Monday, November 14, 2022

November 14, 1873: Was Mary the First Victim of Dr. Charles Earll?

We, the jury, find that the said Mary A. Hill, now lying dead at No. 22 Price place, in the City of Chicago... came to her death Nov. 14, 1873, from inflammation of the uterus and peritoneum, produced by an abortion, and we, the jury, from the evidence, find that said abortion was the result of an operation performed on the said Mary Adele Hill by Dr. Charles Earll, with the knowledge and consent of James Hill, husband of the aforesaid Mary A. Hill, and we, the jury, recommend that the said Dr. Charles Earll be held as principal, and the said James Hill as accessory, before the fact, to answer to the Grand Jury in the Case.  - "The City in Brief," Chicago Tribune, November 23, 1873

This was the announcement made by a coroner's jury after a week-long inquest during which they sorted out a lot of conflicting testimony. Somehow, though, all of the testimony I've found covered in the news is exculpatory of Dr. Earll and Mary's husband. 

Dr. Emmons, the County Physician, testified about the postmortem examination, which verified that an abortion had indeed been the cause of death. 

Dr. Duff testified that Mrs. Hill had come to him offering to pay $30 (about $650 in 2020) to perform an abortion, but he refused.

Dr. T. D. Fitch, who had been the Hill family physician for four years, testified that he'd been called in to attend to Mary. From her appearance, he first thought that she was suffering from cholera. She told him that she had spoken to Dr. Earll about an abortion, but when he named his fee of $50 (over $1,000 in 2020), she realized that she couldn't afford it so she decided to do the abortion herself, though she didn't reveal the method she used. She had expelled the dead baby the previous Saturday, November 8. This led Dr. Fitch to conclude that an operation that Dr. Earll had performed the next day had been an attempt to treat Mary. Mary also told him that her husband had known nothing about any of this.

Mrs. Sarah Hall, who had known Mary for ten years, even before her marriage, also testified. She said that Mary had come to her house and told her that she was going through "change of life" -- menopause. Sarah had told her that she was too young for that and that clearly something else was going on. Mary told Sarah that she'd taken more than fifty pills to try to set herself right. Sarah admonished Mary not to take any more pills because this was dangerous. Sarah  suggested that she speak to to a clairvoyant named Dr. Grier, who might be able to tell her more. Perhaps, Sarah said, Mary could get a doctor to operate on her. Mary told Sarah that she'd already used in instrument of some kind on herself.

Mrs. Eliza Hall testified that Mary told her that she'd taken some medication -- presumably to cause an abortion -- and asked her not to tell James about it. She also testified that Mary told her that Dr. Earll "took it from her" -- but I can't tell if this is referring to the medicine or the baby.

Mary's husband, James, testified that Mary had given birth to five children, one two of whom were still alive. He described his wife's suffering during her final illness but said that he did not know what the cause was. He said that at her request he had brought Dr. Earll in to care for her. He said that she'd told him that she'd had a miscarriage and had never told him that she'd used any kind of instruments to cause an abortion. He testified that after hearing testimony he no longer knew what to think about the situation.

There must have been some testimony that pointed in another direction. The November 24, 1873 Chicago Tribune said, "If [Earll and Hill] are not convicted, the case as it now stands will teach brutish husbands and medical quacks an important lesson. The dead Mrs. Hill seems to have been bullied into the abortion (whether she performed the operation herself or submitted to it at the hands of a professional butcher) by a husband, who declared that 'he would not support three children,' there being already two in the house, and who, according to the evidence, insisted that his wife should take 'medicine,' and told her to buy a sharp instrument to procure the abortion. This seems to make him an accessory before the fact, in the eyes of the law, and the chief criminal in the eyes of humanity, no matter how or by whom the abortion was committed. The evidence goes to show that it was not a terror of child-bearing that induced Mrs. Hill to consent to an abortion, but simply a deference to her husband's low selfishness. There is no punishment commensurate with the crime of a man who thus deliberately jeopardizes the life of a loving and obedient wife to his own brutal instincts and declared parsimony, and it is in the interest of common humanity that he should receive the full measure of punishment which the law provides."

Both men were arrested and brought to county jail. However, on December 3 the Grand Jury released them on the grounds that the evidence was vague and circumstantial.

This was far from Earll's only foray into court over abortions. He was arrested in the spring of 1874 for performing an abortion on a woman named Talfrey. He was released, and a month or two later he was arrested for the death of Rosetta Jackson. He served only eleven months for Rosetta's death. He was released in August of 1875, and only two months later was implicated in the abortion death of a woman named Creighton. He was investigated again in August of 1877 for the death of a woman named Morgan. He was arrested again for performing a non-fatal abortion on a woman named McKay, but was not indicted. He was convicted in the 1880 abortion death of Etta Carl.

Watch the video on YouTube.


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