Maud Tabor Virgo19101919, michiganSUMMARY: Maud Tabor Virgo, age 26 or 46, died in Lawton, MI on May 1, 1916 from a criminal abortion perpetrated either by her mother or her estranged husband.
Maud Disappears | Florence Finds her Missing Sister | Mother and Brother Brought Home for Questioning | Sarah Tabor’s Initial Stories | Maud’s Mother Blames Joseph Virgo | Police Question Virgo | Sarah’s Story Changes Again | Walter Drops Bizarre Bombshell | The Final Chapters | Maud’s Death in Context
Here’s one for the Creepy Family Files.Maud Tabor VirgoFlorence, Maud, and Walter Tabor were the children of Lester Tabor, a wealthy attorney in Lawton, Michigan, and his wife, Sarah. Both Florence and Maud were university graduates. Florence married a wholesale crockery dealer surnamed Critchlow and moved with him to San Francisco. Maud became a teacher of literature and languages.
In November of 1915, Maud became the fifth wife of undertaker-turned-real estate salesman Joseph Virgo, who reportedly told Maud that he didn’t want any children. The two of them had known each other for years and had been romantically involved prior to the wedding. But afterward, Joe and Maud evidently didn’t hit it off very well, because on February 1, she returned home to Lawton, leaving her husband and her married name behind.Maud Disappears
On May 1, 1916, a few months after the death of her father, Maud vanished. Stories circulated in town that Maud had gone to a western ranch for her health, that Maud was teaching in Salt Lake City, and that she was out west scouting out valuable mining property. Suspicions arose, since Maud had not taken leave of anybody and nobody got a letter or post card from her.
Sarah refused to discuss the topic with neighbors, who dismissed this refusal as part of Sarah’s eccentric personality.
Eventually her brother Walter began to tell people that Maud had died while out of town.
About a year after Maud’s disappearance, her sister Florence separated from her husband and moved back to the family home, taking up work as a magazine writer. She was, however, estranged from her family and would leave the house and stay elsewhere when her mother and brother returned to the house.Florence Finds her Missing Sister
Around mid-1919, Sarah and Walter. Tabor decided to take a trip out west for several months. Florence said that her mother told her, “Please don’t touch the shingles in the cellar. I want them for kindling.”
Florence thought nothing odd about this admonition until November 20, 1919, when she noticed that there was something under the shingles. She moved some shingles aside and saw that the object was a trunk. Grabbing it by the handle, she started to drag it into the middle of the cellar only to have the end pull off. Protruding from the end of the trunk was a human foot.
Florence immediately fled to a neighbor’s house. The neighbor summoned the police, who opened the trunk and found a dead woman, clad in a white shirtwaist, black skirt, and white stockings. (A later, more lurid account had Maud dressed in “fine lingerie befitting a trousseau and a dainty bridal gown of white. …. A filmy bridal veil, bearing a spray of orange blossoms, fell from her head. The hair was arranged with all the care a woman would take for the crowning event of her life.”)
Doctors and undertakers examining the body found it to be in a remarkable state of preservation. It had, in fact, been skilfully embalmed. Even though the nose was missing, there was little doubt that the face was that of Maud. She was identified by VIrgo, who was living in South Bend, IN, and was identified in news stories as Maud’s friend rather than as her husband.
Florence was held by the police briefly, but was quickly excluded as a suspect. Of all the parties involved, only Florence gave a consistent story, and she had been living in San Francisco at the time of Maud’s disappearance.
Oddly enough, Sarah Tabor had hired a real estate agent to try to sell the house. He had been trying to contact Mrs. Tabor, whom he believed to be in Oregon, about a prospective buyer.Mother and Brother Brought Home for Questioning
Both Walter and their mother were arrested and extradited from either California or Oregon. When police questioned Walter’s wife, she told them that a relative living near the Tabor house had gone to the home and found it locked, with Sarah and Maud alone inside, and that Sarah had told him she was keeping the door locked because she was afraid of the hired man.
Walter’s wife also told police that at some point after Maud’s disappearance that she’d been told, “Maud is gone.” About three months after being told about Maud’s death, she’d gotten a visit from Sarah Tabor
She said that afterward she’d been told, “Maud is gone.” About three months later, she said, Sarah Taubor had come to visit her and Walter in Montana and had said that Maud had died in her arms during childbirth. “Childbirth, when a person is 46 years of age, is a serious thing. When Maud died they hid the body to save the family from disgrace.” Walter Tabor’s mother-in-law told the same story of hearing of Maud’s purported childbirth death from Sarah.
Walter, police concluded, had not known about any of the events of late spring of 1916, and only learned about his sister’s death after the discovery of her body. Sarah was tried, but not convicted. An examination reportedly showed that Maud had been pregnant. Authorities began asking around as to the identity of a man with whom Maud had been keeping company at the time of her disappearance.Sarah Tabor’s Initial Stories
Sarah Tabor’s first interview was with the coroner’s jury. She told them that Maud had been suffering with asthma for about three days. On the night of May 1, Sarah said, Maud reached a crisis and become delirious. Sarah demonstrated, getting to her feet, stretching out her arms and quoting Maud, “We’re coming to the creek, mother. We’re coming to the creek! The water, mother! The water! I’m going to fall in.”
Sarah indicated that she had been giving Maud chloroform to calm her and had accidentally overdose her. Maud, Sarah said, died holding her hand at 2 a.m. on May 2.
In a different story, Sarah said that Maud had been delirious but had said, “It’s the brook I loved so well. I can see it. It is coming closer to me. Now it’s right at my feet. Oh, mother!”
Nobody gave much credence to the story, since a post-mortem examination had already proved that Maud had died from injuries, causing bleeding and infection, sustained during a criminal abortion.
Sarah showed up at the police station for questioning dressed in Sarah’s black velveteen wedding dress and wearing Sarah’s wedding ring. She told the police that the two of them had swapped wedding rings after Sarah and Virgo had separated. At first she kept to her story that Maud had died in her arms from an accidental dose of chloroform she was taking to treat asthma.Maud’s Mother Blames Joseph Virgo
After hours of interrogation, 80-year-old Sarah broke down, sobbing out, “I must make a clean breast of everything, regardless of what the consequences to me or others may be.” She then screamed, “Joe Virgo did it!”
“I knew Maud was about to become a mother. Virgo came to our house during the last week in April and took Maud away in an automobile. He said he was going to take her to Berrien Springs and Michigan City. He brought her back the Thursday before the Monday she died”
She continued, “Maud told me that Joe took her to a deserted house. She did not know where the house was. She said that a illegal operation had been performed. Joe stayed at our house until the Monday afternoon Maud died.” Maud died on May 1, 1916.
“After Maud had died, Virgo went away. He came back in a few days. I left the body on the couch where Joe had placed it after Maud had died in a chair. VIrgo said he would take care of everything. He went upstairs and got an old trunk Maud’s father had given her. She used the trunk as a ‘hope’ box.” Sarah said that she put salt into the box to preserve Maud’s body. “Joe put Maud in the box and I watched him. Virgo then carried the box down to the basement.”
He had, she said, instructed her to ship the box out-of-state as baggage, but Sarah kept it in the house instead, saying “Maud did not want to be separated from me, even in death.” The two had, she explained at another tie, entered into a pact that whichever of them to die first, the other would keep the body in the house so that eventually they could be buried together.
Sarah Tabor had even indicated that for seven days she had slept next to her daughter’s remains until she and Virgo put it out of sight in the cellar.
“I never buried the box and I never knew that it was buried until I was brought back from California.”
The police then brought Joe Virgo into the room and told him what Sarah had said. “It is not true. I never saw Maud after that time in the fall of 1915 at Kalamazoo.”
Sarah screamed at him, “You know you did it!”Police Question Virgo
The police took Sarah to a holding cell, then questioned Virgo further. He maintained that he’d had nothing to do with Maud’s death. He said that he hadn’t even known that Maud was dead until Walter told him some time around the summer of 1916.
Upon questioning, Virgo, an embalmer, admitted that like all embalmers he had instruments that could be used to perpetrate an abortion.
Over several sessions of questioning, both before and after Sarah Tabor’s return to Lawton, VIrgo gave several versions of what he’d known about Maud’s pregnancy and her death. He said that he’d married her because he’d known that she was pregnant, and that Sarah Tabor had asked him to perform an abortion but he had refused. He said that he hadn’t seen her since shortly after they had married. He said he had gone to the Tabor home in April or May of 1916 and that they’d told him that Maud was dead. In another statement he said that he’d known that Maud was in critical condition but hadn’t been to the Tabor house. Police didn’t believe him and charged him with murder. Since Maud’s body had been involved and Virgo was a skilled undertaker and embalmer, logic would suggest that he had at the very least been an accomplice after the fact.Sarah’s Story Changes Again
In February of 1919, Sarah Tabor gave yet another version of Maud’s death. Distraught over ill treatment from her husband, Maud had come home to live but had remained despondent and ill. This version, however, didn’t implicate Virgo. Sarah said that she had left the house and returned to find Maud dead, with chloroform spilled on the bed.
“I left the body lying on the bed about a day,” Sarah said. “I don’t remember just how long; I was numb with terror and grief. Had Maud’s baby been born I would have welcomed it as the happiest event in my life.”
As to why she had kept her daughter’s body, she said, “The more I reflected on it the more I became convinced I ought to buy the body in the basement. Maud always had a perfect horror of the conventional funeral, the fuss, the ostentation, the hollow mockery, and all that, so I placed the body in the hope chest and lowered it into the basement myself by means of ropes held around the door posts.”
In another statement, she gave three reasons for keeping Maud’s body at the house: That she was afraid to be home alone if people knew that Maud was dead, that if Virgo knew that Maud was dead he might take her body away, and that Maud had wanted herself and her mother to be buried in the same grave.Walter Drops Bizarre Bombshell
Suddenly, on January 16, 1920, Walter Tabor made a confession that his mother was responsible for Maud’s death.
“The first I knew of Maud’s death was on the 15th day of August, 1916. Mother informed me that she had died at Colorado Springs of asthma.”
Returning to the family home around April 19, 1917, he said, he found his mother living alone. “She was in poor health and told me she did not expect to live long. She said she had something to tell me and to show me.”
He went on to say that Sarah had told him that “Maud died on the first of May, 1916, in Lawton, from pre-childbirth, and that in order to protect her good name she had buried her the best she could in the cellar. She thin took me down into the cellar and showed me where she was and I put more dirt over the box. Mother made me promise never to tell anyone and I never did until now.”
Walter Tabor’s story then veers a bit into a different direction. “Mother told me the only relief that Maud could get was by chloroform.” Maud had died from a chloroform overdose. “Mother told me she was sorry she had given Maud chloroform and that if she had it to do over again she wouldn’t do it.”
“I raised the box up and wrapped it more securely with a rope.”
After telling this story, Walter gave an additional statement .
Walter said that his mother didn’t want the baby to live and thus create another heir to the $40,000 Tabor estate. Thus, she had administered an overdose of chloroform and put the body into an iron-bound trunk and put it in the cellar.
Regardless of the strange inconsistencies among the various statements of the different parties and the evidence of Maud’s body, the police took Walter Tabor’s own inconsistent statement at face value and dropped the charges against Joseph Virgo. .The Final Chapters
Eventually, Maud’s mother, who had signed a statement implicating Virgo, was the only person tried in the case. Her first trial resulted in a hung jury after 36 hours of deliberation. They were stuck at a vote of 8 to 4 in favor of conviction. The second was dismissed due to lack of evidence. She had spent nearly all of her wealth on attorneys in order to keep her freedom.
Sarah Tabor died at the age of 93, in the home that she shared with a caregiver. Florence, who had discovered her sister’s body in the hope chest in the cellar, had committed suicide by poison a few years earlier.Maud’s Death in Context
Note, please, that with overall 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.
In fact, due to improvements in addressing these problems, maternal mortality in general (and abortion mortality with it) fell dramatically in the 20th Century, decades before Roe vs. Wade legalized abortion across America.
For more information about early 20th Century abortion mortality, see Abortion Deaths 1910-1919.
For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion
- “Body of Woman Missing 3 Years Found in Trunk,” Chicago Daily Tribune, Dec. 1, 1919
- “Sister is Suspected in Lawton Murder,” Ludington Daily News, Dec. 2, 1919
- “Identify Body of Woman in Trunk,” Duluth Herald, Dec. 2, 1919
- “Body in Trunk Was Embalmed,” Duluth Herald, Dec. 3, 1919
- “Identify Miss Tabor as ‘Trunk’ Victim,” Patterson (NJ) Morning Call, Dec. 3, 1919
- “Woman’s Body Hidden to Save Family Name,” Syracuse (NY) Daily Journal, Dec. 6, 1919
- “Brother and Mother Held for Murder,” Syracuse (NY) Herald, Dec. 7, 1919
- “Mother and Son Held for Probe in Girl’s Death,” New York Evening Telegram, Dec. 7, 1919
- “Murder Charged to Virgo, Maud Tabor’s Husband,” Chicago Tribune, Dec. 12, 1919
- “Aged Mother to Explain the Death Pact With Daughter,” Patterson (NJ) Evening News, Dec. 19, 1919
- “Illegal Operation Killed Maud Tabor,” Utica (NY) Herald-Dispatch, Dec. 20, 1919
- “Mrs. Tabor Testifies,” The Antioch News, Dec. 22, 1919
- “Aged Mrs. Tabor Now Accuses Virgo,” Rome (NY) Daily Sentinel, Dec. 23, 1919
- “Joseph C. Virgo Accused of Maud Tabor’s Death,” Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 23, 1919
- “Mother Blames Son-in-Law for Her Daughter’s Death,” Watertown (NY) Daily Times, Dec. 23, 1919
- “Mrs. Tabor Accuses Virgo“, The New York Times, Dec. 24, 1919
- “I Buried Maud, Drug Killed Her, Mrs. Tabor Says,” Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 5, 1919
- “Son Says Mother, 80, Slew His Sister,” New York Sun, Jan. 16, 1920
- “Killed Daughter to Halt Motherhood,” Albany Times-Union, Jan. 16, 1920
- “More Complications in Tabor Murder Case,” Binghamton NY Press, Jan. 17, 1920
- “Mystery of the Young Bride Buried in a Trunk in Her Bridal Gown,” Syracuse Herald, Feb. 29, 1920
- “Jury in Tabor Case Report Disagreement,” Duluth Herald, May 1, 1920
- “To Arraign J. C. Virgo for Murder,” South Bend (IN) News, Dec. 24, 1919
- “Hope Chest“, Time, Apr. 13, 1931
- “Tabor Sister Kills Herself“, The Detroit News, Mar. 7, 1931
- “Ghastly Trunk Murder of Past Sifted As Police Seek Tufverson Case Clues; Grewsome Crimes Found by Luggage,” Utica Observer-Dispatch, Jul. 13, 1934
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