Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Civil War Era Tragedy

Today is the anniversary of four criminal abortion deaths from the Cemetery of Choice. I have very scanty information on three of them:
  • On November 19, 1935, 24-year-old Mrs. Edith Eschrich died in New York from a criminal abortion. Though they were arrested,  criminal abortion charges were eventually dropped against Dr. Tobias Ginsberg and his nurse because of insufficient evidence.
  • On November 19, 1924, 38-year-old homemaker Elizabeth Strazdas died at Chicago's Mother Cabrini Hospital from complications of a criminal abortion performed that day. The person responsible for Elizabeth's death was never identified.
  • On November 19, 1913, 27-year-old homemaker Catherine Seabrooke died at St. Anthony's Hospital in Chicago from an abortion performed that day by an unknown perpetrator.
 I have significantly more information, however, on the November 19, 1862 abortion death of Clementina Anderson.

A Heavy Blow

James Anderson, an elderly New York sexton and undertaker, had already suffered much as autumn of 1862 passed. His eldest son, a soldier, had been killed in the line of duty in September. His wife had been so stricken with shock and grief at the loss of their son that she herself had died shortly thereafter. Then in October, his 20-year-old daughter, Clementina, disappeared.

She had left the house on Saturday, October 25, ostensibly to visit relatives in Newburgh. But word came on Wednesday, October 29, that the expected visitor had never arrived. What had become of Clementina? James Anderson and his brother asked the young woman's suitor, 26-year-old Augustus L. "A.L." Simms, if he knew anything of Clemetina's whereabouts. All Simms would say was that perhaps she had gone to the country to visit friends.

This didn't set the frantic father's mind at ease. For three weeks, he unflaggingly searched for his missing daughter, asking Simms again and again for any clue as to where she might have gone. Simms insisted that he had no idea where Clementina was.

The evening of November 19, the doorbell rang at James Anderson's home. He answered to find a hackman on the doorstep, accompanied by an unfamiliar woman. The hackman held what at first appeared to be a bundle of quilts in his arms. The strange visitors came into the house. But when the hackman lay the bundle down on the sofa, Anderson saw that it was actually Clementina.

Taken completely by surprise at the sight of his long-missing daughter, he cried out joyfully that Clementina had come home. Mr. Anderson left the room briefly, overcome with emotion. In the moment her father was gone to compose himself, she breathed her last.

Fate had dealt James Anderson a third tragic blow.

How Had it Come to This?

A. L. Simms had begun courting Clementina about two years earlier, but after about six months Clementina's parents had hard words with the young man. Anderson suspected that Simms was still visiting his daughter behind his back. And as the summer of 1862 turned to fall, Mr. Anderson began to have darker suspicions about the young man's intentions. And he had voiced suspicions to Clementina that she might be pregnant.

The official investigation into how Clementina had died would vindicate her father's suspicions in spades.

Simms made a confession, painting himself as meekly going along with Clementina's every request, but as stalwart defender of his beloved, standing firm in all of his dealings with the abortionist.

HooperBox.jpgAround the 6th or 7th of July, Simms claimed, Clementina had told he that she was pregnant and asked him to buy Hooper's abortion pills on the advice of a married woman. Simms said he got the pills, but they had no effect.

Clementina, Simms told investigators, had pressured him to find another way of heading off the impending baby lest her parents learn of the pregnancy, but statements by others who knew Clementina indicate that she wanted to run away with Simms and get married. 

Meanwhile, Simms went to Dr. Browne and priced an abortion. Browne said that he'd "have her all right in two weeks at the furthest, or perhaps sooner, for the sum of $50".

What Simms Had Arranged

The deaths of Clementina's brother and mother put the abortion arrangements on a back burner for a few weeks. On October 25, Simms met with Browne again, who tried to raise the price, saying that his most recent patient had paid him $100, so he'd not do the abortion for less than $75. The two men haggled and finally Browne agreed to the originally quoted price of $50. Simms brought Clementina there the following evening.

By this time, she would have been at least five or six months pregnant.

Simms said he then went upstairs and helped Clementina to bed. She asked him to tell Browne not to come up that night, delaying the abortion another day.

Simms returned the next evening around 7 p.m. Brown said he'd performed two operations, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, and "they were very successful, and that she would be over her trouble the next day".

Simms went upstairs and found Clementina crying and in a lot of pain. He helped her to undress and go to bed. She'd described the two operations, reporting that they'd been very painful.

When Simms went back downstairs, he said Browne told him to make arrangements to take Clementina away on Friday or Saturday. When Simms came to take Clementina home, Browne said that she was a bit unwell, but that this was normal and no cause for concern. Over successive days Simms returned for updates as Clementina's condition fluctuated, but he was not permitted to see her.

The Homecoming

Finally, on the 19th of November, Browne told Simms he could have Clementina taken away, but not to bring a carriage to the house. Simms found a hackman and with help from a woman at Browne's house loaded Clementina into the hack, instructing the driver to lie about where he had picked Clementina up. The woman accompanied Clementina. Simms went to a hotel for the night then left for Albany.

Upon arriving at the Anderson home, the woman who had helped Clementina into the cab didn't want to go in, but Donohue told her she would have to. He took Clementina into his arms, as she was unable to speak or walk. She only moaned slightly as he took her from the coach. He rang the bell and made the woman who had accompanied him enter the house ahead of him. He lay the sick lady down on a sofa with a pillow under her head. At first he lied to Mr. Anderson, as Simms had told him to do. But Clemetina's death changed everything. No longer would glib lies to James Anderson suffice. A coroner's inquest, a hearing, and a trial followed, bringing out more evidence about how Clementina had met her tragic end.

Investigation and Outcome

Browne already had a reputation for having shady goings-on at his house indicative that it was an abortion den. When his house was searched, the finds included the abortion instruments, blood, clothes, jewelry, and bloody rags.

The coroner's jury ruled, "We find that Clementina Anderson came to her death by inflammation, produced by an abortion at the hands of Dr. Edward M. Browne; further, the Jury say that Augustus L. Simms was accessory before and after the fact."

The case was delayed going to trial, mainly due to political and prosecutorial wrangling. When it finally went to trial in 1863, testimony certainly indicated that Clementina had died from a botched abortion. Simms testified that he knew of the pregnancy and had arranged for the abortion, to be performed by Browne. The physician who had performed the postmortem examination described the signs of recent pregnancy -- enlarged breasts, darkened areolae, an enlarged uterus, signs of where the placenta had detached from the uterine wall. Though the defense found doctors to try to explain everything away, Browne was convicted of third-degree manslaughter in Clementina's death.

No comments: