Tuesday, November 22, 2022

November 22, 1897: Was This Dr. Hall's Second Abortion Death?

Summary: Newlywed Ida Coakley's body was intercepted as the ferry was about to leave San Francisco for Irvington: Was she an abortionist's victim?

Something's Not Right

On November 23, 1897, a police boarded a ferry about to depart San Francisco for Irvington. They seized a coffin. The deceased was 24-year-old Ida Lyon Coakley, a homemaker who had only been married to John Coakley, a farmer, for two months. 

John reported that he'd taken Ida to the office of Dr. Samuel H. Hall, at 445 McAllister Street in San Francisco, the previous day to be treated for a heart problem. He had left the doctor's office and returned that evening only to find his wife dead. She had passed away at around 6:00 pm. Her body was whisked away to the funeral establishment of James Hagan at 10:00 that night

Frank Ralph, night watchman at the nearby Hibernia Bank, saw the undertaker's wagon pull up and the workers carry a coffin into the house. Mr. Ralph 
had found the clandestine removal of a body from Dr. Hall's premises at that time of night fishy. He spoke to the driver while the undertaker and his assistant went inside. The driver told Mr. Ralph that a woman from Irvington had just died there. The watchman contacted the police. Deputy Coroner McCormack, who should have been notified about any death, went to Hall's house and was told that there had been no death there.

McCormack went to the Health Office and found a certificate signed by Hall and counter-signed by Assistant City Physician McMurdo, stating that Mrs. Coakley had died from a cardiac aneurism. Clearly, then, there had been a death and there was something fishy about it.  McCormack contacted the undertaker, who told him that the body was on the way to the ferry. Thus the interruption of the funeral. Ida's body was taken for an autopsy, and a coroner's jury convened. 

The Coroner's Jury

Undertaker Hagan said that due to Hall's unsavory reputation, he feared that he'd be unable to get the permit to ship Ida's body to Irvington as requested. He went to McMurdo's house that same night asking him for the countersignature due to Hall's "peculiar reputation." McMurdo went to the undertaking establishment early the next morning, superficially examined Ida's body, and asked John Coakley to provide a written statement that he had brought Ida to Hall for treatment for heart trouble. Evidently believing that this covered him legally, McMurdo countersigned the death certificate. By doing this, the San Francisco Chronicle noted, McMurdo "has put himself in an awkward position professionally, if he has not jeopardized his newly secured position."

On the advice of their attorneys, both Hall and Coakley refused to testify before the coroner's jury.

John Coakley at first stood by his claim that he'd taken Ida to Hall's practice for a heart ailment, but while hanging about the morgue making arrangements to remove Ida's body to Irvington he told conflicting stories about why he and Ida were staying at Hall's practice rather than at their usual hotel.

admitted that he had taken Ida to Hall the previous week and asked if an abortion would be safe for her. When Hall had assured him that it would be safe, John had paid $50 and Hall had promptly took Ida into a procedure room. A few minutes later, Hall had returned, told John that Ida had been fine, and sent her home.

Dr. Hall's daughter, Josephine Wells, testified that Ida had come to the McAllister Street house at about noon on the Saturday before her death. Hall had asked to use Josephine's room for a couple of days to care for Ida, whom Hall told Josephine suffered heart disease. Ida was sitting in a chair by the fire the following Monday when she died at about 6 o'clock in the evening. 

They concluded:

That Mrs. Ida Coakley, aged 24 years, nativity California, occupation housewife, residence Irvington, Alameda county, came to her death November 22, 1897, at 14 McAllister street, from septicaemia, following an attempt at abortion; and we further find that deceased came to her death from the effects of a criminal operation performed by Dr. Samuel H. Hall, and we further find that John Coakley was an accessory to the same crime.

Arrests and Trials

Hall was arrested when he arrived in San Jose to visit his wife and daughter. He said that he'd not known that Ida had been pregnant when she and her husband had come to his office on Saturday. He'd treated her with morphine and nitroglycerin. On Monday she seemed okay, he said, but he left her for a while only to return to his office and find her dead. He said that he assumed that she must have died from an aneurysm.

John Coakley was arrested as well, but the charges were dropped during the first trial in order to loosen his tongue against Hall. 

Coakley testified, "My wife and I came to the city from Irvington, Alameda county, on Friday, the 19th of last November, and called on Dr. Hall. I asked him if he could perform the operation, and he said he could. I asked if there was any danger, and he replied that there was no more danger than in walking across the street. My wife was fearful of the consequences and also asked him whether there was any danger. His reply was that same as to me. This allayed her fears and she consented."

"Dr. Hall told us to come to him the next day, and we did so. Immediately after our arrival Dr. Hall took my wife into a small room. They were gone five or six minutes. When they returned he charged me $50, which I paid."

"Then Dr. Hall asked where we were staying and when I told him we were hiring rooms he said we need not go to that expense, as he would furnish a place for Mrs. Coakley until she got well. We all thought she was getting along nicely, but she took a turn for the worse and died on the 22nd."

On cross-examination, Dr. Hall's attorney brought out all of John Coakley's previous conflicting statements about his wife's health and the reason for the visit to Dr. Hall. At one point he blurted out, "What I said was not true, but I said so because Dr. Hall told me to." The defense objected that this statement was not in response to a question and got the utterance stricken from the record.

Dr. Hall's daughter, Josephine Wells, testified that Ida has seemed okay but suddenly had trouble breathing. Hall went into the room to check on her and a few minutes later came out and said, "My God, she's dead."

Dr. J. Webster, a defense witness, testified that Ida might indeed have died from a heart ailment.

The trial resulted in a hung jury, voting seven to five for acquittal. 

A second trial against Hall ended in acquittal after Coakley fled the state, leaving the prosecution minus the prime witness.

Hall had already been twice tried for the 1891 abortion death of Ida Shaddock. The first trial ended in a hung jury and the second, three years later and after several key witnesses had moved away or died, resulted in acquittal.

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