Friday, January 30, 2015

Late 19th & Early 20th Century Deaths

New York, 1893

On January 29, 1893, 21-year-old German immigrant Bertha Kern was taken to St. Mark's Hospital in New York. The doctors who examined her concluded that her case was hopeless and told Bertha that she was dying. Bertha "reluctantly acknowledged that she had been in the hands of Mrs. Caroline Kraft, a woman who called herself a midwife...."

The coroner was summoned, arriving at midnight to take Bertha's statement. "With death staring her in the face, she declared that a man who lived on St. Mark's place had betrayed her. But she exonerated him from all complicity in the crime that had brought her to death's door. Two weeks before, she said, realizing her position, she had gone to Mrs. Kraft. She had read her advertisement in an afternoon newspaper."

Kraft quoted a price of $20, and Bertha returned with the money. She was taken to "a dark room in the middle of the flat" where the abortion was then perpetrated.

Bertha took ill, but still reported to her job as a domestic servant. Her condition must have deteriorated rapidly, because her employers took one look at her and quickly took her to the hospital, accompanied by her sister, Bertha's only living relative, who was also in their employ.

The coroner notified the police, who quickly went to Kraft's apartment. A woman there told them that Kraft was out and wouldn't return for several days. However, the police searched the house, finding a case of instruments. They then turned their attention to the roof, where they found Kraft crouching behind the chimney. "Of course she denied her guilt. But she was terribly excited."

The police immediately took Kraft to Bertha's bedside, where the dying woman made a positive identification of her killer.

Bertha had also said that her lover, Franz Steinbrenner, had purchased abortifacient pills for her at some point, though she insisted that he'd known nothing of her decision to entrust herself to Caroline Kraft when the pills failed to dislodge the fetus.

Police sought Steinbrenner and found evidence that he was planning to flee. Acting on a hunch that he'd want to see Bertha one last time, police staked out the hospital. Sure enough, Steinbrenner went to Bertha's bedside, where the two of them wept and "renewed protestations of devotion."

Bertha breathed her last at around 5:00 the afternoon of the 30th.

An autopsy was conducted which found "unmistakably that she had died of septic peritonitis resulting from the operation; had been killed as surely as if Mrs. Kraft had cut her throat."

A coroner's inquest was held on February 2, with the coroner's jury identifying Kraft as responsible for Bertha's death. Her lover, Franz Steinbrenner, was exonerated. 

During Kraft's trial, three jurors reported being approached by a man, later identified as John Wagner, Caroline Kraft's brother-in-law, who attempted to bribe them. In spite of -- or perhaps in part because of -- the bribery attempt, Kraft was convicted of manslaughter, sentenced to six years. However, Kraft later got the case overturned on appeal based on technicalities surrounding Bertha's deathbed statement. A headline relating to the case indicates the possibility of corruption. "Her Husband Has a Political Pull -- He Belongs to Keating's Tammany Club."

Chicago, 1912

On January 30, 1912, 21-year-old Jeanette Mebzarek died in Chicago from an abortion perpetrated by nurse/midwife Anna Chezanowaki that same day. Chezanowaki was indicted by a Grand Jury on February 15, but the case never went to trial.

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