I sent a detailed bug report to the GNU folks, offering to do whatever I could to help
The reply said:
I have heard of this happening before. I was not able to find out why. Do you have a backup of earlier versions so you can get most of your keys out? If so, you might try to recover by moving to DB-2.? routines. They are still being updated an developed. gdbm has not had any active development in years.
So I restored what I could from the backup tapes
I switched to Berkeley DB
I have not used GDBM since
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