SUMMARY: Elizabeth "Lizzie" Fitztgerald, age 26, died in Detroit on December 9, 1881, from complications of a criminal abortion likely perpetrated by Dr. Elisha Leach.
On Saturday, December 10, 1881, police were notified of a mysterious death the previous day in the Detroit home of Mrs. Corlett.
"The name of Elizabeth Fitzgerald has now been added to the terribly mysterious death roll that bears the names of Martha Whitla
, Anna Clemens
and the scores of other unfortunates who have, from time to time, gone down to unhonored graves, the victims of a horrible crime," noted the Detroit Free Press
Corlett told the police that Dr. Elisha Leach had come to her home on Sunday, November 20, asking her to provide boarding care to a patient of his, a married woman from Manistee whose parents lived in Ypsilanti. He had been, Corlett says Leach told her, "treating her by prescription for a common female complaint, but his medicines had not produced the desired result," so she was coming to Detroit for further care. This is essentially an admission that he had administered abortifacients to no avail so he would follow up with instruments, but it was also vague enough to allow Corlett to claim ignorance as to the real reason for Lizzie's visit.
The following Wednesday, November 23, Leach arrived at the Corlett house, followed a few minutes later by Lizzie. "Mrs. Corlett showed them to a room on the second floor and this room the woman never left alive."
Leach attended to Lizzy daily, sometimes remaining well into the night. Mrs. Corlett told police that she once saw surgical instruments on a stand in the room. She said she questioned Leach about the instruments but he assured her that he had used them "for a simple purpose" and that Lizzy would recover soon.
Corlett told police that on Tuesday morning, November 29, Leach came down from Lizzy's room and said that his patient was going to die. "This information surprised [Mrs. Corlett], and she then charged the Doctor with having deceived her. The Doctor admitted that he had done so, but declared his object in doing so was to save the girl's reputation and keep all knowledge of her shame from her friends and relatives."
Leach summoned Dr. N. W. Webber to assist him, and Lizzy expelled the baby.
That afternoon, Mrs. Corlett and her husband discussed the situation. Mr. Corlett left to fetch Lizzie's mother. While he was gone, Leach and Lizzie begged Mrs. Corlett to tell Mrs. Fitzgerald that Lizzie had arrived the previous day, already severely ailing, whereupon Leach had come to care for her. Mrs. Corlett said that she originally complied with the wishes of Leach and Lizzie, but later admitted the truth.
Leach told police that Lizzie had come to him a while previously, asking for an abortion. He said he'd advised her to have the baby "but she said she had no place to go to become a mother." He suggested that she go to the House of Providence
, an orphanage and home for unwed mothers run by the St. Vincent de Paul charity. Lizzie had refused, he said, on the grounds that the nuns there knew her.
"He finally told her to wait until the time for maternity arrived and he would find a private place for her, and would send the child to the Home for the Friendless. She appeared satisfied at this, and said nothing more about it until two weeks ago last Saturday, when she came to him and said she thought she was going to be sick and asked him to care for her." It was then, Leach said, that he set Lizzie up at the Corlett home. He asserted that Lizzie had miscarried due to "mental anxiety" and had suffered fatal "congestive chills" afterward.
Dr. Webber told a reporter from the Detroit Free Press
that he had known Leach for a long time but had never before been called in for a consult by him before. When he arrived and saw Lizzie, she was in grave condition and needed to be delivered of the dead baby immediately. The baby was of six or seven months of gestation and had decayed to the point where an arm came off as Leach was extracting it. Webber said he had examined the baby's body for signs of violence but had found none. He said he didn't see any signs that anybody had used drugs or instruments to cause an abortion. After the baby was out, Webber said, he left and never saw Lizzie again.
Dr. H. O. Walker, who performed the autopsy, said that he was unable to tell if Lizzie, a dressmaker, had died from a miscarriage or an induced abortion, but could only determine that she had died of blood poisoning. The autopsy was performed over Leach's vociferous protests that it would being disgrace upon LIzzy's family. The cause of death on state records was listed as "congestive chills."
After an inquest, Leach was charged with manslaughter in Lizzie's death.
- "Another Victim," Detroit Free Press, Dec. 13, 1881
- "Arrest of a Prominent Physician of Detroit," Chicago Tribune, Dec. 28, 1881
- The Detroit Lancet, v. 5
- Michigan Deaths and Burials Index, 1867-1995
- Michigan Death Records, 1867-1950