Doris Silver Ostreicher #1950s #20s #pennsylvania #illegaluntrained

SUMMARY: Doris Silver Ostreicher, age 22, died on August 24, 1955 after an abortion by an undetermined perpetrator in Philadelphia.

The Body in the Morgue | The Fairy-Tale Heiress | Family Tensions Run High | Mom Arranges Fatal Abortion | The Police Raid | Further Investigation | Charges and Proceedings | Gertrude Talks to the Press | Pleas and Sentencing | Context

The Body in the Morgue

On August 25, 1955, the body of a young woman identified as Shirley Silver lay in the morgue in Philadelphia, where it had been since being brought there the previous day from the North Philadelphia apartment of 48-year-old bartender Milton Schwarts and his 42-year-old beautician wife, Rosalie. The young woman, they said, had been a friend for years, had come by for a social visit, and had suddenly taken ill. She had gone to the bedroom to rest and had cried out, "I feel sick." Her companions had reportedly rushed to her side to find her unconscious.

Milton Schwarts then rushed up the street to Dr. Samuel Manstein, who lived nearby. He examined Doris then called for police and fire rescue. After about 15 minutes of trying to resuscitate the young woman by administering oxygen, Manstein pronounced her dead at around 9:30 p.m.. The family physician, Samuel H. Katz, also went to the apartment where he told police that the young woman had been in good health other than for allergies.

But when machinations began to try to remove the young woman's body without an autopsy, her real identity was revealed, and a scandal rocked the city.

The Fairy-Tale Heiress

DorisOstreicherHeiress.pngThe dead woman was Doris Jean Silver Ostreicher, an heiress just three days short of her 23rd birthday.Her father was vice president of the Food Fair chain of grocery stores. her uncle, Samuel Friedlander, was founder and chairman of the board.

Doris had made front page news when she eloped in a "fairy tale romance" with Earl Michael Ostreicher, a 29-year-old motorcycle cop from Miami Beach, in late June of 1955.

Ostreicher was the son of a prosperous Chicago fuel dealer.The two had met in Miami Beach while Doris was visiting an aunt there. Though Doris was already engaged to a man the Asheville Citizen Times referred to as "the scion of a wealthy Philadelphia family," the couple eloped on June 24 to Folkston, Georgia.

Earl held that he'd not known that his beautiful red-haired bride was wealthy. She'd told him, he said, that her father was a butcher rather than a corporate executive.

But fairy tale romances don't always lead to fairy tale marriages. Within a few weeks, problems arose.

Family Tensions Run High

EarlOstreicher.pngDoris's husband and mother blamed each other for the marital issues. Mrs. Silver said that Doris had come home distraught, begging for help because her new husband was mean to her. Earl Ostreicher said that his new mother-in-law was very domineering and considered the match to be beneath her daughter's social standing and had instigated the break-up. She had, he said, refused to meet him or even to speak with him on the phone. He said that Doris had also told him that her mother had broken up a previous engagement.

About two and a half weeks after the wedding, Earl told police, Gertrude's doctor, Samuel Katz, called Doris and told her that her mother was very ill and persuaded the couple to go to Philadelphia. There, they stayed in a hotel for three while Doris made daily visits to her family home. She went alone, telling Earl that the time wasn't right for him to meet her parents. Doris, Earl said, would return to the hotel room every evening "looking very distraught."

At one point during the trip to Philadelphia, Earl said, Doris' father had called him and said, "Just as you love and respect your wife's wishes, I love my wife and I respect her wishes. Therefore I cannot see you."

After this unsatisfying visit, the couple returned to Florida. Doris went back to Philadelphia two weeks before her death to try to reconcile with her parents.

Mom Arranges Fatal Abortion

Rosalie and Milton Schwartz in court

On August 23 and 24, Doris' mother, 49-year-old Gertrude Silver, had taken her daughter to an obstetrician, Dr. Jacob Hoffman. Mrs. Silver had been "very unhappy" about the possibility that her daughter was pregnant. Hoffman himself was not certain that Doris was pregnant, since at that time a 6-week pregnancy was difficult to definitively diagnose.

Hoffman didn't indicate that Mrs. Silver was seeking an abortion for Doris, but seek one she did, taking her daughter to the Schwartz's apartment on August 24. Somebody had used some sort of instrument, augmented with some "vegetable compound" to try to induce an abortion.

Within an half an hour, Doris reported feeling unwell, along with chest pains. She collapsed and died. Her pregnancy, along with the attempt to abort the baby, was confirmed at autopsy. She had died from collapsed lungs and overwhelming shock. Her death certificate noted "Foreign Bodies of Uterine Cavity" and "Pulmonary Embolization By Foreign Bodies and Shock." Evidence indicated that she had died shortly after some sort of vegetable-based compound had been introduced into her uterus because the material got into her blood stream, causing a fatal lung clot.

The news was passed along to the bereaved husband in Miami Beach. He was granted emergency leave by the police department. He first flew to Philadelphia under an assumed name, then flew to Chicago to stay with his parents. The trip was doubly sad for Ostreicher because he and Doris had been planning to make the trip together so that she could meet his parents.

The Police Raid

When police searched the Schwartz apartment, they found abortion instruments there, including six syringes, a dozen or so syringe nozzles, medications, dry mustard, absorbent cotton, mineral oil, and olive oil, along with a metal tube that was believed to be the fatal instrument in Doris' abortion.

The couple, however, were not there. Police tracked them to the home of Rosalie's mother in suburban Wynnefield, where they were apprehended as they tried to flee through the back yard.

Rosalie Schwartz had tried to claim that she and her husband had known the Silver family for at least ten years and asserted that Doris and Gertrude had stopped by to drop off some books. Doris' father, Herman, indicated that he'd never seen or heard of either of the Schwartzes.

DorisOstreicherSylviaGraitzer.jpgFurther Investigation

As authorities looked into Doris' death, they found evidence that the Swartzes were part of an abortion ring. One woman, a divorcee named Sylvia Graitzer, came forward after reading about Doris' death. She told police in Camden, New Jersey that she had paid the Swartzes $500 in 1953 for an abortion that was ultimately unsuccessful. It had been perpetrated in Lucastown, New Jersey. Sylvia had identified the Swartzes through police photos.

Police sought out the Schwartz's grown son, Allen, a sophomore studying pharmacy at Temple University and part-time drugstore clerk, in order to gain more background on his parents.

Charges and Proceedings

The three parties involved in the abortion were charged with homicide, accessory before the fact of an abortion resulting in death, conspiracy, and perjury relating to testimony at the inquest.

Gertrude and Howard arrived at the courthouse sobbing and clinging to one another. Gertrude was granted release on $1,500 bail. Three psychiatrists -- Gertrude's own physician and two court psychiatrists, took her into an adjacent room and then returned into the courtroom to announce that Gertrude was incoherent, unable to comprehend the proceedings, and unable to answer questions. With the concurrence of all parties, she was immediately committed to Philadelphia Psychiatric Hospital.

The Schwartzes were released on $3,000 bail each.

Gertrude Talks to the Press

In January of 1956, Gertrude Silver finally admitted that she had arranged the fatal abortion. She said that Doris had said to her, "I want an abortion," and "You're my parent and you've got to help me."

"She cried and I had to help," Gertrude told reporters. "I loved her. I said I would help."

"In this whole business we're walking through hell. We're walking through hell all over again, talking to you," Mr. Silver added.

The two said that Doris had voluntarily left Earl Ostreicher on July 31 and had asked her father to help her to initiate divorce proceedings. Gertrude said that she had accompanied her daughter to a rest farm in Long Island, where Doris had remained until August 20.

Pleas and Sentencing

Rather than go to trial, all three parties each pleaded no contest for their roles in the young woman's death. This meant disclosing in open court what had transpired on the fatal night.

As Rosalie Schwartz spoke, her husband sat with his face buried in his hands and the silvers sat, heads bowed, holding hands. Earl Ostreicher was also in attendance.

Gertrude had arranged by phone to bring Doris to the Schwartz home for the abortion, Rosalie admitted. She'd taken Doris into the bathroom and administered a concoction she'd once used on herself, comprised of mustard, soap, and olive oil. Doris became sick, she said, so she told Gertrude that she couldn't continue. Then, Rosalie testified, Doris went into the bathroom alone with her daughter for about five minutes, then came out and told Rosalie, "Continue."

Rosalie resumed administration of the solution, and Doris collapsed almost immediately.

Rosalie said that her husband had refunded the money Gertrude had paid for the abortion.

Rosalie Schwartz got a sentence of indeterminate length, to be served at the State Industrial Home for Women, while Milton was sentenced to 3-10 years at Eastern State Penitentiary. Both were paroled after 11 months, based on a "pathetic" letter from their gown son asking that his parents be freed in time for Christmas.

As for Gertrude Silver, the judge had originally said that he would not give her a reduction in her sentence in exchange for her testimony.

This seems a moot point, since she was fined and given a suspended sentence for her role in her daughter's death. The judge said that he considered the memory of how her daughter had died "substantial punishment."


Doris' abortion was unusual in that it was performed by amateurs, rather than by a doctor, as was the case with perhaps 90% of criminal abortions.

During the 1950s, we see an anomaly: Though maternal mortality had been falling during the first half of the 20th Century, and abortion mortality in particular had been plummeting, the downward trend slowed, then reversed itself briefly. I have yet to figure out why. For more, see Abortion Deaths in the 1950's.

For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion
























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