SUMMARY: Abbia Richards, age 28, died on June 2, 1888, in San Francisco after an abortion perpetrated by Dr. Lucy Hagenow.
At an early hour yesterday morning coroner Stanton, acting under the advice of Health Officer Barger, had the body of Abbia Richards, who died on June 2d, and was buried two days later, exhumed and taken to the Morgue, where an autopsy revealed the fact that a criminal operation had been performed.–
“A Suspicious Case,” Daily Alta California, Wednesday, August 29, 1888
A death certificate signed by Dr. Xavier Dodel stated that 28-year-old Abbia (or Abbie) Richards died on June 2, 1888, at 12 Nineteenth Street, San Francisco — the “maternity hospital” of Dr. Louise Hagenow.Dr. Lucy HagenowDodel gave the cause of death as peritonitis and filed it with undertaker Theodore Dierks. Health Office officials, however, found the whole thing suspicious. Health Officer Barger and Coroner Stanton visited Dierks, who at first refused to discuss the matter but who finally said that at about 10 p.m. on June 2, a man identifying himself as Mr. Richards had come to the undertaking establishment, saying that he needed to arrange a burial for his wife, who had died at Hagenow’s hospital several hours earlier. He said that her maiden name was Maria Schmidt., and that he and his wife had moved to Stockton Street from Port Costa about three weeks earlier.
Dierks and his bookkeeper, Charles Mueller, promptly brought the body back to their establishment. Although several men had gathered at the funeral establishment on June 4, the day of the burial, only one man attended the funeral.
During the inquest, Hagenow and Dodel were brought from the city prison, where they were being held for the June 26 death of Anna Doreis, to the morgue. Hagenow admitted that Abbia had died at her practice but denied having perpetrated an abortion. Dodel admitted that he had signed the death certificate, but made vague references to two other doctors that he refused to name as having had some involvement somehow.
The man who presented himself as Abbia Richards’ husband was just a clerk with no connection to the dead woman, who had assumed the name of Richards in order to arrange the burial.
As the investigation went on, a creepy and conflicting picture emerged.
A man named William E. Moorcroft, identified as “the guardian of the deceased Abbie Richards,” told the coroner that his ward had been only 19 years of age, not 28. She had become sick in Port Costa and gone to San Francisco, where her guardian had “supported her as well as he was able to.” However, suspicions had been raised that Moorcroft had been “criminally intimate with her and responsible for her condition when placed in the hands of Mrs. Hagenow.”
Tillie Boyd, who had known Abbie well since childhood, testified that she hadn’t known that her friend had even been pregnant. She had, though, gone with Abbia to the office Dr. O’Donnell for rheumatism and headaches. Abbia had met privately with the doctor and had come away with powders that “did her head good.”
Afterward, Abbie went to Port Costa, to her guardian’s home. She came back to San Francisco five days later and told her friend she was going to a lady doctor’s house. “I did not see her again until Mr. Moorecroft sent for me and told me that Abbie was very sick. The next thing I heard was that she was dead. I had no idea what as the matter with her. To the best of my knowledge Mr. Moorecroft always treated Abbie well.”
Dr. G. M. Terrill “stated that he was visited one night by a man whom he now knows to be Moorecroft, who desired him to go to Mrs. Hagenow’s hospital and see a girl who was very sick.” Moorecroft wanted two doctors to examine the girl, so Dr. John Morse was called in to assist.
Morse and Terrill saw Dodel there, with Abbia “in a dying condition.” They advised Hagenow to give her stimulants, but didn’t examine her.
Special Officer Holbrook of the Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Children testified that on several occasions they’d had cause to investigate Moorecroft’s treatment of his ward. In 1887, Abbia had come to him saying that “her guardian was going to Port Costa and wanted her to go with him as his mistress. The society took care of her for a while, but she soon disappeared,” and the next Holbrook heard, Abbie was living with Moorecroft again.
Secretary Williams of the Board of Health testified that he issued a burial permit upon a death certificate for Maria Schmidt, signed by Dr. Xavier Dodel. Several days later a worker from the Dierks undertaking business came to the office, stating that the dead woman’s name was actually Abbie Richards. The board issued the corrected burial permit, but Williams’ attention was struck by Dodel’s name on a certificate for a death at Hagenow’s address, since those were the same signatory and address involved in the Annie Doreis death earlier in the year.
Hagenow relocated to Chicago, an area at that time more congenial to abortionists, and began piling up dead bodies there as well. She was implicated in numerous abortion deaths, including:
- 1891: Minnie Deering
- 1892: Sophia Kuhn and Emily Anderson
- 1896: Hannah Carlson
- 1899: Marie Hecht
- 1905: May Putnam
- 1906: Lola Madison
- 1907: Annie Horvatich
- 1925: Lottie Lowy, Nina H. Pierce, Jean Cohen, Bridget Masterson, and Elizabeth Welter
- 1926: Mary Moorehead
Though Hagenow was sentenced to prison for the death of Mary Moorehead, when she appealed the Supreme Court of Illinois ordered a new trial in 1929. The judge, noting that there was no new evidence, dismissed the case, telling Hagenow, “You had better make your peace with God, Lucy Hagenow. I do not think your months on earth are many.”
Hagenow, the Associated Press noted, was nearly deaf and “may not have heard. She muttered something, and shambled laboriously from the room.”
As near as I can determine, Hagenow died September 26, 1933, in Norwood Park, Cook County, Illinois. Her occupation on her death record was given as “midwife.
- “Another Body Exhumed,” San Francisco Bulletin, July 20, 1888
- “Dr. Hagenow’s Victim,” San Francisco Bulletin, August 30, 1888
- “The Exhumed Body,” San Francisco Bulletin, August 31, 1888