Tuesday, June 11, 2024

June 11, 1843: Death in a Stranger's House

Caroline Amelia Clark, age 18, lived in Detroit with her mother and stepfather, Mr. and Mrs. Myers. From time to time she resided with the family of her stepfather’s son-in-law, Alonzo Plumstead, in Northville.

Dumped at a Stranger’s Home

On Sunday, June 4, 1843, Caroline told her mother that she was leaving aboard a steamboat for Toledo, accompanied by Mr. Plumstead. Instead of boarding the boat, however, Caroline and Plumstead went to the Farmington home of Mrs. Sophia Sperry, arriving as night was falling. Plumstead gave his name as Marlow, and, referring to Caroline as his wife, Sarah, Plumstead asked if she could stay there for a few days while he went to Livingston County. She was feeling too ill, he said, to continue the trip with him. Mrs. Sperry agreed, and Plumstead left.

Caroline only sat by the fire a short time before saying that she felt unwell and wanted to go to bed. Mrs. Sperry settled her visitor in bed and sat up with her through the night.

Summoning a Doctor

The next day, which was Monday, Mrs. Sperry saw Dr. Wixom passing by, so she called him in to attend to the sick woman. Wixom examined Caroline, who was pregnant and appeared to be in premature labor.

Caroline gave birth to a stillborn child on Wednesday. Wixom checked on her and she seemed to be adequately recovering. However, she took violently ill on Friday.

Caroline Dies

On Saturday Plumstead came to the house, stayed with Caroline for several hours, and then left, instructing Mrs. Sperry to send for him in Northville if “Sarah” died.

She died the very next day, June 11.

The Abortion Revealed

A post-mortem examination was performed at Mrs. Sperry's home. A coroner’s jury concluded that “Caroline Amelia Clark came to her death by inflammation subsequent to abortion, which was produced by extraordinary means used or administered to or upon said Caroline Amelia Clark, by some person or persons, for that purpose, to this jury unknown.”

The News Breaks

News coverage indicated that there was no love lost for Plumstead:

Considered in all its circumstances and revolting details, many of which are unfit for publication, it is indisputably the most diabolical and fiendish outrage, so far as Plumstead is concerned, which has ever disgraced this or any other civilized community. The deceased we understand, was beautiful and accomplished — enjoying an education superior to that of most young ladies by whom she was surrounded, and up to the time of the fatal denouement of their illicit intercourse, both she and her heartless seducer and murderer, (for he can scarcely be looked upon in any other light,) moved in the best society, and enjoyed the respect and esteem of a numerous circle of friends and acquaintances. The scene represented on the arrival of the afflicted mother and sister from Detroit, is said to have been heart-rending to the last degree.

Caroline’s Mother and Plumstead’s Wife React

“When the sad intelligence was communicated to that too fond and unsuspecting parent, that her daughter lay in the cold arms of death at Farmington, … it required the utmost powers of persuasion on the part of the messenger … to convince her of the fact. She could not and would not believe it. She was sure that her child was then safe with her friends in Toledo, and she remained partially incredulous until she arrived and saw with her own eyes!”

“The wife of the vile seducer was also present, and, with all the eloquence and earnestness of a woman’s confidence and tired affection, protested her husband’s innocence, and the impossibility of his having any thing to do in the perpetration of so foul a crime, until her mouth was closed by his confession, to her face, that he was indeed the wretch.”

Plumstead, however, made himself scarce before he could be arrested.


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