Myrtle L. Irish

SUMMARY: Myrtle L. Irish, age 18, died in Nora Springs, Iowa on May 18, 1913 after an abortion performed by Dr. E. E. Birney.

In the evening of May 12, 1913, Mr. and Mrs. Frank A. Irish of Hopkinton, IA,told their neighbors that they were taking their 18-year-old daughter, Myrtle, on a two week vacation so that she could regain her health before her upcoming graduation from Lenox College.

They set off for Cedar Rapids, where at 11:20 p.m. they boarded a train north for Nora Springs. They arrived at 3:00 on the morning of May 13. They walked to a hotel and were joined there later in the morning by Dr. E. E. Birney. He remained at the hotel until the afternoon.

That evening, the Irish family went to Birney’s house. Myrtle remained there, sick and in pain, for the rest of the week, with her parents at her bedside. She took an abrupt turn for the worse on Sunday morning, May 18, and died at 2:45 a.m.

Dr. Birney signed a death certificate blaming Myrtle’s death on appendicitis and massive infection, and had Myrtle’s body taken to a nearby undertaking establishment. From there, the parents returned home to Hopkinton with their daughter’s body.

The funeral was held on Wednesday. The coffin was piled high with lilies and roses. Myrtle’s entire class at the college came to pay their last respects, as did the Sunday school class Myrtle had taught. After the burial, the grave was heaped high with flowers, and the residents of Hopkinton returned disconsolately to their homes.

Not all of the citizens, however, were satisfied with the explanation of Myrtle’s death. The day before the funeral, somebody from the town went to Charles City and laid the suspicious circumstances before the coroner of Floyd County, where Nora Springs was located.

By Saturday, the authorities there had gathered enough evidence to get a court order for an exhumation. When they went to the coroner of Delaware County, where Myrtle was buried, he dug in his heels and refused to obey the court order. After a lot of wrangling, another county physician was found who would agree to accompany the Floyd County authorities to the cemetery for the exhumation, to perform the autopsy, and to assist Floyd County in holding an inquest.

However, as the party arrived at Hopkinton, the doctor received an urgent message that his wife was ill. He left to attend to her, and the investigators scrambled to find another physician. At last a Dr. Cummins agreed to take part and volunteered his office for the autopsy.

The assembled officials arrived at the cemetery in driving rain only to find that Myrtle had been buried in cement. It was only with great difficulty that her body was exhumed.

Dr. Cummins found that Myrtle had died from septicemia and hemorrhage, but he lacked the skill to determine if Myrtle had miscarried or if somebody had perpetrated an abortion. Her reproductive organs were sent to the state university for examination.

Mr. Irish, when questioned, could not provide a satisfactory answer as to why the family, intending to make a grand sweep of several locations on their journey, had elected to stop at Nora Springs and seek the services of Dr. Birney, who had been their family doctor when they’d lived in Greenley, when Myrtle hadn’t been particularly ill.

Under repeated questioning, Mr. Irish admitted that he had taken Myrtle to Nora Springs for the purpose of an abortion. He had written Dr. Birney a check for $25 to pay him for his work. Both he and his wife had been present for the procedure, and had seen Dr. Birney burn the aborted fetus in a cook stove. Mrs. Irish, when questioned, was in such an unstable emotional state that she was unable to add anything substantial to what authorities had already obtained from her husband.

The father of Myrtle’s baby was questioned. The two had become involved on December 29, he indicated, and Myrtle had been about five months into her pregnancy at the time of the abortion.

When authorities finally went to arrest. Dr. Birney, he was nowhere to be found.


  • “Dr. E. E. Birney of Nora Springs Accused of Killing Girl in Abortion Case,” Green Recorder, Jun. 4, 1913
  • Iowa probate record