Ida Vail

Ida VailillegaldoctorSUMMARY: Ida Vail, age 19, died October 5, 1873 in Jersey City, NJ after an abortion perpetrated by a professional lay abortionist named Marcella Metzler.
| “The Little Candy Store” | How She Had Died | Who Was Ida Vail? | Breaking the News | The Trial“The Little Candy Store”
Early on Sunday morning, October 5, 1873, a tall, attractive young woman went to the Jersey City, NJ business of an undertaker named Mr. Plaget, saying that his services were required to bury a woman who had died suddenly. He was directed to No. 54 Erie Street, next door to Public School No. 2.

The house in question was owned by Mrs. Marcella (or Marcella) K. Metzler — “a woman of doubtful repute” –and her son, Frederick Crosier. It was a two story frame house fronted by a candy store with “The Little Candy Store Around the Corner” painted on the awning. In one window of the house was a sign reading “Clairvoyant.” In another was a sign reading, “Furnished rooms to let.”

The undertaker was taken through the candy store into a parlor, and thence into a back bedroom on the second floor. There across the bed lay the dead woman atop soiled bedding.

Plaget refused to touch the body until it was cleared by a physician. No doctor had attended the dead woman, he was told, but the county physician, Dr. Buck, was called in. Dr. Buck found that the body was still warm and with no outward marks of violence, but “the eyes of the deceased were staring open, the hands were clutched, giving the expression of intense agony previous to death.”

How She Had Died The only clue to her identity was a label on one of her garments giving her name as Ida Vail. The young woman’s body was escorted to the undertaker’s establishment for a postmortem examination performed by three physicians, Buck, Craig, and Beird. They concluded that the her death had been caused by an abortion performed with instruments.

Metzler said that the girl had come to the house with her husband, giving the name of Lawrence, and seeking board. The second day the supposed wife took ill and in a day or two was dead. Metzler said, “The distressed husband was very attentive to the dying wife and had stayed up all night with her, but had gone out when she died.”

Police waited at the house all night to nab any accomplices in the fatal abortion. “Early in the morning a gentleman hurredly approached, tried the door and walked out, but the police officer was too quick for him, and as he felt the officer’s grasp upon his shoulder he exclaimed, “I am ruined!” The black-clad, mustachioed man was Alonzo E. Kimball, age about 45.

“His remorse was bitter.”As he was escorted to the police station he said that the young woman’s death was “due to gross carelessness, and that Mrs. Metzler had caused the unfortunate girl to swear to secrecy before she would undertake the case.” Kimball said that the abortionist was masked, and couldn’t even be identified as male or female.

At the arraignment, “He admitted that he had taken Ida to the house to have an abortion procured, but denied being the author of her ruin.” He then was granted his request to make a private statement to the judge.

Who Was Ida Vail? Ida, 19 at the time of her death, was described as, “A bright, cheerful, pretty little girl, and a favorite of all who knew her.” She had been living with her widowed mother, Harriet, in Newark. Her father, her father, Sydney, who worked for the Newark Daily Advertiser, died when Ida was about 14. Mr. Vail had left a $2000 legacy to his family. To make ends meet, Mrs. Vail ran a boarding house, which failed in spite of the help of Ida and her younger sister Fannie, who was only seven years old when her father died. A local church helped Mrs. Vail to find work, but the family’s fortunes declined and they moved to shabbier and shabbier lodgings.

Two years after being widowed, Mrs. Vail suffered a stroke which left her right arm useless, and Ida had to leave school to support the family. Ida found work as a sewing machine operator, and the church helped the family financially.

Some time in late spring or early summer of 1873, Ida got a job at the Domestic Sewing Machine Company, where Kimball managed the office. He had a wife and two children who had been living with him in Newark, but shortly after Ida’s employment began Kimball relocated his family to Massachusetts.

Breaking the News It fell upon Captain Van Reiper of the Jersey City Police to notify Ida’s associates about her death. He went first to the sewing machine company and told the workers there, “but there was no one among them who dared tear open her widowed mother’s heart.” A local pastor was approached but said he couldn’t bring himself to do it either. Finally the family physician, Dr. Woodhull, was persuaded to carry the news to Ida’s mother, though he believed that in her fragile state of health, the shock might kill her.

The last Mrs. Vail had heard from Ida was when she’d left the house on the previous Monday, saying that she was going to visit relatives in Dover, NJ. Dr. Woodhull entered Mrs. Vail’s room, where she was in her sickbed.

“When he entered the house his nerve forsook him, and he could only say, “Something has happened to Ida. You must nerve yourself, Mrs Vail,” and retired from the apartment. Her appeals to know the worst were piteous, and Woodhull at last told her of her daughter’s death, but concealed the terrible means by which it was accomplished.”

The Trial Mrs. Metzler was about forty years old, described as “rather stout” and dressed in mourning at her arraignment. She denied having anything to do with any abortion.However, an extensive correspondence found at the house related to the abortion enterprise. A local beat officer said he’d suspected that the place was an abortion den because of the number of men and veiled women coming and going after dark.

During her trial Metzler told a different story about the man who’d brought Ida for the abortion. No longer was he presented as a concerned, attentive husband. Kimball, she said, had left the house shortly before Ida’s death, complaining that he’d covered all of Ida’s expenses, down to the clothes on her back, for over a year, and though he hoped she’d get well again, she’d seen the last of him and his money.

Metzler was convicted in Ida’s death. Dr. Cormus, charged with complicity, was acquitted. I’ve been unable to determine the outcome for Kimball.


  • “Ida Vail’s Death,” San Francisco Chronicle, Oct. 19, 1873
  • “The Vail Abortion Case,” San Francisco Chronicle, Oct. 8, 1873
  • “The Murder of Ida W. Vail,” New York Times, Dec. 17, 1873
  • “Ida Vail’s Murderess Convicted,” Reading (PA) Times, Dec. 12, 1873
  • “Domestic Revenges,” Louisville (KY) Courier-Journal, Oct. 15, 1873

Early on