Thursday, November 12, 2020

November 12: The Elderly Midwife's Fatal Efforts

Mary Murawski of Rockford, Illinois was a 75-year-old German immigrant. Though she could barely read and write English, she had worked as an unlicensed midwife for decades. On November 1, 1952, she was approached by Mrs. Castronovo, a woman who had formerly lived in the same apartment building as Murawski. Mrs. Castronovo was concerned about her daughter, 22-year-old Isabella Cuda. Isabella's husband, Anthony, had abandoned her and was providing no support at all to Isabella and their child. Now Isabella was pregnant again. Mrs. Castronovo asked Murawski if she would perform an abortion. Murawski said that she was busy that day but would perform the abortion the following day for a fee of $5 (about $50 in 2020 dollars).

Isabella went to Murawski's home the next day. Murawski inserted a hard rubber catheter into Isabella's uterus and told her to leave it there overnight. The next day Murawski went to the home Isabella shared with her mother, removed the catheter, and administered a douche. This, of course, caused in infection. Isabella was admitted to Swedish Memorial Hospital in Rockford.

While Isabella was in the hospital, her brother, Vincent B. Castronovo, Jr., was called to her bedside. The young Air Force officer found his sister in great pain. She was having difficulty breathing. Isabella told him about the abortion. The family also called in a priest to administer last rites. Isabella clearly realized that she was dying.

Dr. Paul A. VanPernis performed an autopsy the day Isabella died and verified that she had been pregnant and had no health problems that would necessitate an abortion to save her life. The abortion had caused an infection that had damaged her kidneys and liver and caused her death.

Two police women questioned Murawski and prepared a written statement, which they then read to her. Murawski signed the statement. An Assistant State's Attorney also interrogated Murawski, who signed a typed transcript of the interrogation.

 Murawski had already done time for a non-fatal abortion in the 1940s and had been implicated in the 1928 abortion death of Lola Whiteman.

Murawski was convicted of abortion and got a 5 to 10 year prison sentence. She appealed her conviction on the grounds that Isabella's deathbed confession to her brother was not admissible because she was being charged with the abortion, not for Isabella's death. Her conviction was upheld on appeal on the grounds that since the abortion had caused the death, a confession about the circumstances of Isabella's death was relevant. 


According to the Homicide in Chicago Interactive Database, 22-year-old homemaker Margaret Linstrom died at Chicago's American Hospital on November 12, 1917 from an abortion perpetrated by Dr. Anna Sorenson. 

Sorenson had been implicated in the January 2 death of Margaret Crowe and the August death of Emelia Gorman. Sorenson's chain of death ended with her own death in prison on November 12 or 13. She was believed to have died of poisoning. 


Watch the YouTube video.

Newly added sources for Isabella Cuda:
  • "Midwife Faces Charges," The Pantagraph, December 13, 1928
  • "Rockford Midwife Faces Charges After Death," Edwardsville Intelligencer, December 5, 1928
  • "Hold Midwife on Abortion Charge," Belvidere Daily Republican, April 20, 1945
  • People v. Murawski, 394 Ill. 236 (1946)
  • "Court Upholds Murder, Abortion Convictions," Decatur Daily Review, January 20, 1954
  • "State Supreme Court Upholds Convictions of Murder, Abortion," Freeport Standard Journal, January 20, 1954
  • People v. Murawski 2 Ill. 2d 143 (1954)

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