Thursday, August 30, 2007

Anniversary: Mysterious abortion death in 1886

Lena Dakota, a young unmarried woman, died August 31, 1886 at Huntington in Baker County. She'd been staying at a hotel in Huntington, and had been violently ill a few days before her death. She also had evidenly recently expelled a fetus. She died of hemorrhage.

Dr. Clements was treating Lena at the time of her death. He'd checked on her at her hotel early on the morning of her death, and locked her door when leaving, indicating that she was sleeping quietly and ought not to be disturbed.

A few hours later, at about 9:00, Dr. Clements again checked on Lena. He called out for help, saying that Lena was dying. He was immediately arrested. He told the constable that he had something to show him. He took the constable to his office and showed him a fetus that he said Lena had expelled.

When Lena first took ill, Dr. Clements went to the drug store and showed the druggist a "stout sharped quill," which was about six inches long and bloody. He told the druggist that he'd taken the quill from Lena's room. He reportedly told the druggist, "I want you to examine this. I may need it for my protection. I am afraid this case will get me into a scrape yet. Some woman has been using this for a criminal purpose."

At autopsy, slight abrasions were noted on the interior of Lena's uterus. Some drugs were also found, labeled from "Druggist's Prescriptions of Kansas City, Mo." as well as from other druggists in the Idaho territory. There were also drugs prescribed by Dr. Clements, suitable for obstetric purposes. The drugs didn't seem to be capable of having caused Lena's death.

John Williams, a cook at the hotel, was called as a witness. He testified that he knew Lena and had last seen her at about 4:30 in the afternoon the Monday before her death. He said that he'd found her lying on the floor, very sick. He said that he picked her up and moved her to the bed, and he brought her some lemonade and some ice-water.

Williams asked if he should send for a doctor, but Lena told him no, that Johnny would come in the morning and send to Wood River for a doctor. Williams said that he'd asked her if the doctor had used instruments on her, and she'd told him yes.

Dr. Clements testified that on August 12, 1886, Lena had come to him requesting an abortion, which he refused to do. He said that about 10 or 12 days prior to her death Lena had again come to him, seeking care for "some derangement of the uterus." He examined her and found a sponge in her cervix. He used a speculum and forceps to remove the sponge.

Dr. Clements also said that the sponge was covered with foul-smelling pus and that it had been covering a laceration. He said he treated Lena for about six days, and didn't see her again until August 25, when she came to im complaining of nausea and abdominal pain. She denied having undergone an abortion.

Dr. Clements said that he diagnosed Lena's pain as labor pain, and that he prescribed "an anti-abortive treatment." He said that there wre no other physicians in the area to consult with, and Lena had no other means of seeking care, so he continued to treat her.

Dr. Clements said that eventually Lena told him that she'd inserted a quill into her uterus to try to cause an abortion, and that she was seriously ill. He reported that she expelled a dead fetus on August 30, which he brought to his office and later surrendered to the constable.

Dr. Clements also said that he'd given Lena opiats to help her rest, and left her room in order to get breakfast. When he returned he found her dead of hemorrhage.

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