View Full Version : A suspicious death?

Mary from Italy
04-09-09, 14:40
I've just received a death cert from Australia, and I'm very dubious about the cause of death. I wonder what everyone else thinks. I won't put the names, in case any living relatives pick them up on Google.

AM (who called himself a newspaper reporter) married KM (gentlewoman) in Australia on 3rd August 1895. KM was a widow - she married her first husband in 1894, and I've found a possible death for him in 1895 (don't have the cert, so I don't know what he died of).

On 13th November 1895 the New South Wales Police Gazette reported that a warrant had been issued for the arrest of AM, a clerk, on charges of embezzlement from his employers (definitely KM's husband, because he had a very distinctive name).

On 14th November, AM's wife KM died. The death cert says she died of peritonitis. The informant was a police constable (never seen that before on an Australian death cert). The length of illness isn't stated on the cert, but on 14th November the City Coroner certified that an inquest was unnecessary.

It seems like a bit too much of a coincidence to me that she died so soon after a warrant was issued for her husband's arrest (he was later tried, found guilty, and sentenced to imprisonment).

I don't suppose he bumped her off (although her two marriages and her first husband's death in quick succession seem a bit odd), but I'm wondering if she actually committed suicide. However, if there was any doubt, you'd think an inquest would have been ordered.

Any ideas about what might have happened?

Uncle John
04-09-09, 14:47
Let's try to be charitable. She was sick (appendicitis) and he needed the money to pay for a doctor/hospital or the transport to same. A bit of geography might help or hinder this theory.

Mary from Italy
04-09-09, 14:49
It's always possible. She died at home, not in a hospital. All the events took place in Sydney. Her father was a farmer (deceased), but I think her mother was still alive. As she was called a gentlewoman on the marriage cert I suppose she may have had some money of her own.

Mary from Italy
04-09-09, 14:50
Unfortunately there isn't a full newspaper report of the trial online yet, although the Sydney papers are supposed to be going online later this year.

04-09-09, 16:51
Peritonitis could be the result of so many medical problems. Not sure what kind of suicide attempt would result in peritonitis.

Mary from Italy
04-09-09, 19:32
I wondered if swallowing some kind of poison might produce similar symptoms.

I suspect the embezzlement was an ongoing thing, not a one-off, because the husband was tried and convicted of three separate counts of embezzlement from his employers, for three different amounts. When the warrant was issued he took off, and the police caught up with him in South Australia.

I assume there wasn't a post-mortem; it doesn't say on the death cert., and the wife was buried two days after she died.

Do any of the Aussies know if free hospital treatment would have been available in Sydney in the 1890s for something like appendicitis?

Olde Crone
04-09-09, 20:22
Well, coincidence has no memory and no mercy.

It may seem suspicious but there is absolutely no reason why she shouldn't have had appendicitis which developed into peritonitis the day after her husband's warrant was issued. Perhaps the worry of the preceding investigation had made her ignore the symptoms of illness?

Peritonitis could have been caused by many other things besides appendicitis of course, some of which don't have symptoms until too late (in those days).

I know a lady whose husband dropped dead at 10 a.m. and his father died at 10.30 a.m. the same day, before he knew his son had died. Just awful coincidence.


04-09-09, 20:47
Appendicitis isn't always easily diagnosed. My mother's brother died of peritonitis in 1943 when he was 15. The doctor thought he had tummy ache because he'd eaten unripe apples. By the time he got to hospital it was too late.

Poison, I don't think necessarily causes peritonitis. Usually it causes severe vomiting and diarrhoea and depending on the poison, burning of the throat, suppression of the heart/breathing.

Mary from Italy
04-09-09, 21:35
OK, I'm probably just being paranoid :)

04-09-09, 23:56
Mary................there were free hospitals in Sydney from at least 1838 when the nuns started St Vincents.

********can't stay....got rellies*********

Mary from Italy
05-09-09, 19:32
Thanks, Libby, I thought there must have been.

I wonder why she died at home, then?

Olde Crone
05-09-09, 23:19

Possibly for the same reason my friend ALMOST died of peritonitis at home...she ignored the initial symptoms, putting them down to a "funny tummy" she'd been having off and on for years. By the time the symptoms became unbearable she was almost dead.

If she had been living in Australia a hundred years ago, she definitely would have been dead!


Mary from Italy
06-09-09, 01:06
Yes, could be. I don't like the coincidence, but I suppose it may be just that.

Mary from Italy
13-01-15, 23:23
Just reviving this thread because I've found another small piece of the puzzle.

The NSW morgue records are now online. Although there was no inquest on KM, a post mortem was done, and the report's filed among the morgue records.

Unfortunately I'm having a lot of trouble reading it. Would anyone like to have a go? No problem if nobody does, because I have no idea whether it's likely to make gruesome reading.

There are two reports:


The first one, with her name spelled KM, is easy to read; it's the second one I'm having trouble with.

I don't need a transcription of the whole thing, just anything that looks as though it might be interesting.

I'm particularly interested in the part entitled "circumstances connected with the death". I can read "said to have .... several times about 7? weeks ago", but that's all I can get.

The other bit I can read, which is very sad, is in the section entitled "Abdomen"; the third underlined word looks like "uterus", and I think it says "uterus enlarged, 5th month of pregnancy". Poor woman. Perhaps she mistook the pain of peritonitis for something connected with the pregnancy, although you think she'd have consulted a doctor anyway.

She'd only been married for 3 months: she was married on 3rd August 1895, and died on 14th November, so she was already 2 months pregnant when she married.

She was a widow when she married; her first husband died sometime in 1895, but I don't know the date.

I eventually found newspaper reports of her 2nd husband's trial, which weren't available when I started the thread, but there's no mention of his wife at all. I haven't found a death notice for her or her first husband either.

14-01-15, 04:25
Hi Mary

I had a look - I think you need a doctor to read the doctors hand writing !

BTW I have an 1866 (Victorian) death registered by a police constable - it was a suicide, of a man who left all his children orphans, the oldest only 20. I assumed the police constable did it because there was an inquest, but there closest adult would have been his brother.

14-01-15, 05:51
I would have looked, but I don't have a worldwide sub.

14-01-15, 05:55
Ancestry let me look with just a heritage plus, sub. But I am in Aus, so maybe it makes a difference.

The poor girl, it seems such an awful death - and if her husband had been arrested was she at home on her own and unable to get any help ?

14-01-15, 06:59
I hate to say this but the circumstances connected with the death part looks to me like "Said to have had a wooden knitting needle passed up to procure abortion several times about 7 weeks ago."

14-01-15, 07:03
External description: Body thin & pale (?) - Rigor mortis well ?? body dead 8 hours No external marks of violence No discharge from vagina - no evidence of any injury to vagina

14-01-15, 07:07
Having trouble making out the "thorax" section at the moment:

Thorax: unexplained ???? lesion in ????????????????? about 3 ?? of clear fluid Heart left ???? Right auricle & ventricle full of ?????? Lung congested left ?????

And I can't make out the Abdomen stuff apart from agreeing with you about Uterus - enlarged 5th month of pregnancy.

Maybe when I've had more coffee I'll have another try!

Mary from Italy
14-01-15, 07:44
I hate to say this but the circumstances connected with the death part looks to me like "Said to have had a wooden knitting needle passed up to procure abortion several times about 7 weeks ago."

Oh no! I did wonder if the peritonitis might have been caused by an attempted abortion when I read that she was pregnant, but I really hoped it wasn't. I was thinking more along the lines of her trying to abort or even commit suicide by taking something orally when she found out that her husband was on the run from the police.

I'm really surprised that wasn't mentioned on her death cert, which only says peritonitis. From what I've read, that kind of abortion can perforate internal organs and cause peritonitis, so there really should have been a criminal investigation. I'm astonished that there was no inquest in view of the post mortem findings.

I'm old enough to remember this kind of thing happening in England before abortion was legalised. It was horrific.

Mary from Italy
14-01-15, 07:49
The poor girl, it seems such an awful death - and if her husband had been arrested was she at home on her own and unable to get any help ?

I don't know. All I know is that she died at home, and the warrant for her husband's arrest was issued the previous day, so I assume he took off immediately, leaving her on her own. He was on the run for quite a while before he was arrested.

No idea who would have given the pathologist the information about the attempted abortion, though. It must have been done shortly after the marriage. I wonder why? Maybe she already knew her husband was in trouble with the law and was afraid of being left alone with a baby.

As it turned out, he got 18 months hard labour, so unless she had money of her own, she would have been left in great difficulty.

Mary from Italy
14-01-15, 08:10
You're doing very well so far, Kite! I'd got some of the external description, but the thorax is defeating me too.

I'm also having trouble with the words written sideways in the right-hand margin: it says "peritonitis after ...", but I can't get the last word.

14-01-15, 08:54
Sorry, we had a power cut but back now *touches wood*

I can't figure out that word either, Mary, but here is a screenshot so those without a world sub can have a try.

Mary from Italy
14-01-15, 09:06
If anyone else wants to have a go, I can always e-mail them the page.

Mary from Italy
14-01-15, 09:15
Before the word "lung" it maybe says "valve healthy".

14-01-15, 09:44
I suppose the underlined words in the Abdomen section before Uterus are Stomach, Liver, Kidneys, but that's more from thinking about what organs he would be looking at than from deciphering the writing!

Mary from Italy
14-01-15, 10:18
Yes, I deciphered the word stomach, and there's the spleen as well if I remember rightly, possibly followed by its weight. And the word repeated more than once that looks like "heavy" is probably "healthy".

17-01-15, 21:51
I'm trying.

Under abdomen the first word is general.

Sorry I can't get anymore than you have and OH even less.

Mary from Italy
17-01-15, 23:12
Thanks very much for trying, Kit. The second word might be asthenia, but I can't think what the third one would be in that case.