Tuesday, August 25, 2020

August 25: The Unwilling Widower and his Teenage Housekeeper

In April of 1893, 17-year-old Ada Hawk was living with her parents, Eliza J. and Samuel M. Hawk  in Walnut Grove, Missouri. John O. Edmonson, a bank vice-president and middle-aged widower, hired her to serve as a live-in housekeeper for the home he shared with his mother in Greene County, about a mile from her family.

When summer came, Edmonson began trying to cajole several men into marrying Ada so that her impending baby would have a legitimate father. This was a plan she reportedly resented. Unwilling to marry Ada himself and unable to recruit another husband for her, Edmonson began asking around for the best way to "get rid of it." Ada seemed willing to go along with this plan. She and Edmonson first tried inserting a rubber catheter, to no effect. Edmonson consulted with a druggist who said he didn't know how to cause an abortion. Edmonson asked if whiskey and "Indian  turnip," more commonly known as Jack-in-the-pulpit, would do the job. King indicated that there was a place near Walnut Grove where Indian turnip could be found.
Having had no success with the catheter -- or, if they tried it, "Indian turnip" -- Edmonson took Ada to Springfield on July 10, where a doctor had supposedly agreed to perform an abortion for $50 (over $1,400 in 2020 dollars). Ada then checked in to the Commercial boarding house in Springfield with Edmonson on August 28. The elderly Mrs. Donaldson, who was keeping the boarding house, insisted that while Ada had told her of the pregnancy and requested help getting rid of it, she'd refused to do anything to abort the pregnancy. Evidently, at some point in the journey, some sort of concoction was also given to Ada.
Ada's mother reported that Ada had come home on August 1 and had taken sick on the 5th, reporting pain in the stomach and bowels. Edmonson coached Ada on how to hide the abortion from her mother and was very attentive of her during her illness. Some two or three weeks passed during which Ada kept her secret and continued to take some greenish medicine Edmonson had provided. The medicine seemed to make Ada more ill. She bled heavily and passed a clot, which led her mother to wonder if her daughter had been pregnant and had aborted.
Both Ada's parents said that they insisted on sending for a doctor, wanting Dr. Hardin, the family physician. Ada, however would only consent to the doctor Edmonson chose, Dr. Perry. 
"That excited my suspicions that my daughter had not done right," Mr. Hawk testified. "I asked her about it but she made no reply. She never made any confidential statement to me after or during her sickness."
Dr. J. K. Perry testified that Edmonson had come to his office on August 21, asking him to tend to Ada for her headache and bowel pain. Perry arrived to find her with a fever of 103, and was told that she'd been delirious. He diagnosed her as having typhoid malarial fever and denied that she was pregnant when he treated her.

Perry came nine times to care for Ada, Mr. Hawk said, and always insisted that everybody leave the room while he attended to her.
As her health deteriorated, Ada realized that she was dying and said to her mother, "Ma, how I love you. You will keep our secret, won't you?"

Mrs. Hawk promised that she would.

"Well, Ma, I did miscarry the Saturday after I came home [August 5]." Ada had gone into the woods to deliver the baby, then returned to the house and acted as if nothing had happened.
The dying girl turned to Edmonson and said, "John, you know that it was yours, for you forced me, and you know you forced me. You know you did and you can be punished for it yet. Are you going to do what you said you would? You said you would take care of me, and if you don't I will commit suicide."

Edmonson told Ada to be quiet and stop making herself so upset.
Ada died on August 25. Mrs. Hawk further testified that after her daughter died, "Mr. Edmonson told me that if I would get my husband quiet he would do what was right by us. "

Ada's father testified that, "Mr. Edmonson did not ask me to keep my mouth shut in regard to my daughter's death, but he said he would pay for the hauling of the coffin and of the corpse. He said he would not go to my house so much only to keep suspicion down."

After Ada's death, Edmonson asked a Mr. Brown to help him dig a grave, telling Brown that "he wanted her buried quick" and that "the family wanted a shallow grave." Word got to the authorities about the suspicious circumstances. Edmonson was arrested then released on $500 bond (over $14,000 in 2020 dollars). The coroner arrived in town and had Ada's body exhumed, but it was too decomposed for him to be able to perform a satisfactory autopsy. Instead he held the inquest that brought the story out. 

Edmonson, for his part, had conveniently hopped into a buggy and stayed out of town for the entire time the coroner was there investigating Ada's death. This did little to help him, as the coroner swore out a new warrant and bond was set at $2,000 (over $57,000 in 2020 dollars).

When the time came for his trial, Edmonson managed to get a change of venue from Greene County to Taney County, which did nothing to help him. Edmonson was convicted of manslaughter in the second degree. Though he appealed his case the conviction was upheld. Edmonson, who had relocated to Springfield, married and become a father since Ada's death, was sentenced to three years in the state penitentiary. In an interview he told a reporter that he was innocent and appreciated the support he was getting from his many friends. He planned to petition the governor for clemency. 

  • "Abortion Suspected," St. Louis Post Dispatch, August 28, 1893
  • "It Was Abortion," Springfield Leader and Press, August 29, 1893
  • "Her Dark Secret," Springfield Democrat, August 29, 1893
  • "Trial Tomorrow," Springfield Leader and Press, September 1, 1893
  • "Edmonson Must Serve," Springfield Leader Democrat, December 4, 1895
  • Parents' names found in census records

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