Josephine LeClear

Josephine LeClear20s, 19thcentury, newyork, illegaldoctorSUMMARY: Josephine “Josie” LeClear, age c. 24, died Wednesday, April 29, 1874 in Norwich, New York after an abortion, evidenly perpetrated by Dr. Haven.

Sent Back in a Coffin

Josephine “Josie: LeClear, age 24, had been living near St. John’s School, a boys’ school, in Manlius Village for about two weeks, working in the culinary department. On Saturday, April 15, she had gone to Norwich but “was sent back this morning in a coffin and box from there, and accompanying the box was a medical certificate, saying that she died of no contagious disease.”

Mrs. Copeland, the school matron, went to Norwich and reported “the situation of the corpse and other things surrounding it” were very suspicious.

An Investigation

The coroners from Josie’s home county as well as the county where she had died worked together to investigate Joesphine’s death. The coroner met the sheriff and several concerned citizens at Josephine’s family home, to examine her body, speak to her parents and brother, and decide what further steps needed to be taken.

Josie’s body was in terrible shape, with her face and body were badly swollen and discolored, and she was oozing fluid from the mouth. When the doctor performing the autopsy opened her abdomen, a large amount of gas escaped. The intestines appeared normal, but the uterus was enlarged, punctured with a large hole at the top, and necrotic in patches. The cause of death was clearly an abortion.

Information From Josie’s Brother

Josie’s brother Albert said that she had left home on a Saturday morning after a visit of about a week, saying that she was going to collect some back pay from a previous employer. He didn’t see her again until her body was shipped to him in the box, with all the shipping fees paid but no indication of who had made arrangements for the macabre delivery. Nobody in the family had known, or would have guessed, that Josie was pregnant.

What The Authorities Learned

The investigators determined that Josie had taken very ill after her trip to Norwich, and was cared for by Dr. H. M. Smith and several other physicians who determined that she was suffering abortion complications and pressed her to identify the guilty parties. “She persistently refused to make any statement.” On being informed that her death was inevitable, she identified her paramour and her abortionist. A friend or acquaintance who had been caring for Josie during her illness had been the one to obtain a coffin and arrange for shipment of her body. This person accompanied Josie’s body as far as Earlsville, but then vanished.

The doctor, identified only as “Dr. Haven” in news coverage, was described as “a resident practitioner of Hamilton, Madison County. His reputation is none the best, and he has boasted that he could do these things up very neatly.”

Josie’s Brother’s Deadly Wrath

JosephineLeClearPittstonPAGaette4Jun1874.pngThe baby’s father was identified as Thomas D. Kelly, “a former landlord of Hamilton,” who had “kept company” with Josie for about a year. Josie’s sister said that the two were engaged to be married, and that Josie had bought a wedding dress the previous Christmas.

Kelly fled, but was finally tracked down in Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania. He was arrested and was being transported by the sherrif from the train station to the jail when Josie’s brother Albert “without much ado, drew a revolver and fired three bullets into the body of Kelley, killing him instantly.”

Albert made his getaway by leaping onto the engine of a train that was just pulling out of the depot. He was last seen walking toward his home in Manlius.

“The affair created instense excitement in the country interested,” the Syracuse Journal reported in a story reprinted in the Eau Clair Weekly Free Press, “and there seems to be but one feeling among the people in the locality, and that is, that Le Clear served Kelley right.”

Josie left behind her parents, “poor but worthy people,” along with two brothers and four sisters. Josie was considered a pleasant, likable girl, “as pure and honest as she was handsome and modest.”


  • The Death of Miss Le Clear,” Syracuse Daily Courier, May 1, 1874
  • untitled snippet, Pittston (PA) Gazette, June 4, 1874
  • “A Seducer Shot,” Eau Clair (WI) Weekly Free Press, May 28, 1874