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Officials Let Family Keep Woman In Box

Mon., Feb. 10, 1997

Social workers say they long knew about a mentally and physically disabled woman who was kept in an enclosed cardboard box in her family’s home for 40 years - but did nothing to change her situation.

The woman, Dolores Vina Cotelo, was discovered last week when social service volunteers visited the family’s home to tend to her elderly mother. The volunteers heard a “strange howl” coming from underneath a sink in the laundry room. The 44-year-old woman was found in a small shelter made of cardboard and egg cartons.

Social service officials acknowledged they knew about Vina Cotelo’s dwelling for more than 25 years, El Pais reported Sunday.

Vina Cotelo apparently had contracted meningitis as a child, and was left with impaired vision and mental disabilities, city officials said.

She was taken to a psychiatric hospital over the weekend.

The director of La Coruna’s social service agency, Marian Ferreiro, recommended that she be allowed to return to her family.

She apparently was “well fed and well treated although not in a normal situation,” Ferreiro told El Pais.

Ariadna Barral, director of a church social service group, said the woman mostly stayed inside the box and was fed through holes in its walls.

“She seemed to be in a savage state,” Barral said.

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