Sunday, June 02, 2013

Getting Away With Murder: The Lessons of Lucy Hagenow

At an early hour yesterday morning coroner Stanton, acting under the advice of Health Officer Barger, had the body of Abbia Richards, who died on June 2d, and was buried two days later, exhumed and taken to the Morgue, where an autopsy revealed the fact that a criminal operation had been performed.--“A Suspicious Case,” Daily Alta California, Wednesday, August 29, 1888*
A Mysterious Death Prompts an Investigation
Abortionist Lucy "Louse" Hagenow
A death certificate signed by Dr. Xavier Dodel stated that 28-year-old Abbia (or Abbie) Richards died on June 2, 1888, at 12 Nineteenth Street, San Francisco -- the "maternity hospital" of Dr. Louise Hagenow.

Dodel gave the cause of death as peritonitis and filed it with undertaker Theodore Dierks. Health Office officials, however, found the whole thing suspicious. They visited Dierks, who at first refused to discuss the matter but who finally said that at about 10 p.m. on June 2, a man identifying himself as Mr. Richards had come to the undertaking establishment, saying that he needed to arrange a burial for his wife, who had died at Hagenow's hospital several hours earlier.

During the ensuing inquest, which took place in late August, Hagenow and Dodel were brought to the morgue from the city prison, where they were being held for the June 26 abortion death of Anna Doreis.  Another young woman, Emma Dep, had also at Hagenow's maternity home shortly before the inquest into Abbia's death got underway.

Hagenow admitted that Abbia had died at her practice but denied having perpetrated an abortion. Dodel admitted that he had signed the death certificate, but made vague references to two other doctors that he refused to name as having had some involvement somehow.

The man who had  presented himself as Abbia Richards' husband was just a clerk with no connection to the dead woman, who had assumed the name of Richards in order to arrange the burial.

As the investigation went on, a creepy and conflicting picture emerged.

A man named William E. Moorcroft, identified as "the guardian of the deceased Abbie Richards," told the coroner that his ward had been only 19 years of age, not 28. She had become sick in Port Costa and gone to San Francisco, where her guardian had "supported her as well as he was able to." However, suspicions had been raised that Moorcroft had been "criminally intimate with her and responsible for her condition when placed in the hands of Mrs. Hagenow."

Hagenow accomplice
Dr. Xavier Dodel
Dr. G. M. Terrill "stated that he was visited one night by a man whom he now knows to be Moorecroft, who desired him to go to Mrs. Hagenow's hospital and see a girl who was very sick." Moorecroft wanted two doctors to examine the girl, so Dr. John Morse was called in to assist.

Morse and Terrill saw Dodel there, with Abbia "in a dying condition." They advised Hagenow to give her stimulants, but didn't examine her.

Special Officer Holbrook of the Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Children testified that on several occasions they'd had cause to investigate Moorecroft's treatment of his ward. In 1887, Abbia had come to him saying that "her guardian was going to Port Costa and wanted her to go with him as his mistress. The society took care of her for a while, but she soon disappeared," and the next Holbrook heard, Abbie was living with Moorecroft again. 

Had Abbie been removed from Morecroft's guardianship, any abuse would have been stopped and the entire tragedy prevented.

Since things were getting hot in San Francisco, Hagenow relocated to Chicago, which had a more congenial attitude toward abortionists. 

She drummed up business with thinly veiled advertisements in Chicago daily papers, a typical one reading, "Dr. Louise Hagenow; licensed physician; expert; twentyseven years; female diseases; a new scientific, painless method; no operation; good results; 330 East Division street, near Wells; 10 to 4, 7 to 8."

Her ads brought her steady business, and she was implicated in the abortion deaths of Minnie Deering in 1891, Sophia Kuhn and Emily Anderson in 1892, Hannah Carlson in 1896, and Marie Hecht. in 1899. A brief hiatus ensued beginning April 30, 1900, when Hagenow was sentenced to one year to life in prison for Marie Hecht's death. She was paroled after serving only a year, and during her next period of freedom was held to the grand jury eleven times for patient deaths, including making headlines for a death a year from 1905 to 1907:  May Putnam, Lola Madison, and Annie Horvatich.

Lucy "Louise" Hagenow

On December 17, 1907, Annie Horvatich's death finally won Hagenow a trip to Joliet. Though Hagenow "pleaded innocence in the same hysterical manner that had characterized her actions many times when taken before the authorities for similar offenses," she was sentenced to twenty years, a sentence that lead the Rockford Gazette to declare, "Death Trail is Ended."

In her jail cell and pressed by reporters, Hagenow snapped, "Yes, I've been arrested before -- what's that to you? Yes, I've served time in Joliet -- why do you blame me for these things? If these fool girls would take care of themselves they wouldn't have these things done, would they? There's lot of midwives in Chicago making a living the way I do. I've been performing operations for fifty years. Since I got out of prison this last time, though, business is booming. Everybody's doing it -- no one wants babies; they come to us -- it's our business to help them."

The sigh of relief was premature.

Hagenow was freed from Joliet on October 29, 1917, having served less than half of her sentence. She went straight back to business, landing 22-year-old Pauline Albrecht in the hospital fighting for her life.

Hagenow victim
Nina Pierce
Then, suddenly in 1925, it was as if something snapped and Hagenow began making up for lost time. Five young women lost their lives at Lucy Hagenow's hands that year: Lottie Lowy, Nina Pierce, Jean Cohen, Bridget Masterson, and Elizabeth Welter. Hagenow followed up in 1926 with her final patient death: Mary Moorehead. That makes a total of 17 abortion deaths I could positively identify for which Hagenow was implicated in some way. 

Though she was sentenced to prison for the death of Mary Moorehead, when she appealed the Supreme Court of Illinois ordered a new trial in 1929. The judge, noting that there was no new evidence, dismissed the case, telling Hagenow, "You had better make your peace with God, Lucy Hagenow. I do not think your months on earth are many."

Hagenow, the Associated Press noted, was nearly deaf and "may not have heard. She muttered something, and shambled laboriously from the room."

As near as I can determine, Hagenow died September 26, 1933, in Norwood Park, Cook County, Illinois. Her occupation on her death record was given as "midwife."

How the Authorities Failed Women

Kermit Gosnell
Had San Francisco courts locked Hagenow up for life after the first verified death, Anna Doreis, at least 14 women would have been spared. If Chicago courts had locked her up for life after Minnie Deering's death, at least 13 Chicago women's lives would have been spared. But just as a see-no-evil attitude permitted Kermit Gosnell to ply his deadly trade in Philadelphia for decades of the safe-n-legal era, a lenient attitude toward abortion in Chicago let Lucy Hagenow ply her trade.

Unless the Compton-Carr Effect is broken -- that Access Uber Alles mentality that considers dead women an acceptable price to pay for the availability of abortion -- women will suffer and die regardless of abortion's legal status. We need to have laws in place that holds people accountable for failing to report abortionists, and to demand justice when these butchers kill.

*Many abortion-rights activists claim that illegal abortion deaths were grossly under-reported because the doctor would simply lie on the death certificate. While it is true that they would lie, we need to keep in mind that because killing a woman during an abortion was murder, and covering up an abortion death was also a crime. Undertakers, doctors, nurses, public health officials, and cemetery workers reported abortion deaths to authorities frequently, as did friends and family members of the dead women. Whether they reported these deaths out of a desire to avoid prosecution or as a cry for justice, that their allegations were taken seriously is underscored by the practice of exhuming the bodies and holding inquests. Abortion deaths are much easier to hide in the safe-n-legal era because killing an abortion patient is no longer a crime unless the abortionist is guilty of spectacular malpractice.

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