SUMMARY: Emily Hall died February 6, 1895 from an abortion performed by Dr. J.D. Seaman at Long’s Lying-In Hospital in Detroit, MI.
A Macabre Discovery
In April of 1895, a reporter who was at the Detroit business of undertaker Frank Gibbs kicked a coffin that was in a corner of the room. Gibbs scolded, “Here, don’t kick that coffin. There’s a body in it, and I’ve got $100 for keeping it.”
The reporter went to the health department. When the undertaker got wind of this, he hastily had the body buried at Potter’s Field.
An investigator went to Gibbs’ establishment and found a death certificate for a woman named Myrtle Cook. The cause of death was given as pneumonia, and it was signed by Dr. J. D. Seaman. The health department ordered the just-buried body to be immediately exhumed and brought to another undertaking establishment for an autopsy. The cause of death was determined to be abortion.
The young woman’s body was kept on public display at the funeral establishment for five days, hoping that someone could identify her. At least a thousand people viewed the body, nobody recognized her, and she was returned to her grave.The Mystery Unraveled The first real break in the case came when a woman went to Prosecutor Fraser, saying that she’d been at the Alice B. Lane Lying-In Hospital in January and had met a young Englishwoman there who matched the description of Myrtle Cook, but who had given her name as Emily Hall. The dead woman was exhumed once again, and the informant told investigators, “That is Emily Hall, but those are not her clothes.”
The informant said that Emily had frequently said that her parents, back in Birmingham, were “worried to death about her.” Emily planned to return to England as soon as she recovered.
Detective Chief Baker learned that Emily had come to Detroit on January 23 and went directly to the lying-in hospital, where they were expecting her and had already made preparations for her arrival. Four days later, Dr. D. J. Seaman performed the abortion that eventually took Emily’s life.
Two women who were at the lying-in hospital reported having knowledge of Emily. The first, Josie Ryan, said that she’d been told that if anybody asked, the Englishwoman had been named Myrtle Cook, that she’d come to visit for the holidays and given birth to a live child that she, Ryan, was caring for. The other woman, Jennis Wilson, who was recovering from childbirth, said that she was there when Emily died. The baby’s body — which the police recovered — had been buried in the back yard.
Women that had met Emily at the hospital said that the baby’s father lived in Birmingham, England, and was a clergyman in the Church of England.
Police managed to track down a letter sent to Emily from Dudley, England, and was signed “Jon.” They also found that on the date of Emily’s death, Mrs. Lane, who owned the hospital, had received a registered letter at her home in Detroit. The letter contained the $50 fee for the abortion.Emily’s Story
Emily Hall had left home after Christmas to visit friend in Leeds. Two or three weeks later, she sent a letter saying that she’d been hired to travel with a lady and her parents couldn’t expect to hear from her until spring.
A preacher named Jonathan Bell was charged in her death, evidently responsible for the pregnancy and having arranged the abortion. However, since there was not sufficient evidence that he had actually set up the fatal abortion, Detroit authorities decided not to pursue extradition.
When arrested, the defendants — Seaman and Lane — refused to even enter a plea. Seaman’s first trial ended in a hung jury, a second trial produced a conviction which Seaman had overturned, and a third trial ended with Seaman convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to ten years.
- “A Sad Death,” Ft. Wayne Sentinel, Apr. 24, 1895
- “Now for Rev. Bell,” Marion (OH) Daily Star, Mar. 7, 1896
- “Will Not Demand Bell,” Atlanta Constitution, Apr. 26, 1895
- “Jury Disagreed,” The Sandusky Register, Jul. 3, 1895
- “The Emily Hall Murder,” The Decatur (IL) Daily Republican, Apr. 23, 1895
- “Coming to Light,” The Decatur (IL) Daily Republican, Jun. 28, 1895
- “Dr. Seaman Gets a New Trial,” The Frederick MD News, Dec. 12, 1895
- “For the Murder of Emily Hall,” The Mansfield (OH) News, Jun. 7, 1895
- “A Remarkable Story,” Alexandria (VA) Gazette, Apr. 22, 1895
- “Northeastern Reporter” Volume 86