Friday, January 06, 2023

January 6, 1905: The Body in the Ditch

 On January 6, 1905, two farmers out hunting stumbled across the body of a young woman in a snowy railroad ditch near Dunning, Illinois. The dead woman was dressed in a light colored shirtwaist, a patched black skirt too big for her, a shawl, a fascinator, and shoes that were far too large. She appeared to be in her early 20s, about 5'4" tall, and weighing about 140 pounds. 

The men loaded the body into a wagon, took it to the morgue, and notified the police. A coroner's physician, Dr. Lewke, performed an autopsy. He concluded that the young women had been recently pregnant and had either given birth or undergone an abortion. This had caused potentially fatal hemorrhage. However, because the woman had not been dead very long before the body was found, Dr. Lewke also believed that the lightly-clad young woman might have frozen to death.

From footprints around the area, police believed that the young woman might have been walked to the ditch by a man who then left her there. "I have no idea why this woman should be abandoned in so lonely a place and left to die from exposure," Coroner Hoffman told the Chicago Tribune, "I believe that she had a man companion. To know a person to be ill and take her out into the cold and abandon her when she is in a critical condition is a criminal offense." He was certain that the young woman would never have ventured outdoors voluntarily in such cold weather with only a shawl and fascinator to keep off the cold.

Police sought out a man that the hunters said they'd seen running away from the dump site. They found a man who matched the description but neither of the hunters could identify him. As the investigation went on, authorities concluded that the woman had died due to an abortion. This launched a wave of arrests of suspected abortionists in the Chicago area. 

Various people came forward to view the body. One young man made a long drive to view the body and upon seeing it he rushed out of the morgue. "It looks like Odette. I have been well acquainted with her, but I'm not going back into that room." Ultimately, however, Odette was discovered to be alive and the authorities were back at square one.

A woman came forward who thought the body might be that of a Turner Park woman who had been missing for a month, but again the dead woman remained unidentified. A deaf woman viewed the body and wept, but with gestures indicated that she did not know who the dead woman was.

Early 20th-century photo of a young woman with dark hairFinally, on December 29, former County Commissioner O. D. Allen went to the morgue. He had employed a 21-year-old woman named Ida Vierow as a servant at his home. Ida had been missing since leaving the Allen home on January 1, telling her employers that she was going to visit her parents in St. Louis, though her parents actually lived on a farm near Proviso. Mr. Allen identified the body of that of the missing servant.

Upon learning that the dead woman might be Ida, members of her family came forward. One of Ida's sisters, Mrs. Riga Kuberur, only looked at the body briefly before saying that it might well be Ida. Two of Ida's brothers-in-law reportedly fainted upon viewing the body. Ida's brother August closely examined the body but said that he couldn't be sure both because of the condition of the body and because he hadn't seen his sister for nearly a year. He held onto hope that Ida was still alive.

Another sister, Mrs. Kobernus, was confident that the dead woman was indeed Ida. She shared the perplexing information that none of the clothing on the body actually belonged to her sister. "When my sister left the Allen house she wore a black silk dress, a tan coat, a black hat and veil, and a set of furs. None of these were found on her. .... I could not identify a single article on the body as having been worn by her during life, and I am satisfied that she died unexpectedly under medical treatment and was dressed in these clothes by her murderers to prevent identification.

Ida was buried on January 31 while police continued their investigation. 

People who knew Ida told police that she was engaged to a jockey named Patrick Murphy. Patrick was then working in Oakland, California and during his absence he had sent Ida 24 letters. The last of those letters arrived at the Allen house two days before Ida's death. In the letters the young man addressed Ida as "my dear wife" and "my dear sweetheart." He signed them, "Your true love forever." He also sent her a manicure set as a Christmas present.

Authorities eventually concluded that Ida had died from an abortion perpetrated at an unlicensed hospital run by midwife Armela Maichrowicz and her husband, Joseph, in the Melrose Park suburb of Chicago.  The husband and wife were indicted on March 5 and freed on bonds of $3,000 and $10,000 respectively.

Police also arrested a midwife named Anna Becker and charged her with complicity in Ida's death. Becker agreed to turn state's evidence and was released on a $10,000 bond. Ida's body was exhumed on April 29 so that Becker could verify that Ida was the same women she had seen at the Maichrowicz hospital on January 6th. Becker said that the young woman died there that day. Becker also identified a garment in which Ida was dumped as one she had given to Mrs. Maichrowicz.

Police raided the hospital and arrested a servant girl named Mary Erickson as an accessory in Ida's death. A woman who was evidently recovering from an abortion was transferred to Phoenix Hospital in Maywood. 

News coverage of the case abruptly ends with the arrests. I've been unable to determine if the case proceeded. Armella Maichrowicz, a native of Germany, died at age 45 on January 10, 1911 under suspicious circumstances. 

Watch The Body in the Ditch on YouTube.

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