Saturday, December 10, 2022

December 10, 1941: The Last Known Victim of Dr. Emil Gleitsmann

It was December of 1941. Marie O'Malley, age 35,  had an unusual living arrangement. A widow, she lived with Fred Dempsey and his wife and their children. The household also included Marie's six children, one of whom had been fathered by Dempsey.

December 5 - 9

On December 5, Marie, Dempsey, and Marie's cousin Dorothy Salvesen went to the Chicago office of 77-year-old Dr. Emil Gleitsmann. Dorothy said that before taking her back to an exam room Gleitsmann asked Marie why she was there and she answered, "pregnancy." At some point, a $50 (c. $972 in 2022) abortion fee changed hands. 

The following evening, the three again went to Gleitsmann's office. This time Marie went into the exam room with Gleitsmann. When they emerged, Dempsey asked Gleitsmann how things had gone. The doctor replied that Marie had only been pregnant a few months. Marie said that she wasn't feeling well, but, Dorothy said, Gleitsmann told her she'd be feeling better the next day.

Gleitsmann provided instructions for Marie to follow upon her return home. She was to rest in bed for three to five days, massaging her abdominal muscles every day. She would start experiencing severe pains on the 4th or 5th day. He also said that he had put in packing that was to be removed the following day.

Rather than remain in bed, Marie returned to Gleitsmann's office on December 7, accompanied by Fred Dempsey. Again, Gleitsmann took Marie back into the exam room and provided aftercare instructions. She was to perform certain exercises, such as raising her abdomen, which would help her to expel the baby.

Fred Dempsey and Marie O'Malley returned to Gleitsmann's office again on December 8. Dempsey said that Gleitsman lamented that Marie was having to submit to an abortion because she didn't want a baby, and said that in two weeks he'd so something to ensure she'd never get pregnant again.

On December 9, Dorothy Salvesen again joined her cousin and Dempsey to Gleitsman's office. This was a grueling visit. Gleitsmann took Marie back into a treatment room where she lay on a cot. From time to time Dempsey would go into the room, where he observed Gleitsmann rubbing Marie's back while she cried out in pain. Dempsey asked what the problem was. He said that Gleitsmann told him that the procedure was like childbirth and that Marie would have to expel everything that was in her womb. Dempsey said that the bed was bloody and that Gleitsmann kept reaching into Marie's body and pulling out chunks of matter with his bare hand. Gleitsmann also had a metal instrument that he told Dempsey he'd have to use later to scrape Marie out so that infection would not set in. Gleitsmann wrapped all of the tissue he'd extracted in paper and threw it away.

At around 9:00, Gleitsmann assured Dorothy that her cousin would be well cared-for and sent her home.

At around 11:00, Dempsey suggested taking Marie to a hospital, but Gleitsmann recommended against this, saying that this would just lead to Marie developing blood poisoning.

December 10

At around 4:00 that morning, December 10, Dempsey went home to look after his children. He returned at around 8:00. Marie was still lying on the cot. She asked Dempsey to take her home.

Dempsey said he wanted to take Marie to a hospital, but that Gleitsmann assured him that the afterbirth had come out so Marie would be fine in a day or two. He gave Dempsey a "blood builder" to dose Marie with and sent them home.

After taking Marie home, Dempsey called two other doctors. Dr. Lehner arrived at around 10:00 that morning, shortly before Marie died. Gleitsmann arrived shortly thereafter. Upon being told that Marie was dead, he said that he didn't understand how that could have happened and said that he'd sign the death certificate. Dr. Lehner said that he would report the death to the coroner.


Dr. Samuel A. Levinson performed an autopsy and concluded that Marie had died from an infection caused by an abortion.

Gleitsmann's Story When Interviewed

Police spoke to Gleitsmann the day of Marie's death. He told them that he practiced "Therapeutics," which consisted of using light, electricity, and massage. He said that when Marie had come to his practice she'd said nothing about pregnancy. She had told him that she didn't want any more children, but they didn't discuss her sex life or the possibility that she might become pregnant. 

Gleitsmann said that Dempsey had accompanied Marie for every visit.

On the first examination, Gleitsmann said, he noticed an inflammation around the cervix, together with an infected exudate. The cervix itself was congested and bluish in color. He noted, he said, a tender mass in Marie's abdomen that was hard to the touch and ended under the navel. He said that he concluded that Marie had cancer. He denied putting anything -- hands, gauze, or instruments -- into her uterus.

When she'd returned on December 9, Gleitsmann said, Marie had pains all over her body and was discharging a tar-like substance which he took to be decomposed blood from where a fetus was decomposing in her uterus. He said, though, that he still didn't discuss pregnancy, or even the possibility of pregnancy, with Marie.

He said that Marie seemed to be in much improved condition by 8:00 on the morning of December 10. He said that he judged from the tarry substance coming from the womb that Marie's fetus had been dead for two or three weeks and could not have decomposed to that degree in just the few days he'd been treating her. 

Gleitsmann admitted that he had indeed discouraged Dempsey from taking Marie to a hospital, but he said that this was because he could provide her with superior care.

Gleitsmann's History

Gleitsmann had a long criminal history of abortion dating back to 1927 when he was implicated in the November 30 abortion death of 22-year-old homemaker Lucille van Iderstine. Gleitsman was indicted for felony murder in Lucille's death but for reasons I do not yet know why the case never came to fruition. 

He was prosecuted but acquitted in the December 12, 1930 death of Jeanette Reder.

After his acquittal for Jeanette's death he was indicted for the February 16, 1931 death of 25-year-old Mathilda Cornelius.

He convicted three times on a single charge of manslaughter by abortion for the March 25, 1933 death of Mary Colbert, but each time his lawyer got a reversal and eventually the prosecutors gave up.

He was implicated again in the June 8, 1934 death of 26-year-old Elsie Quall.

Gleitsman got in trouble again in 1937 for the death of 16-year-old Phyllis Brown. However, that death was eventually attributed to Dr. C. Harold Edmunds.

Gleitsmann's Story in Court

Gleitsmann testified that the first time he'd seen Marie she told him that she'd stopped menstruating and felt unwell. He said that when he examined her there was a foul-smelling pus running from her vagina. He concluded that Marie had peritonitis and blood poisoning and assured her that he could treat her.

Over the ensuing days, Gleitsmann testified, he treated her with electric heat and vibrations. He "cleaned her out" on December 6 and 7. He packed her uterus on the 7th and removed the packing on the 8th and again "cleaned her out."

He admitted to keeping Marie overnight from December 9 because she was in a lot of pain and having trouble breathing. She had, he said, been able to walk to the car when she'd left the office the next day.

He adamantly denied having performed an abortion. Marie, he said, never even requested that he perform one.

They Say He Says

Two women, Pearl Katschke and Edith Hagebush, testified in the trial that Gleitsmann had perpetrated abortions on them in 1941 and 1942 respectively. The treatment they described was similar to what Fred Dempsey and Dorothy Salvesen described.

Gleitsmann testified that he hadn't performed abortions on either woman. He said that when Edith Hagebush had come to him she was already discharging a bloody pus and told him she'd been taking ergot and quinine (abortifacients). He said that he didn't wear gloves during examinations because they're to protect the doctor, not the patient, and he needs to have his sense of touch unimpeded.


The jury deliberated a mere 20 minutes before convicting Gleitsmann of murder by abortion. He was sentenced to 1 to 14 years. He appealed but lost. He still had two other indictments, one for murder by abortion and another for abortion, pending at the time of his sentence.

While incarcerated his wife died and he sued his stepson over $25,000 worth of real estate that he said his wife and stepson had bilked him of instead of using it to shore up his defense. He still shows up in the 1950 census as an 84-year-old prisoner in the Illinois State Penitentiary.  He died February 20, 1956.


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