Jennie Clarkillegaldoctor, newyork, 1870s, 19thcentury, dumpedbodySUMMARY: Jennie Clark died February 25, 1879 after an abortion perpetrated in Boston by Dr. Caroline Goodrich.
The Discovery | The Investigation Begins | Contemporary Reporting | More details on Jennie’s final days | After Jennie’s DeathThe Discovery On February 27, 1879, a laborer who worked in the coal sheds near the Fox Hill Bridge over the Saugus River outside of Lynn, Massachusetts, spotted what he thought was a log stuck in a marshy area. When he got closer he saw that it was a trunk, lodged in shallow. The trunk was bound with clothesline.
The man cut some of the rope so that he could open the trunk enough to see what was inside it. He was horrified to discover the body of a young woman. He immediately notified the authorities.
The police came to the scene and opened the trunk fully. The young woman was in her early 20s, clad in an undershirt and nightgown and covered with a sheet. In the bottom of the trunk the police found an enameled cloth table cover, four bricks, some mortar, and several empty bottles.The Investigation Begins The medical examiner concluded that the woman had died from complications of an abortion performed between four and six months of pregnancy. She had developed what the doctor called “mortification,” or gangrene.
Detectives examined the scene along with the trunk and its contents, and factored in the recent weather and the movements of workers in the area, in order to narrow down where, when, and the trunk had been put into the river, and to whom the trunk belongs.
Eventually their investigation led them to an area where a chimney had recently been repaired. The debris from that repair were found to be nearly identical to what was found in the trunk. Near the house was a saloon where numerous bottles like the ones found in the trunk were often put out into the back yard.
Several witnesses told police that the trunk looked like a trunk that had been stored in the shed of Dr. Caroline C. Goodrich,. The trunk had been there for months, but now both it and a length of clothesline from the shed were gone.
Meanwhile police were striving to determine the dead woman’s identity. Several times people were certain that they could identify her, but each of those young women was subsequently discovered to be alive and well. Other people came forward to examine the body, believing that she might be a missing loved one, and going away without answers.
A Boston Globe reporter noticed an advertisement asking for information on the whereabouts of Jennie P. Clark. After nosing around, the reporter was able to verify that Jennie was the dead woman.
Police learned that Jennie had lived for several years as a servant at the house of Mr. Allan N. Adams, and had left the house on February 12, saying that she was going to visit her uncle. She was last seen by a friend when she got off a horse-car at the corner of Kneeland and Washington Streets in Boston.
Goodrich a Boston woman, was arrested as the abortionist. Dr. Daniel F. Kimball, who lived in the same house, was arrested as an accessory. Mr. Allen N. Adams, at whose house Jennie lived and worked as a servant, was arrested as secondary accessory, as were a mother and daughter living in the house where Jennie had died.
Adams was said to be the person who arranged the fatal abortion.
She was seen shortly thereafter going into the home of Dr. Goodrich, which was leased from Dr. James L. Simons, who passed himself off as a dentist but was actually the owner of several abortion mills. The abortion was evidently performed at Goodrich’s practice. Jennie left on February 15 and went to the home where the mother and daughter cared for her. She delivered her dead fetus and seemed to be on the mend. She took a sudden turn for the worse and died on February 25. Dr. Kimball as well as Dr. Goodrich were informed when Jennie’s health started deteriorating, but they didn’t arrive until after her death.
They packed up the body into the trunk, with Goodrich for some reason removing the dead girl’s nose with dental forceps. The next evening, Kimball brought it to Lynn and looked for someplace to dump it. Most of the streams were frozen. He finally tossed it off the Foxbill Bridge into the Saugus River.
Jennie had been described as a modest girl of good character.Contemporary Reporting From “The Lynn Trunk Mystery,” New York Times, September 23, 1879:
Naturally, the prisoners were objects of especial attention, the “madame,” as Mrs. Goodrich is called, appears, at first glance, to be a mild-mannered lady, but closer scrutiny reveals firm lips and resolute eyes. She is, apparently, about 45 years of age, of spare visage, with high cheek bones, of medium height, and slight, though evidently strong, frame. She was neatly dressed, and wore during the day’s session her hat and shawl, the former a black velvet adorned with a large black plume, and the latter a plaid, which she wore pinned closely to her throat. …. Kimball was neatly dressed in black and wore a diamond on his spotless linen. Both were pale and a trifle uneasy at the opening of the trial, but soon regained their self–possession.
The old trunk in which the body was found was brought forward and placed in full view of the jury, and the trial was begun. The first witness testified to finding the trunk and discovering its contents. Those following testified to the identification of the body, and then came the story of the crime as told by the nurse of Jennie Clark after the abortion, through whose statements last July the detectives were enabled to complete their chain of evidence against the prisoners and secure their arrest and indictment. Among the witnesses called to testify to the identification of the body was the mother of the girl, and, considering the fact which she stated, that she had seen little of her daughter while she was a child and lived apart from her, her frequent tears, interrupting her testimony, fell upon a somewhat unsympathetic audience and were promptly set down by the worldly crowd as hypocritical. The medical examiner, Dr. J. G. Pinkham, of Lynn, testified to the appearance of the body when found, and the result of his examination, showing the brutality of the treatment. The hair had been carelessly and roughly cut; the nose had been severed by a clean cut and also a part of the upper lip; one leg was so bent up that the heel rested on the hip, and the other was also bent over so that the body could be entirely packed in the trunk, and there were appearances going to show conclusively that an abortion had been performed, and that death had occurred from peritonitis, following an abortion.More details on Jennie’s final days
Ella Forsyth, who had been Jennie’s nurse during her final illness, had known Dr. Goodrich for about six years. Ella cared for patients in her home, taking children in to board along with women for childbirth, of whom about four had been referred by Goodrich.
Jennie had come to Ella’s home on Wednesday, February 13th, asking for care after her visit to Goodrich. Ella went the next day to consult with Goodrich, who told her that Jennie had been about 3 1/2 months pregnant and that she’d operated on her the day before. This was the first, Ella said, that she knew that Jennie had undergone an abortion.
Ella expressed concern about Jennie being in fragile condition, but Dr. Goodrich insisted that she would be fine, and that she’d sent Jennie to Ella for aftercare because she knew Ella was a good nurse. She told Ella she’d operate again if Jennie’s condition didn’t improve.
Jennie suffered increasing pain over the following days, as Ella tried to keep her warm and comfortable. On about 6:00 on Monday morning she expelled her dead baby.About four hours later, Ella sent for Dr. J. McDonald, who prescribed 20 drops of laudanum and a spoonful of brandy.
On Monday night Dr. Kimball came to check on Jennie’s condition. Ella told him she thought that Jennie was dying. Kimball told her that if Jennie died, she’d be blamed for it, and that he’d take Jennie about 10 miles out into the country and bury her quietly if it came to that. Kimball then went upstairs and checked on the patient.After Jennie’s Death The night that Jennie died, Ella told Kimball what had happened. He went to find the baby’s father and tell him about it. Ella said that Kimball reported the baby’s father exclaiming, “My God! What will become of my wife and two children? Give the girl a decent burial.”
Ella said that Kimball came the night after Jennie tied and said that he’d take Jennie’s body away in a trunk, which was, he said, the usual method of transporting bodies between New York and Boston. Ella was reluctant to participate, but when Kimball asked her if she had any trunks she showed him several and he choose a smaller one, which he took upstairs with him.
Ella told Kimball to be quiet, and that she would take another of her patients, a woman with heart disease, into the sitting room, since she was already becoming suspicious.
A short time later, Ella went to investigate and found the front door open and Jennie’s body, along with a sheet. Kimball had instructed Ella to burn Jennie’s clothing, comprised of a black dress trimmed with velvet, a black velvet hat, and a red-and-white plaid shawl.
After the news broke about the discovery of the body, Kimball stopped by Ella’s house. She asked him why he had mutilated Jennie’s body, and he said it had been necessary to prevent identification, and that he’d given Jennie’s nose and hair to Goodrich, who had burned them.
I have no information on overall maternal mortality, or abortion mortality, in the 19th century. I imagine it can’t be too much different from maternal and abortion mortality at the very beginning of the 20th Century.
Note, please, that with issues such as doctors not using proper aseptic techniques, lack of access to blood transfusions and antibiotics, and overall poor health to begin with, there was likely little difference between the performance of a legal abortion and illegal practice, and the aftercare for either type of abortion was probably equally unlikely to do the woman much, if any, good.
For more on this era, see Abortion Deaths in the 19th Century.
For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion
- “Female Fiends”, Brooklyn Eagle, Jul. 16, 1879
- “A Murder Mystery Solved”, Winona Republic, Jul. 16, 1879
- “Mystery Trunk Murder, 1879”
- “The Lynn Trunk Mystery,” New York Times, Sep. 23, 1879
- “The Trunk Mystery,” Chicago Tribune, Jul. 17, 1879
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