The Gilded Hour Page 96

•   •   •


Monday, May 28, 1883



Coroner Lorenzo Hawthorn has released the names of the jurors who will hear evidence in the inquest into the death of Mrs. Janine Campbell. They are Dr. Morgan Hancock of Women’s Hospital; Dr. Manuel Thalberg, lead physician at the German Dispensary; Dr. Nicholas Lambert, a forensics specialist at Bellevue; Dr. Abraham Jacobi of Children’s Hospital and president of the New York Medical Association; Dr. Josiah Stanton of Women’s Hospital; and Dr. Benjamin Quinn, surgeon on the faculty at both Bellevue’s School of Medicine and the Woman’s Medical School. In addition, Anthony Comstock will serve on the jury as a representative of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice.

•   •   •

THE CORONER INSTRUCTED his clerk to call the inquest to order, and the murmuring in the courtroom trailed off. Sophie took a last look at the notes laid out before her, shuffled them into a pile, and folded her hands in her lap. Beside her Anna was scribbling already, all her attention on the first of many blank pages she would fill before day’s end. The jury would think her inordinately attentive, but Sophie had gone to school with Anna and she knew better. Her cousin scribbled as she listened, writing down odd words that taken together made little sense; when she got home, she would hand all the closely written pages to Mrs. Lee to use as tinder for the fire.

What Anna needed to know, she retained without writing down; she took notes for another reason altogether. As a girl she had disliked being called on in class and found that most teachers would leave her be if she looked busy. It wasn’t that she couldn’t answer questions, only that she wanted to decide which ones to answer. Some teachers left her this small vanity, and others did not, but nothing kept her from her scribbling.

Cap had often stolen her notebook away to read those random words out loud, like an actor on a stage. But they weren’t children anymore, and Cap was at home where he belonged, fighting for every breath.

She made herself focus on the proceedings.

Judge Benedict’s courtroom had been made available for the inquest, given the number of witnesses, the size of the jury, and the overwhelming public interest. Sophie had hoped that Judge Benedict himself would be absent, and was relieved to see that he was. Benedict and Comstock together were a disaster for any woman who came to their combined attention.

Because it was an inquest and not a trial, Hawthorn had some latitude in how he ran things. He handpicked the reporters—just three of them—to sit in the back of the courtroom—and he had spent some part of the morning considering case by case people who applied for permission to sit in the gallery. The ones he turned away were the ones who were there hoping for scandal and in particular, news of the missing Campbell boys. The whole city seethed with rumors and supposition about those little boys. They rarely left Sophie’s mind.

The coroner was saying, “This is an inquest into the death of Mrs. Janine Campbell, nothing more or less. We are here to decide whether her death was the result of malpractice and criminal abortion, and if so, the police will then be responsible for locating the responsible individuals and bringing them into a court of law to be tried. The jury may also rule that Mrs. Campbell died of self-inflicted injuries amounting to suicide. Given the complexities of the case, I have asked physicians to hear the evidence. They are free to ask questions at any time. Persons admitted to the gallery may also ask questions but should first apply to me.”

There were different kinds of evidence, he went on to explain. They would be considering the autopsy and physical items found at the Campbell home, and also they would discuss the deceased’s state of mind.

He said, “This is not an inquiry into the whereabouts and fate of the Campbell sons. The subject will come up but will be kept within bounds. I also want to remind both the jury and those sitting in the gallery that the question of pregnancy is irrelevant. Under the law, it doesn’t matter if the deceased was actually with child. The operation itself is illegal, in any case.

“This final point. The chief of police has submitted the results of a preliminary investigation, and on that basis both Dr. Savard and Dr. Savard Verhoeven have been cleared of any direct involvement in the illegal operation. They are here because they were the last physicians to treat the deceased and their testimony will be relevant.

“However, it has been pointed out to me that one or both of them may or may not be guilty of a different but related crime, that of supplying information and instruments to the deceased that made it possible for her to carry out the operation on herself.”

Sophie didn’t look at the jury box. She had sworn to herself that she would not, because there was nothing to be gained by it. She knew exactly who had reminded the coroner that dispensing medical advice of certain kinds was illegal, and he was sitting just fifteen feet away.

Comstock was just a single vote of seven. Of the six physicians, three could be counted as allies: Abraham Jacobi of Children’s Hospital, Manuel Thalberg of the German Dispensary, and Dr. Quinn, a Bellevue surgeon who also taught surgery at the Women’s Hospital and had been something of a surly but effective mentor to Anna. The other physicians were known to her only by name and reputation. Dr. Stanton, because he had published article after article attacking women physicians and the New Amsterdam in particular, and Dr. Hancock because he was one of the surgeons from Women’s Hospital, where women physicians were not welcome or even tolerated. The last physician she knew only as a Dr. Lambert, a specialist in forensics, one with an excellent reputation.

With the exception of Thalberg, who worked exclusively among the poor German immigrants, all of the physicians had thriving practices. Some of them—Jacobi in particular—also did a large amount of charity work, but they all lived well. In this group Comstock looked out of place. The physicians were all carefully groomed and expensively clothed, while Comstock, ponderous and pompous, wore his poorly fitting black wool suit and standard grim expression. But for the whiskers he always reminded Sophie of an overgrown infant. It was his round face with its flawless complexion and high spots of color where the cheekbones would be, below the layer of fat. She had no intention of studying the man, but it was impossible to ignore the habit he had of sucking his front teeth.

Sophie and Anna sat in the foremost row of the gallery, behind the table where the defense would be situated in a real trial. Behind them in the second row were Conrad and his clerk, and beyond them, about two dozen faces scattered in a room that would have seated many more. Hawthorn might be a businessman with little knowledge of medicine, but in Sophie’s view of things, he had done very well in arranging the inquest.

She smiled a greeting at five classmates from Woman’s Medical School, and then got up to greet the three professors who had come as a powerful gesture of support: Mary Putnam Jacobi, Clara Garrison, and Maude Clarke. Sophie was especially surprised to see Dr. Garrison, who had so recently been on trial herself, another one of Comstock’s favored targets. She was especially glad to see Mary Putnam, who had a mind sharper than any of the men in the room, including her husband, Abraham Jacobi, who sat on the jury.

“Steady on,” Mary said, and left everything else unsaid.

•   •   •

JUST AS SOPHIE returned to her seat the coroner asked the jury to put forward any questions they might have.

“I’d like a clarification.”

“Dr. Hancock, please go ahead.”

“You’ve mentioned the possibility that the deceased may have operated on herself in a frame of mind that amounted to suicide. I agree, it’s something to consider, but if we’re going to look at suicide, we are talking about a woman who was suffering from severe mental illness. That discussion will necessarily lead to consideration of the Campbell sons, and what happened to them.”

Anna stopped scribbling and her gaze fixed on the jury box. Then she wrote something down and turned the writing pad toward Sophie. She was writing with pencil, in sharp, straight strokes that pressed through many layers of paper. In her bag she’d have another dozen sharpened pencils to replace the one in hand when it got too dull. She had written, Morgan Hancock, Women’s Hospital?

Sophie nodded.

Studied with Czerny?

Sophie nodded again.

“I didn’t forbid the subject,” the coroner was saying. “But I would like to keep in mind that our primary purpose is something else entirely.”

The coroner said, “We’ll start with Dr. Graham of the ambulance service.”

•   •   •

ANNA WAS AWARE of Jack at the back of the room. He stood there with Oscar Maroney and another detective, his arms crossed and his chin lowered to his chest as he listened to Neill Graham recount what had happened the previous Thursday.

Graham was a good witness, clear and focused. The jurors asked questions—some of them very pointed—but Neill Graham didn’t fluster.

“How many abdominal surgeries have you observed?” Abraham Jacobi’s tone was neither kind nor confrontational.

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