Friday, April 10, 2015

Coroner and Jury Disagree in 1924 Abortion Death

On March 29, 1924, 30-year-old Etta Marcus died at Chicago's Francis Willard Hospital (pictured) from complications of a criminal abortion performed that day. The coroner concluded that Dr. William J. Wick had performed the fatal abortion at his office. However, on April 10, Wick was acquitted.

Etta's abortion was typical of criminal abortions in that it was attributed to a physician.

Keep in mind that things that things we take for granted, like antibiotics and blood banks, were still in the future. For more about abortion in this era, see Abortion in the 1920s.

Maternal deaths from all causes, including induced abortions, fell sharply through the beginning of the 20th century, long before abortion was decriminalized. For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion

Monday, April 06, 2015

Abortion Deaths in 1873, 1880, 1906, and 1969

Sarah Hall, a widow about 31 years old, died under suspicious circumstances on Sunday, April 6, 1873 at the Grand Central Hotel in Chicago. Her death was very sudden, and this, coupled with the strange action of her physician, Dr. Reynolds, regarding her death certificate made the hotel owner and other guests suspicious. The coroner had Sarah's body intercepted before it could be shipped out of the city. A postmortem examination showed that she had died from a botched abortion. She had become unwell about a week prior to her death, and as she'd grown increasingly ill she had more medications sent to her from a nearby pharmacy. At the inquest, Reynolds testified that he'd been summoned to care for Sarah once during her final illness but that he never suspected a miscarriage or an abortion. He said that Sarah had refused to be examined, saying it would just make her feel more ill. When he was next summoned to care for her, she was dead. The family asked for a death certificate, he said, so he went and got Dr. Bell to confirm the cause of death as "inflammation of the womb followed by hemorrhage." He and Bell went to the hotel, where they found Sarah laid out in the coffin. They discussed the case and Bell completed the death certificate. However, while embalming her body, Reynolds said, he found a foul-smelling necrotic piece of tissue which Bell told him was placenta. Reynolds asked the family if they wanted a further investigation of Sarah's death. They declined the offer so Reynolds and Bell cut away the bloody parts of Sarah's clothes and put them in a wash basin prior to completing the embalming. I've been unable to uncover any further information about Sarah's death or the investigation.

On April 7, 1880, a woman's bloody cloak, with clumps of hair clinging to it, was found hanging from a spike protruding from a bridge over the River Rough, just south of the Village of Delray, Michigan, near Detroit. After two days of dragging the river, the body of a woman was found. From a description of the dead woman in the newspaper, Mr. Clemens suspected that she was his sister, 26-year-old Anna Clemens of Bay City, Michigan. Anna had last been seen alive in Detroit on April 2. Mr. Clemens positively identified his sister. Mr. Clemens told police that Anna had been engaged to marry Thomas Merritt, who ran the G.D. Edwards & Co. clothing business. They'd been keeping company for about four years. An investigation revealed the abortionist to be Dr. W.G. Cox, who had a drug store at the corner of Cass and Grand River in Detroit. Henry w. Weaver, "an aged furniture repairer," was also arrested, charged with disposing of Anna's body.

Bessie Braun, a 22-year-old homemaker, mother of two, and immigrant from Austria, died April 6, 1906, at Michael Reese Hospital. Chicago from septic complications of an abortion performed on March 20. Before her death, Bessie named midwife Julia Gibson as the person who had perpetrated the abortion, both verbally and in a signed statement. She said she'd paid $5 for the abortion. Bessie's husband, Abraham, testified at the inquest. He said that he had not known anything about an abortion until she became seriously ill on Sunday, though she remained at home until Thursday, when she finally was hospitalized. Gibson, who had been at Bessie's bedside during the declaration, was being escorted out of the hospital by police when she asked to go to the women's dressing room in the hospital basement. She was permitted to go in while a police officer stood guard outside the door. He soon heard a shot, then forced the door and found Gibson lying on the floor suffering from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. She was admitted to the hospital for treatment and was kept both under arrest and under suicide watch. As she lay near death, Gibson confessed her guilt. I have only been able to find conflicting reports on whether she was expected to survive and no confirmation of either her death or her recovery. Gibson had previously been indicted for the November 16, 1905 abortion death of 18-year-old Dorothy Spuhr. 


On April 6, 1969, 35-year-old Mrs. Catherine Barnard of Arvada, Colorado, died of a botched criminal abortion. Catherine had flown from her home to Will Rogers Airport in Oklahoma City, and evidently took a taxi to the office of Dr. Virgil Roy Jobe. A cab driver testified that he'd picked Catherine up at Jobe's office and taken her to the airport, but she ended up instead at South Community Hospital. There, doctors found her gravely ill from a punctured uterus and small intestine. She told them Jobe had perpetrated an abortion. A judge had to rule whether or not Catherine knew she was dying when she confessed to the doctors so that he could decide if her statement was a legally admissible deathbed statement, or inadmissible hearsay. There was, however, other evidence that pointed to Jobe, including two prescriptions written by Jobe both in Catherine's purse, along with her plane ticket and a paper with Jobe's office address and phone number written on it. Around 40 women, identified as abortion patients from Jobe's records, were questioned about his practice, and offered immunity in exchange for their testimony. Jobe, who was later also charged with performing an abortion on a 17-year-old Oklahoma girl, was convicted in Catherine's death. However, somehow after his convictino the charge was reduced to a misdemeanor negligent homicide charge and Jobe was freed after paying a $1,000 fine.[4] 

Friday, April 03, 2015

Two Early 20th Century Chicago Deaths

On April 3, 1919, 22-year-old Mrs. Mary Kizior died at Chicago's Jefferson Park Hospital from an abortion perpetrated by an unknown suspect. A year later, on April 3, 1928, 30-year-old homemaker Stefania Kwit died from complications of a criminal abortion performed that day by midwifePauline Majerczyk. On May 3, Mauerczyk was held by the coroner for murder by abortion, and indicted for felony murder on May 15.

Keep in mind that things that things we take for granted, like antibiotics and blood banks, were still in the future. For more about abortion in this era, see Abortion in the 1920s.



Thursday, April 02, 2015

Fatal Effort of a Likely Midwife

On April 2, 1912, 25-year-old homemaker Elizabeth Jorgeson died from an abortion perpetrated that day by Katie Sauer, whose profession is not given. Sauer was held by the Coroner's Jury and indicted by a Grand Jury on November 30. The case never went to trial.

An article in the Chicago Inter-Ocean from the year before Elizabeth's death identifies a Chicago woman named Katie Sauer as a midwife. I am working to verify if the midwife and the abortionist are the same person.

Note, please, that with overall public health issues such as doctors not using proper aseptic techniques, lack of access to blood transfusions and antibiotics, and overall poor health to begin with, there was likely little difference between the performance of a legal abortion and illegal practice, and the aftercare for either type of abortion was probably equally unlikely to do the woman much, if any, good. For more information about early 20th Century abortion mortality, see Abortion Deaths 1910-1919.


Due to improvements in overall health and medical care, maternal mortality from all causes fell rapidly after 1920. Legalization of abortion didn't even make a blip on the trends.




For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

The Fatal Work of Three Doctors and a Midwife

Edith McIntyre, age 26, died April 1, 1904 at Dr. Charles Eastman's sanitarium in Maine from a botched abortion. Eastman quietly shipped Edith's body home for burial, but suspicions were raised and she was exhumed for the autopsy that confirmed her cause of death. He was convicted of manslaughter.

On April 1, 1911, 23-year-old Chicago homemaker Annie Murphy died from an abortion perpetrated by a midwife (or possibly obstetrician) named Carolina Adams. Adams was held by the Coroner's Jury but the case never went to trial

On March 29, 1921, Dr. Simeon B. Minden performed an abortion in his office on 32-year-old Catherine Riga. Catherine died three days later at Lincoln Hospital. It took only two days for his trial, which ended in a conviction. Minden collapsed upon hearing the verdict. A New York Times note card on Ancestry.com indicates that Minden was granted a new trial on May 18, 1922, and was pardoned by the governor after serving one year and four months of a 2.5 to 10-year sentence on December 12, 1924.


Headshot of a bald man with round, Harold Lloyd-style glasses.
Dr. Guy Brewer
Ruby Ford is the third of six women whose abortion deaths were attributed to Dr. Guy E. Brewer, a beloved philanthropist in the small town of Graber, Oklahoma. Ruby, a homemaker, died on April 1, 1934, 11 days after an abortion committed on March 20 "at the combination bachelor dwelling and office of Dr. Brewer in Garber." Ruby, a resident of Ponca City, Oklahoma, was married to Vernon Ford. She was about 27 years old. The other victims were Mrs. Wanda Lee Gray, 20, of Enid; Mrs. Myrtle Rose, 21, of Ponca City; Mrs. Elizabeth Shaw, 23, of Roxanna, and Doris JonesBrewer was sentenced to six four-year sentences, to run concurrently, for the six abortion deaths.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Two Doctors and a Midwife Implicated in Historic Abortion Deaths

Sketch of a young woman of the late 19th century
I found so much today when doing supplemental research on today's first death that I'll just present a synopsis. On March 31, 1891,  a sickly young woman boarded a train out of San Fransciso, aided by a middle-aged man with enormous muttonchop whiskers.  At Benicia, California, a fellow passenger helped the young woman to leave the train and get into a carriage. She died in the carriage before arriving at her final destination. The young woman was identified as Ida Shaddock. The man who put her on the train was eventually identified as Dr. Samuel Hall. Dr. H. Janeway performed the autopsy. He found damage from a sharp instrument used to perpetrate an abortion. The injuries were so extensive that Dr. Janeway said that it was highly improbable that Ida could have caused them herself. Hall was tried twice for murder in Ida's death. The first trial ended in a hung jury, and the second in an acquittal.

On March 31, 1914, 24-year-old Frances Fergus, formerly of Salt Lake City, died at Chicago's German Evangelical Deaconess Hospital from peritonitis caused by an abortion. Dr. James R. Struble was implicated but released after the coroner's jury inquest. Two years later Struble was implicated in the abortion death of Augusta Bloom.

On March 31, 1926, 24-year-old Louise Maday died at Chicago's West End Hospital from complications of an abortion performed at an earlier date.Midwife Amelia Becker was held by the coroner on April 27.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Safe and Legal in 1986

Gail Wright was 29 years old when she underwent a legal abortion. She was 20 weeks pregnant.
After her abortion, she developed sepsis.

She died of adult respiratory distress syndrome on March 26, 1986, leaving behind a husband.