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Another Urban Legend Come to Life?

By , About.com Guide

May 11, 2000

REUTERS REPORTED on May 10 that narcotics smugglers in the Gulf Arab region abducted a small child, murdered her, and stuffed her hollowed-out body with codeine in order to secretly transport the drug into an Arab country. The horror story was attributed to Abdul Rahman Naser al-Fardan, identified as the head of the police drug squad in Sharjah, one of the United Arab Emirates.

The report claimed a woman carrying the body of the dead child was caught and arrested at an unnamed airport. According to Fardan, an airport official became suspicious "when he tried to play with the apparently sleeping child."

Sound familiar? It should. The story of the drug-stuffed baby has been circulating as an urban legend for at least a quarter-century.

While it may appear at first glance that the urban legend has suddenly come to life, at second glance, there's plenty of reason to doubt it.

Note that the news item doesn't report investigated facts, it recounts what a police official supposedly said. Consider the paucity of detail. Consider how much it resembles this news story published 15 years earlier in the Washington Post:

MIAMI - A federal undercover agent talks about the case of the baby who did not move. An attendant on a flight from Colombia to Miami became suspicious and called U.S. Customs agents to have a look. They discovered that the baby had been dead for some time. Its body had been cut open, stuffed with cocaine and sewn shut.

The Washington Post retracted that story five days after it was published because it couldn't be substantiated. In a follow-up article, a customs official said he had heard the tale repeated as far back as 1973, though to his knowledge it had never been confirmed or substantiated.

Consider, lastly, that folklorists and journalists have followed this rumor for many, many years and have never found factual evidence to support it. Miami crime reporter Edna Buchanan once wrote: "The dead baby is reported at least once a year. Each time, I am one of the many reporters assigned to check it out. It is fiction. It did not happen. I have laid the dead baby to rest so often that I can now see its poor little pasty face in my mind's eye." (From The Corpse Had a Familiar Face, Random House, 1987.)

More details surface; more reasons to doubt

The anecdotal nature of the Gulf region version of the story was reaffirmed in the May 10, 2000 edition of the Guardian, a British newspaper. Like Reuters, the Guardian cited as its source the Gulf News, where it had been reported that Fardan (the narcotics official) had recounted the smuggling incident not in the context of an investigation, but while delivering an anti-drug speech to Zayed University students the day before.

No corroborating evidence was cited, yet the Guardian reported Fardan's statement as fact, as did Gulf News, as did Reuters. Were they unwittingly lending credence to a false rumor? Probably. As Edna Buchanan noted 13 years ago, "The dead baby resurfaces frequently, reported as fact in otherwise responsible and prestigious - and some not so responsible and prestigious - publications. It has appeared on the front page of the Washington Post, in Life magazine, and in the National Enquirer."

As more evidence comes to light (or not), we'll hopefully be able to determine whether an urban legend has indeed come true, or whether the list of media outlets fooled by this tall tale has simply grown longer by three.

Sources and further reading:

Drugs Smuggled in Baby's Corpse
Our report on Internet versions of this legend

Edna Buchanan on the 'Dead Baby'
Excerpts from her 1987 book

Girl Killed to Act as Drug Mule in Gulf
Guardian news story, May 10, 2000

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