Louise Heinrich19101919, newyork, illegaldoctorOn August 23, 1910, Mrs. Louise Heinrich died in the New York apartment of Mrs. Vivian Buffam, under the care of Dr. Andre L. Stapler. Stapler cleared the case with Dr. O’Hanlon at the coroner’s office, filling out a death certificate indicating that Louise had died from gastritis.
Four years later, the Coroner’s Office came under investigation concerning allegations that doctors there were taking bribes to cover up abortion cases. Louise’s body was exhumed, an autopsy performed, and the real cause of death — a criminal abortion — was uncovered.
Stapler was tried for manslaughter in Louise’s death. He indicated, under interrogation, that for a fee of between $200 and $3000, the Coroner’s Office would cover up abortion deaths. O’Hanlon admitted that he’d performed only a cursory examination of Mrs. Heinrich’s body, but denied that he’d accepted a bribe or that he’d been complicit in covering up a crime.
Louise and her husband, Samuel, had traveled from Jersey City to New York that fateful day, to the home of nurse Vivian Buffam and her husband, a physician. They lived near Stapler’s practice. Buffam was out, but Stapler came to the apartment. Heinrich left his wife in the care of Nurse Buffam and Dr. Stapler. Mrs. Buffman went out to report “the seriousness of the operation” to Mr. Heinrich, and returned to the apartment to find Louise already dead. Samuel returned later to learn of his wife’s death.
Some phone calls were made, and a Dr. Shaw came, looked over Mrs. Heinrich’s body, and refused to sign a death certificate, saying that this was a case for the coroner. Stapler than called a lawyer, and Nurse Buffam called the coroner’s office, at about 9:00 that evening. Somebody there noted in the records that a woman had died suddenly.
The story is a bit muddled as to what happened next, but eventually Mrs. Heinrich’s body was removed to a funeral establishment, and a death certificate was filed. Dr. O’Hanlon had Nurse Buffam sign a statement that Louise was a friend of hers who had come to visit, then had taken ill and suddenly died.
Note, please, that with general public health 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 about abortion and abortion deaths in the first years of the 20th century, see Abortion Deaths 1900-1909.