A wrong link is an absolute nightmare, says this Spoorloos fixer

Liza da Silva prefers to call herself ‘detective’ than ‘fixer’. Her work hasbeen in the spotlight since it was revealed last week that the hit TV show_without a trace_ matched adopted children to the wrong biological parents.

The program receives a lot of “negative attention,” says Da Silva, who didbetween five and ten assignments for Spoorloos. The essence of what she doesis ‘investigate’ and ‘provide information’.

Last Wednesday, Colombian fixer Edwin Vela had an important role in thebroadcast of the TV program Scammers Tackled by journalist Kees van derSpek. The episode shows how he is involved in a mismatch twice. The storybegins with a young woman from Assen who, together with her friend, discoversthat her so-called biological mother is not her biological mother at all. Thetwo look for a second case together, which also turns out to be a wrong match.

The good news: in this second case they find – albeit ten years later – thereal biological mother of the adopted child, who is now an adult man. Thistime the man knows for sure, the match is confirmed with a DNA test. Since thebroadcast, KRO-NCRV has been investigating fourteen other matches made byfixer Edwin Vela. Those involved tell the NOS that it went wrong in at leastfive more cases.

How do these ‘fixers’ work? And how exceptional is a case like Vela’s? __

The work of these ‘researchers’ is anything but simple, says a fixer workingin East Asia, who does not want her name in the newspaper for privacy reasons.By telephone she tells about her experiences as a paid researcher forSpoorloos – years ago. Her last case for Spoorloos was around 2008. She nowworks for other media.

“Spoorloos sent me documents with names on them, sometimes even an address,”says the fixer. But often the addresses were no longer correct. Fixer Da Silvaagrees. Sometimes the names don’t even match. “I once had a case in Brazilwhere a minor mother at the orphanage gave her mother’s name.”

Da Silva did her assignments for Spoorloos voluntarily: “You should not wantto earn money from other people’s tears.” About ten years ago she started herown foundation with which she traces biological parents of adopted children.She works from the Netherlands and has many contacts in Brazil.

You shouldn’t want to make money from other people’s tears>> Liza da Silva ‘fixer’

The fixers pull out all the stops to trace the families of adopted children:local databases, street interviews, the local child protection, the orphanage,foundations involved in the adoption. The fixer in Asia: “And sometimes itstill doesn’t work. For example, because the employees of the orphanage havebecome too old to remember things well.” She thinks that in the years sheworked for Spoorloos she only solved about ten percent of the cases.”Spoorloos did not make a fuss about that, if in doubt: no match.”

Once the family member has been found, the work can be grateful, says thefixer in Asia. “It was very satisfying when I found someone’s mother.” Thefixer mainly operated alone, without the intervention of a correspondent.”Spoorloos asked me to report extensively on details and asked a lot ofquestions.”

The work has a dark side, says fixer Da Silva. “It is an absolute nightmare tomake a wrong pairing action.” Taking a DNA test is crucial, she says. Thefixer in East Asia agrees. Until 2008, when she worked for Spoorloos, theresearch usually did not involve DNA tests.

Da Silva was “stunned” when she heard that Spoorloos has only been using DNAtesting as standard since 2019. The tests have been available for much longer.“If there is no commercial laboratory or large hospital locally, you can havea cheek mucus sample sent to the Netherlands by registered post. All you needis a clean cotton swab from the drugstore, rubber gloves, a protectiveenvelope. I have often helped families with this.”

‘Time-consuming process’

Spoorloos has indeed tested for DNA as standard since 2019, says aspokesperson for KRO-NCRV. But even before that, since 2000, DNA tests wereused to verify a match. “At the beginning a few times a year in case of doubt,over time more and more.” Previously, DNA testing was “a very time-consumingprocess,” the spokesperson said.


Various sources working in adoption research and a Dutch hospital confirm thatthe DNA tests based on cheek mucus became accessible since the turn of thecentury. Initially, this was only possible at the hospital and it cost around1,500 guilders. It now costs about 1,000 euros at the hospital and less than200 euros at a commercial laboratory.

Amanda Janssen of the Sri Lanka DNA Foundation helps adoptees and theirbiological family. She says about Spoorloos: “I was honestly very surprisedthat they did it without standard DNA tests for so long. DNA does not lie.”Her own foundation has been doing this from the start, in 2017. You can ordera test on the website for 69 euros.

Janssen himself was adopted from Sri Lanka, “with false papers”. Since shebecame pregnant herself, she has been looking for her biological family there.She has already had a mismatch twice, which came to light through DNA checks.

DNA testing is therefore the holy grail of research methods in the adoptionworld. Yet there are other ways to determine a match, say Da Silva and thefixer in East Asia. A common “trick” is not to reveal the child’s name anddate of birth to the birth mother, Da Silva says. “I’m just saying I have goodnews: your child is looking for you.” If the biological mother can confirm thename and date of birth, that says a lot. Another method, according to thefixer in Asia, is to interrogate an aunt or grandmother. In addition, physicalfeatures can make you feel uneasy.

With her foundation, Da Silva will soon offer two hundred biological mothersin Brazil the opportunity to donate DNA whose profile will be included in adatabase. They don’t have to pay for it. “Hopefully many more matches can becompleted in this way.”

With the collaboration of Wilfred Takken.