked for ZAR 500,000 (approx US $70,000) to be delivered at a prearranged place. Police was contacted and the drop off location monitored. However, no one arrived to collect the money. The call was later traced to Glenda Doubell, a neighbor of Celeste’s mother. She was charged with extortion, and was given 3 years house arrest, ZAR 5,000 fine and 600 hours community service.

Cassidy, the Nurses’ second child started a new school where she met friends of Zephany who commented on the uncanny resemblance between the two girls. The two girls formed an almost immediate friendship, despite a 4-year age difference. Once Morne the father of Cassidy, heard about the physical similarities between the two girls, he arranged with Cassidy to meet Zephany at a local takeaway. After this first meeting, Morne contacted the Investigating Officer and further tracked her on social media.

The police started investigating and after the abductors could not provide proof of her birth, DNA tests were conducted. The DNA results were conclusive and Zephany was removed to a place of safety by the Department of Social Services and the 51-year-old woman was arrested in 2015. The Nurse family was granted visitations and Zephany was already calling them mother and father at this time. In March 2016, the woman (name withheld) for legal reasons was convicted for abduction. In August 2016, the woman, now 52 was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Her name is still being withheld “to protect the identity she gave to the baby.” The presiding Judge, John Hlophe told the defendant she had “betrayed” Zephany by her actions. The judge told the accused she had had “all the time in the world” to return the child but had chosen not to.

The judge further stated that the annual local media coverage of the parents’ birthday celebrations for their missing baby daughter meant that there was no way the defendant could not have known they were still looking for her, he said. He also said her decision to plead not guilty and portray herself as a victim in the affair counted against her. The 52-year old woman convicted of kidnapping Zephany Nurse watched stone-faced as the judge handed down his sentence. Delivering his ruling, Judge Hlope criticised the woman for lying to the court during the trial. He dismissed as “a fairytale” her claim that the baby girl had been handed to her by another woman at a railway station.The soft-spoken seamstress raised Zephany as her own, just a few kilometres from the home of her biological parents.

The kidnapped girl’s biological parents, Celeste and Morne Nurse, called her Zephany, but the name she grew up with is not revealed to protect her identity. Local media have previously reported that Zephany does not wish to have a relationship with her biological parents and considers the woman who kidnapped her as her mother. Zephany has since decided to continue living with her abductor’s husband, whom she grew up believing to be her father.

This story has gripped South Africa for years, but now finally has some form of closure.

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