SUMMARY: On April 6, 1873, Sarah Hall, about 31 years of age, died at the Grand Central Hotel in Chicago from an evident abortion.
Her death was very sudden, and this, coupled with the strange action of her physician, Dr. Reynolds, when applied to for a certificate of death, led the proprietor of the hotel and some of the guests to suspect that she did not die from natural causes. A sworn statement to this effect was made, and the coroner caused the body to be intercepted when on its way to the depot to be taken East. The box was addressed to “Col William H. Bartlett, Portland, Ct.” A post-mortem examination proved conclusively that an abortion had been performed, which doubtless caused her death. — “A Connecticut Woman Dies of an Abortion in Chicago,” Springfield (MA) Republican, Apr. 12, 1873
Sarah N. Hall, a widow about 31 years of age, died under suspicious circumstances on Sunday, April 6, 1873 at the Grand Central Hotel in Chicago.
Her husband had died around 1869. In late 1872, Sarah had taken her son to Chicago to live. The child was nine years old at the time he was left orphaned. Sarah had been receiving the attentions of “a prominent merchant,” and the two had been expected to marry soon.
What had happened?
Both Sarah’s aunt, Rosa E. Condery, and her cousin, Miss Condery, “seemed inclined to conceal all they knew of the case.” A man named Dr. R. P. Reynolds was called to testify as well. Dr. Reynolds “paled and flushed alternately; contradicted himself continually, and, when caught, put in very unsatisfactory parenthetical explanations which tended to confuse him all the more.” Frank Brown, a clerk and resident of Grand Central Hotel, testified as well.
What follows was pieced together from their testimony.
Brown first saw Sarah on March 11, when she came to board at the hotel, accompanied by a man named Mr. Newberry. Brown testified that Sarah and Mr. Newberry dined at the hotel, sometimes separately and sometimes together. The first sign that anything was wrong was about a week before Sarah’s death, when she told Brown that she felt unwell. However, she seemed fine when she put aside her sewing and joined Brown and Newberry in a card game.
Still, Sarah did grow noticeably ill over the course of the week, and had several prescriptions sent to her at the hotel.
Sarah’s aunt testified that she’d seen her niece sick during the week before her death, but that they’d never discussed the cause of her illness. Sarah had some tannin which she’d been using for an injection. At one point during her final illness, Sarah’s aunt said, she’d perked up enough to get out of bed and dress in full bustle and hoops, which Mrs. Condery took as a sign that Sarah was on the mend. However, upon returning later in the day she found Sarah lying on the bed, still fully dressed, saying that she had fallen and was bleeding. Mrs. Condery summoned the servant girl to help Sarah undress and go to bed.
The day of her death, Sarah’s condition had deteriorated to the point where her aunt asked Brown to get a doctor. He went to the desk to send for one, then returned and found Sarah’s aunt and cousin trying to revive her with brandy.
The doctor that had been sent for was Dr. Reynolds, who arrived about five minutes after Sarah died. Reynolds insisted that Sarah wasn’t dead. “After running around the room he went out. …. He seemed surprised at her death.”
At the inquest, Reynolds testified that he’d been summoned to care for Sarah once during her final illness but that he never suspected a miscarriage or an abortion. He said that Sarah had refused to be examined, saying it would just make her feel more ill. When he was next summoned to care for her, she was dead.
After Her Death
The family asked for a death certificate, he said, so he went and got Dr. Bell to confirm the cause of death as “inflammation of the womb followed by hemorrhage.” He and Bell went to the hotel, where they found Sarah laid out in the coffin. They discussed the case and Bell completed the death certificate.
However, while embalming her body, Reynolds said, he found a foul-smelling necrotic piece of tissue which Bell told him was placenta. Reynolds asked the family if they wanted a further investigation of Sarah’s death. They declined the offer so Reynolds and Bell cut away the bloody parts of Sarah’s clothes and put them in a wash basin prior to completing the embalming.
Somehow suspicions were raised, and an autopsy was performed which found obvious signs of pregnancy of about four months, though there were no visible marks of injury. All of Sarah’s organs seemed normal except her uterus and left ovary. The uterus was enlarged and showed obvious signs of a placenta having been removed. There were signs of old inflammation in the left ovary and Fallopian tube. Sarah had, both doctors who participated in the autopsy agreed, bled to death from either a miscarriage or an induced abortion.
The prescriptions found in Sarah’s room did not seem to be for abortifacients, but rather for treatment for her symptoms after she had begun to lose the baby.
Richard Williams, a friend of Dr. Reynolds, said he was visiting Reynolds at his practice on a Friday when, early in the afternoon, there was a knock on the door. It was a man saying that Mrs. Hall was sick at the Grand Central Hotel, but he didn’t know specifically what was wrong. Reynolds asked Williams to await his return, which he figured would be in about half an hour. However, Reynolds was gone for three and a half hours, during which time six different women arrived at the practice and joined Williams in awaiting Reynolds’ return. When Reynolds finally returned, he gave no reason for his long absence other than to say it had been necessary He made denials about having boasted that he could make $1,000 if he told what he knew about the situation, as well as of drinking to excess. The coroner asserted that Williams had indeed made such a statement and was known to be regularly intoxicated.
Eventually the coroner’s jury concluded that Sarah had bled to death from an abortion, but since they were unable to determine how it had happened, they couldn’t place blame on Reynolds, who “went on his way rejoicing.”
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