Nellie Flanagan, 2
The last desperate days
In July 2005, we got Nellie's death certificate from the State of Missouri. It confirmed that the 23-year-old had died from abortion-induced peritonitis. It was pronounced a "homicide" and signed off on by the Deputy Coroner. I called the St. Louis Medical Examiner and asked about a formal inquest report. The copy arrived on August 25, 2005.
A hearing was held in front of 6 jurors the day after Nellie died. Witnesses called were a policemen, a doctor, a girlfriend, and the husband Harry Kralemann. The report consists of a transcript of their testimony and autopsy results. Their conclusion was "homicide" resulting from peritonitis following an induced abortion.
What happened. Some time during the day on Tuesday, March 25, 1913, Nellie sent for her friend Pauline Wondracheck because she was having terrible abdominal and back pain. Pauline had also been by the previous day and Nellie had complained of not being well.
Pauline lived about 4 miles away, on N. Newstead & Kossuth, in Nellie's childhood neighborhood.1 Pauline was older -- 39, with two small children. A mother figure, perhaps. She claimed not to know a thing, except that Nellie had a history of belly aches and "hysterical spells." Nellie was a good friend, said Pauline, but she was "deep."
Pauline applied hot towels to Nellie's stomach and back and gave her a liniment rub-down on her back and limbs. About 5 P.M. Pauline needed to return home to her kids, so she summoned Harry from work. Harry must have called Dr. Keim immediately because he arrived while Pauline was still getting her coat and boots on.
The doctor didn't know Nellie -- had only previously treated Harry. His gyn examination revealed the problem immediately and she admitted that someone had induced an abortion. But she would say no more.
After she woke up screaming with pain at 3 A.M. the next morning, Harry called the doctor back to her bedside. Dr. Keim arrived about 6 A.M. but apparently didn't stay long and left Harry alone with her.
By 10 A.M. -- by the time Pauline got back to sit with her again -- she was dead.
Harry's story. Nellie and Harry had gotten married only 7 weeks before she died -- on Feb 5, 1913. He denied any premarital sex and claimed she'd had a menstrual period shortly before they got married. But he knew she was pregnant because she told him and he knew she was taking a string of home remedies2 to bring on her period -- calomel, hot toddies, turpentine -- but he had forbidden her to seek an intervention from anyone.
He said that her terrible pain had begun about two weeks before. His story was a bit muddled, but he was still insisting that it was kidney trouble.
The autopsy. From my reading, the autopsy gives the lie to Harry's claim. Her uterus was stretched three times its normal size and held the remnants of placental tissue.
4.24.05 (last updated on 12.09.2005)
Coroner's Inquest (PDF)
1 Pauline Wondracheck, 4049 N. Newstead Av, b. abt 1874. Husband, William. 2 children, Edgar (b. Aug 12, 1904) and Jeanette (b. abt. 1907). My grandmother Kitty knew the Wondracheck family -- attended the wedding of a John Wondracheck with my mother in the 1940s.
2 The "Home Remedies," or how desperate women poisoned themselves to avoid pregnancy:
Calomel - mild mercurous chloride, a mercury salt. According to a classic 1902 text, in tiny grain doses it's a laxative. In larger doses it is both an abortifacient and terrible poison.
Turpentine, tar, and pitch - cathartics also used to bring on menses.
(See also The Abortionist)