Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Three Historic Deaths: 1858, 1897, and 1929

When Jemima Beneway's family and friends saw her off at the Poughkeepsie train station on February 4, 1858, they thought she was going to Norwich, Connecticut to get married. Little did they know that she'd return in a coffin on February 15. Her friends reported their suspicions to the authorities, who conducted an inquest and determined that Jemima had died on February 13 from an abortion arranged by her lover, John Olmstead, and perpetrated by Dr. Milton Gray. However, given the state of medicine, the treatments Gray provided during Jemima's final illness are probably what really killed her.

On January 13, 1897, 28-year-old Oxford Mills school teacher Clara Belle "Belle" Sutliff had been in her sickbed since mid-winter, so she sent for Dr. F. E. Cook. Once alone with Cook, she explained how she had come to her illness. Two years earlier she had gone to Dr. Lacy Kindred Bobo to be treated for measles. Bobo, a married man, began an affair with Belle when she came to his office to pay her bill. In the late fall of 1896, Belle told Bobo that she was pregnant. He had used both drugs and an instrument to try to cause an abortion. Cook began treating Belle, admonishing her not to take any more of the abortifacients, which Will stashed in his trunk. As the days passed, Belle doubted she would recover and decided to tell her story in a 16-page declaration naming Bobo both as the father of her baby and the father of her mortal illness. Despite treatment by two doctors, Belle's condition deteriorated. In her final days she had a nurse caring for her, and Belle again told her story. Gradually, Belle’s organs failed one by one, and her heart stopped at 2:15 a.m. on February 12. Nurse Mary Chapman was with her till the end, as were her brother and sister. In spite of the evidence and Bobo's admission that he was indeed having an affair with Belle, he was popular in the community and hired a large prestigious legal team and was acquitted.

Anna Fazio, age 20, underwent an illegal abortion performed about February 2, 1929, at the Chicago home of midwife Marie Zwienczak. Anna died on February 13. Zwienczak was arrested March 1, as recommended by the coroner. Stephanie Paczkiewicz was booked on February 23 as an accessory, but was not mentioned in the verdict. Zwienczak was indicted for homicide by a grand jury. She was tried, and was sentenced on June 20 to 14 years at Joliet Penitentiary.

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