Friday, April 5, 2013

Dr. Bennett's Autopsies, The Death of a "Dummy" and Charges of Fetus Swapping

Detroit Free Press, December 25, 1883 (enlarge)
Whoever mocks modern society for its foibles should realize that not much has changed except for the machines and gadgets we possess. Humans are what they are and time hasn't altered the norms or aberrations all that much. One constant is gossip and fear mongering.

Dr. E. O. Bennett, medical superintendent of the County House for many years, was accused of swapping a fetus from one dead girl to another so as a "job might be put up against" the House Keeper Mr. Curtis. This came about with the revelation that Bennett and his assistant Dr. Burdenow were performing autopsies on every person who died at the institution. A matter of shock to some critics of the practice but simple scientific research to the doctors in trying to ascertain whether their diagnoses of patients were medically correct.

One patient involved in the supposed morbid triumvirate was Kate McLoy, a deaf-mute, who was referred to as "Dummy" by inmates and staff alike. Upon her death, likely from starvation brought on by extreme morning sickness that was misdiagnosed as mere stomach issues, it was discovered that she was 3-4 months pregnant. A mortal sin in those days especially at the almshouse where the sexes were mainly segregated to prevent such happenings.

Being that McLoy was sickly, frail, hated to be cooped up and was a supposed "man-hater" she was given special leeway to roam the grounds as she pleased. She obviously pleasured in more things than her mere freedom. Several fellow male inmates were fingered by their peers as potential fathers, including Tom Moore and George McCumber, but nobody could be certain one way or another. Such was the dilemma at the County House.

Oh, and the lazy tramps, of course. That is, the bums and sots who drained the institution of its much needed victuals and supplies and provided nothing, not even menial labor. Superintendent Bennett wanted them out. Probably as much as he wanted the Free Press reporter gone from the premises. Bravo to both gentlemen for carrying through with the inquisitions nonetheless.

Detroit Free Press, December 17, 1883 (enlarge)
Detroit Free Press, December 25, 1883 (enlarge)

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