Soon after Celeste Nurse gave birth to daughter, Zephany Nurse, her new born baby had been snatched away from her while she was asleep, on 27 April 1997 at Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town, South Africa. After years of investigation and with no luck, there wasn’t much being done until Celeste and husband Morne Nurse were informed by their younger daughter, Cassidy, that there was a senior at her school who resembled her to a great extent.
After having been told this, the parents contacted Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks). Following up to the recent conversation, they conducted a DNA test on both the children and the results proved that they were both sisters.
When the matter had been taken to the court, the kidnapper was served with a 10 years of prison sentence by Judge John Hlophe. The judge believed that a prison sentence was an obvious decision since the 51- year old Lavender Hill was convicted of kidnapping, contraventions of sections in Children’s Act and fraud. While giving Lavender her sentence Judge John Hlophe said “t is very clear you caused so much harm to the nurse family. And one would have expected you to apologise but you chose not to. It’s also very clear you have caused much harm to Zephany. You have actually betrayed her‚”. Both the family of the kidnapper and the Nurse family were present in the court while the sentence had been handed out.
Lavender Hill told the court that she had bought Zephany from a woman named Sylvia. In 1997 Sylvia was giving Lavender her fertility treatment after she had a miscarriage. The prosecutor stated in the court that Hill had plead not guilty and considered herself a victim in the scenario. She believed that she had been “tricked”. Lavender told BBC “No-one believes me at this moment and I’m a victim myself. I was tricked into something I was not aware of”. According to the police, Sylvia has not been found, yet.
The husband of Lavender Hill expresses that he only found out about the kidnapping after the issue came into limelight. However, he believes that his wife has been a good mother to Zephany. He still continues to stand by his wife claiming “We would always thank her for being a wonderful mother,”. He also spoke highly of the time they spent together with the kidnapped girl, as a family. “For 17 years, we [have had] a tradition of breakfast-in-bed every Mother’s Day my wife spent with Zephany. I would do the eggs, Zephany would do the toast, flowers and presents. She would also do the decorations,”. The psychologist who had been dealing with the kidnapper and her husband conveys that Lavender was in fact brought Zephany up with great care and love. She also conveys that in Lavender sees herself to be innocent.
After finding out he truth about herself and the fact the her mother had kidnapped her from her biological parents, Zephany has not yet been able to make peace with her current reality. The man she grew up believing was her father told the media that Zephany has been in shock because “losing her mother”. She had made a plea for privacy along which she had issued along with her legal guardian, Director Ann Skelton at Centre for Child Law at the University of Pretoria. Zephany later decided to move back with the father figure who helped bringing her up.
Even after having to find her kidnapped daughter after 19 years, mother Celeste Nurse believes that the damage has already been done and the situation cannot be fixed anymore.
Zephany’s biological father also expressed that the kidnap of their daughter cost him his marriage with Celeste.