Sunday, June 10, 2012

Teaching United States Law, De Gink Hotels and the Abortion Butcher of Detroit

Detroit Free Press, January 14, 1907

The evening of January 12, 1907 wasn't unlike the average winter night in the city of Detroit but Hans Woolfield was no common citizen and had other plans than a weekend night out on the town. Having spent the previous summer incarcerated at Eloise his addled brain was consumed with getting revenge for the indignity visited upon him.

With a shotgun in tow he set out to the courthouse to find justice. En route he was met by an neighbor, Arthur Schoch, whom he took aim upon and fired at point blank range. Schoch was small in stature and attributed this physical characteristic with saving his life as the bullet whizzed over his head and he fled the scene while Woolfield continued towards his destination.

By this time Marshal Osborne and a posse had set out to track down Woolfield and followed his trail to the courthouse. They were a mere minutes behind him when he burst into Justice F. X. Burke's office and exclaimed, "I'm going to teach you United States law!" He added an expletive to his brief soliloquy and then raised the gun to his shoulder to shoot the judge. Hidden from the madman's view was the brother of the judge, H. C. Burke, who tackled Woolfield and was joined in the scuffle by the ensuing posse who took him into custody after a scuffle.

Many public officials during the Prohibition era rallied around the fact that arrests for public intoxication and drunkeness had halved itself seemingly overnight. Eloise was used as a prime example due to the lessened burden of "professional bums" from their caseload. Whereby it was formerly derided as a Hotel De Gink - or literally a transient hotel - it was then heralded as a poorhouse for the truly needy. Which makes perfect sense since it seems like every 3rd or 4th story about Eloise in the early 1900s concerned besotted men who had merely caused a rift but weren't otherwise mentally unstable. Then again, I suppose the alcoholism was considered more a mental deficiency then than a "disease" as some call it today.

Sometimes the background or auxiliary  story behind one of Eloise's finest sons or daughter is the real headline grabber. Such was the case with asylum alumni John M. Cody, a former deputy sheriff turned conman. Had the man he conned out of a free meal and $75+ not been under police surveillance for other matters this most likely would have been just a passing blurb of ingenious criminality. Being that the victim was a murder suspect it became front page news.

Dr. George Fritsch was a noted physician in the city of Detroit but for all the wrong reasons. He was tied to dozens of cases of illegal operations (code word for abortions) and was found guilty of manslaughter in 1910 and 1919.

One case involved a state senate stenographer named Edith Presley who had become pregnant by State Representative Charles E. Ward and died from a botched abortion performed by Fritch at Hope Sanitarium in Lansing. Both men were brought up on manslaughter charges that were dismissed due to supposed irregularities and errors in the case.

Just two years later Maybelle Millman died from a botched abortion on Fritch's operating table in his Detroit office. This time Fritch literally took matters into his own hands by dismembering the corpse, putting the parts into gunnysacks and disposing of the body in Ecorse creek near Grosse Ile. He stood trial, was found guilty of manslaughter and granted a sentence of 15 years in Jackson Prison, of which he served just a few years after a retrial rendered him not guilty.

Upon his release Fritch took up right where he left off performing abortions in a "hotel office" at 277 Third Street (probably among other places) and was brought up on further charges resulting from at least 3 other women's deaths in connection with his underground abortion practice. I haven't delved very deeply into the story to put out specific facts but I did find a 1930 photo from The Detroit News showing Fritch shaking hands with his brother after being released from prison so he definitely served time on more than one occasion. Rightfully so considering that he butchered at least 5 women!

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