Thursday, January 12, 2023

January 12, 1902: Family Doc's Fatal Work

Ellen "Ella" S. Stehman, only 19 years old, died on January 12, 1902 in her family home near Manheim in Penn Township, Pennsylvania. Her family published a death announcement attributing her demise to typhoid fever.

But all was not as the death notice said. Dr. Jacob H. Sieling, age 50, of York, Pennsylvania, was put on trial for her death. Until two years earlier, Sieling had lived in Manheim and had been the Stehman family physician.

York County District Attorney Wiest summarized the state's case: 
On December 31, 1901, Ella Stehman left her home in Manheim, and went to Lancaster and thence to York. Arriving there she proceeded to the office of Dr. Sieling, which she was seen to enter, where the operation was performed. She returned to her home the same day. 

The next day she worked about the house, but complained of not feeling well, and the day following she was confined to her bed. Dr. J. D. Hershey called and while no diagnosis nor examination was made, he ascertained that the abdominal cavity was agitated to such an extent that peritonitis had set in. The girl gradually grew worse, and sank lower and lower day by day. From the onset, her physician told her that her condition was dangerous, and on Saturday, January 11, she knew she was going to die.

This she told Monroe Todd, who was paying attention to her, and asked for a minister to receive spiritual consolation. Lower she sank and on Sunday morning about 5:30 o'clock she died. She was between nineteen and twenty years of age.

An autopsy was held. This revealed the delicate organs of the abdominal cavity to be in a highly inflamed state and enlarged. Peritonitis was advanced and the womb contained two punctures, one of which was gangrenous, and which could only be caused by the introduction of some instrument.

Shortly before she died, and with the fear of death upon her, she made a statement in writing before a notary public, in which she said that Dr. Jacob H. Sieling had performed an operation upon her for abortion.
     Dr. Jacob H. Seiling     
In her deathbed statement, Ella recounted her journey to York. She described the instruments Dr. Seiling had used. She quoted Dr. Seiling's description to her of how the abortion would be performed. She recounted returning home at 7:00 that evening.

Ella's devastated mother testified that her daughter had left home in the morning of December 31 and returned that evening. She described Ella's decline and how Dr. Hershey had called in Dr. J. F. Dunlap to assist in Ella's care. She told about how the day before Ella's death, in the young woman's presence, Dr. Dunlap had told her that Ella was going to die.

Dr. Hershey testified about attending to Ella in her final illness. He described the findings at autopsy.

Monroe Todd testified that he had been keeping company with Ella for about six months. He'd driven her the mile or so from Manheim to her home on December 31. He recounted that Ella had told him not to drive so fast because she felt so ill.

Monroe Todd testified that the day before Ella died, he'd spent some time alone with her. The two had conversed in both German and English. She told him that she knew she was dying and that she had performed the abortion herself.

Todd's testimony carried more weight with the jury than Ella's dying declaration, signed and notarized and made in the presence of Dr. Hershey and members of Ella's family. The jury voted for acquittal.

Watch The Boyfriend's Testimony on YouTube.


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