Anna Clemens

SUMMARY: Anna Clemens, age 26, died April 6, 1880 after an abortion perpetrated in or near Detroit, reportedly by Dr. William G. Cox.

A Grisly Discovery On April 7, 1880, a woman’s bloody cloak, with clumps of hair clinging to it, was found hanging from a spike protruding from a bridge over the River Rough, just south of the Village of Delray, Michigan, near Detroit.

After two days of dragging the river, the body of a woman was found. She was dressed in black, bound and gagged. A stone had been tied to the clothesline which had been used to tie her hands behind her back.

The Body Identified From a description of the dead woman in the newspaper, Mr. Clemens suspected that she was his sister, 26-year-old Annie M. Clemens of Bay City, Michigan. Anna, a housekeeper, had last been seen alive in Detroit on April 2.

Mr. Clemens, accompanied by unidentified “companions,” went to Detroit, where the police took him to the undertaker’s parlor where the body was being kept. He had brought “a piece of the dress worn by his sister on the day of her departure” to Norris, in Wayne County, on March 31. She had left home “in excellent spirits” and good health.

He was shown a skirt and garters that the undertaker had removed from the body and identified them as belonging to his sister. Clemens and his companions were then shown the face of the dead woman, and though her face was “greatly swollen and discolored” they were able to identify her as Anna. He also noted that the dead woman had the same gold fillings in her teeth that Anna had had. He showed police a photograph of Anna and they concurred on the identification.

An Abortion Uncovered Mr. Clemens told police that Anna had been engaged to marry Thomas Merritt, who ran the G.D. Edwards & Co. clothing business. They’d been keeping company for about four years.

“The dead girl was considered chaste and modest, and she was never mixed up in any scandal or sensation. the theory is that, having stooped to folly, and being upon the eve of childbirth, she counseled with her seducer, whoever he was, and it was decided that she should come to Detroit” for an abortion which had proved fatal, resulting in her death on April 6.

The Supposed Abortionist Identified An investigation revealed the suspected abortionist to be Dr. William G. Cox, who had a drug store at the corner of Cass and Grand River in Detroit. Henry w. Weaver, “an aged furniture repairer,” was also arrested, charged with disposing of Anna’s body. Mrs. Hattie Snyder, who owned the house where police concluded that the abortion had been perpetrated, “suddenly turned up missing” but was later located and arraigned.

The Trial On July 4, 1880, after deliberating for only one hour, the jury reached a verdict of not guilty. His accomplice was not tried. The Detroit Free Press expressed outrage on behalf of the community:

Her Inhmanman Murderer Must be Hunted Down and Brought to Justice.
The People of the Community Will Not be Satisfied With Less.
And They Will Second the Agents of the Law to the Last Extremity.

A little less than two years later, Cox was arrested for the abortion death of Martha Whitla.


  • “Identified: The Bay City Unfortunate,” The Chicago Tribune, Apr. 13, 1880
  • “A Detroit Mystery,” The Chicago Tribune, 13 May, 1880
  • “The Clemens Case,” Detroit Free Press, Jun. 18, 1880
  • “Recorder’s,” Detroit Free Press, Jul. 4, 1880
  • “Anna M. Clemens,” Detroit Free Press, Jul. 7, 1880
  • “Martha Whitla’s Murder, Detroit Free Press, Jan. 28, 1882