Rose Smith, a 23-year-old mother of five, died May 5, 1941 after an abortion perpetrated in Chicago.
Midwife Magdaline Motzny-Stegeman was investigated by a grand jury, which concluded that there was not sufficient evidence to indict her. Motzny-Stegeman’s husband William had been a member of the state’s attorney’s staff before being promoted to Police Lieutenant.
Rose’s husband, Beve, was upset at the finding and told the Chicago Tribune, “I was told in the beginning that I would get no place with this prosecution. If I stole a loaf of bread for my five motherless children I would quickly wind up in jail. I know that. I do not intend to let up. I have been asked to be my own policeman in this case, and I have been running back and forth trying to chase down witnesses. I am going down to Mr. Bertram Cahn, president of the Chicago Crime commission, and ask him to help me get justice. I believe the state has a good chain of circumstances to show who is the guilty party in this case.”
Beve had testified that he had accompanied Rose to the midwife’s office a few days before her death, telling Motzny-Stegeman that no abortion was to be performed. The next day he got a call from his wife and went to meet her at the midwife’s practice, where he found Rose sitting on the steps outside. Motzny-Stegeman opened the door and told him that a car was waiting to bring them to St. Mary’s of Nazareth’s hospital.
Dr. Bronislaw Mix attended Rose at the hospital, and said that he’d not known that Rose had undergone an abortion until it was revealed in the postmortem examination.
Prosecutor Wilbert F. Crowley told the Tribune that there was strong circumstantial evidence against Motzny-Stegeman, but not enough to warrant an indictment. Two witnesses were holding back information but couldn’t be forced to testify.
Rose’s husband eventually sued both the midwife and the doctor, alleging that Mix had assisted with the abortion then failed to provide adequate aftercare. The duo were also charged the following year with perpetrating an abortion on a 31-year-old woman whose husband reported them. Motzny-Stegeman had alone been implicated in the 1926 abortion death of Emily Mueller.
- “Abortion Death Quiz Abandoned by Grand Jury,” Chicago Tribune, July 1, 1941
- “Seize Physician as Abortionist; Patient Very Ill,” Chicago Tribune, November 13, 1942