Was Aunt Addie Shot in the Head? Part IV – UPDATED

When I started writing these blogs in late June 2011, I was still learning vast amounts of new information every day.

The original blog that appeared on this page has been revised and updated, and below you’ll find a plethora of the most up-to-date information that I have available.

So, was Aunt Addie shot in the head? According to Mary Wilson’s book (A History of Lake Mills, published 1983), Addie was murdered by her husband, Enoch J. Fargo. A cover-up story was contrived (diphtheria) to hide the truth. Wilson also states that Addie’s physician, William Oatway, participated in the cover-up, falsifying Addie’s death certificate.

That’s the story. To read more about the background of this story, click here. (The autopsy was inconclusive. To read about that, click here.)

It looks like Mary Wilson was right. Below are the facts that we’ve discovered along the way.

1) Addie Hoyt Fargo was buried without a burial permit, and this was a violation of Wisconsin state law. The county health officer was Dr. Oatway, and as county health officer, he knew that failure to obtain a burial permit was a direct violation of state law. These laws had been created specifically to help track and mitigate the spread of contagious disease.

Yet on Addie’s death certificate, Dr. Oatway stated that a burial permit had been obtained, and it was “burial permit #32” (see below). Permit #32 belonged to Alinda Hornily who died on March 26, 1902 (these permits were in chronological order).

The absence of a burial permit is very compelling evidence, and tells us, a) Oatway did falsify the death certificate, b) Oatway knowingly violated state law by signing off on the death certificate and then certifying it as true (while knowing it was false), c) A funeral director was not involved in Addie’s burial (or if he was, he was also complicit, because he knew the death certificate was a falsified document because there was no corresponding burial permit).

2) The burial permit was a STATE document, but the death certificate was NOT a state document. If a burial permit had listed diphtheria as the cause of death, the state *may* have investigated. When a contagious disease occurred, there were protocols required to prevent the spread of disease. For instance, state law required that a home be fumigated after death from contagious disease had occurred and personal possessions be burned or buried. A burial permit listing diphtheria as the cause of death would have raised a red flag. Oatway, entrusted with the position of County Health Officer knew this, so he lied on the death certificate and never obtained a burial permit for Addie. Doing this meant that the diphtheria story stayed local, and the information would probably not reach the state.

3) The State Board of Health (in Wisconsin) was formed in 1876 to track and mitigate the spread of contagious disease. Each county health officer had to answer this statement in his annual report: “Are the laws requiring the issuance of burial permits enforced?” Oatway, in 1901, stated that yes, the laws requiring the issuance of burial permits were enforced in Lake Mills.

4) Oatway, being a county health officer, also certified Addie’s death certificate, meaning he swore that it was true and accurate. That’s especially egregious.

5) In Addie’s obituary (probably written by Oatway), he goes on at length, describing Addie’s fast-acting Ninja Stealth Diphtheria as the most virulent, fast-acting strain he’d ever seen, that prevailed even in the face of aggressive treatment and modern medical care. It’s quite a prosaic obit, and the doctor is the saddened hero in the story.

6) SO it’s the most virulent strain, the fastest-acting strain, and no modern treatment could bring it into subjugation. And Addie was married to Lake Mill’s wealthiest resident, largest employer, and they were living in Lake Mills’ largest mansion. Yet a few months later, in his capacity of County Health Officer, when Oatway files his report with the State Board of Health, he reported that there were no cases of diphtheria in Lake Mills in 1901 (the year Addie died), and no deaths from diphtheria in 1901. Did Oatway lie when he wrote up Addie’s death certificate, or did he lie to the State Board of Health?

7) In the obit, Oatway opines that Addie probably contracted diphtheria during a recent trip to Portage. The newspaper reported she’d traveled to Portage for a convention on June 4th, 1901. Diphtheria germs don’t last longer than 1-4 days. And the county health officer in Portage reported that there were no case of diphtheria in Portage in 1901. There’s that stealth component again. Addie contracted diphtheria in a town with no diphtheria.

8 ) In the obit, Oatway says that Addie died 15 hours after onset, when the membrane formed in her throat, broke off and suffocated her. In the progression of diphtheria, this membrane doesn’t even start to form until 2-3 days after onset (according to the CDC), and children (its most frequent victims) died 4-6 days after onset (if the membrane was the cause of death). Typically, diphtheria killed adults when it settled into their heart and/or brain.

9) Diphtheria was not an automatic death sentence: Far from it, in fact. In 1900, in the state of Wisconsin, the death rate for a diphtheria victim was 13% state-wide, and 9% in small towns (population less than 2,000) and that number included children. If you could take children out of the mix, the rate would probably be less than half that. Children more than five, and adults under 40 had the best chance of surviving a bout of diphtheria. In other words, people Addie’s age (29) had the best chance of surviving diphtheria.

10) During the exhumation, we found that Addie was buried at 34″ which is incredibly shallow. This tells us that Addie’s grave was dug by someone who was not a professional grave digger, in part because of the depth, and in part because there was no burial permit. Before the exhumation, I consulted with several professionals in the funeral business, and they told me that I should be prepared to dig to 6-8 feet to find Addie’s remains. The “freeze line” in Wisconsin is 3-4 feet, and in case of contagious disease, periodical literature recommended that a grave be dug “extra deep” as a protection. Plus, grave robbing was a problem in the late 1800s, and the six-foot depth offered some protection against that.This was NOT a professional grave digger. It’s more likely that this was someone’s hired man, who got tired and stopped at 34″ (or as the sun was rising). On June 19th, 1901, the sun rose at 4:11 am. A professional grave digger would not have stopped at 34″. But whomever buried Addie, put her coffin in the dirt as soon as there was enough clearance to put a layer of topsoil over the grave. After all, who would ever know?

11) The most compelling piece: Addie was wearing her shoes in that grave. The obit says she died at 2:00 am after a valiant struggle with this awful disease and was buried immediately. How many people wear shoes in their sick bed?

12) And a bonus question. If you look at the burial permits (pictured below), you’ll see that the secretary of the cemetery was Robert Fargo (aka “Uncle Bob”). He also happened to be one of Enoch’s neighbors there on Mulberry Street. It would have been very easy to rouse Uncle Bob from his bed at 2:00 am and tell him, “Addie has died. We need to bury her before the sun rises. Can you get us a burial permit immediately?”

Surely, Uncle Bob could have arranged that.

Why didn’t Enoch do that?

To read more about Addie’s exhumation, click here.

To read more about how we know she did NOT die of diphtheria, click here.


This snippet appeared in the "Report of the State Board of Health" for Wisconsin and covered the the time period during which Addie Hoyt allegedly died of diphtheria.


This statement, taken from the above text and penned by Oatway, says that if there was a case of diphtheria in his town (Lake Mills), it *would* be reported.


Unless you're paid off to falsify a death certificate...


Stats on diphtheria deaths, as seen in the 1899-1900 "Report of the State Board of Health." In smaller towns, the mortality rate from diphtheria was much less than the statewide average of 13%, and was closer to 9%. In Milwaukee (Wisconsin's largest town with 280,000 residents), the mortality rate was closer to 16.75%.


Actually, Addie was born in January 1872. Sheesh.

page two

At the bottom, it does say Addie had a funeral, but that would have been logistically problematic. Dead at two, buried by 10, how did they notify people? Typical Victorian funerals were grandiose affairs; the wealthier the better! More on that below.

Addies death certificate, allegedly falsified by Dr. Oatway.

Under the date (June 1901), Addie's death certificate reads, "Burial Permit #32." State law demanded accuracy in reporting of birth certificates and burial permits. He would be required to lie again when he submitted his written report to the state of Wisconsin.


This burial permit (#21) is dated May 1st, and the death occurred the day before - April 30th.


Addie's should have been permit #22 (judging by the date). But "John Smith" died on June 26th, and this burial permit was dated June 27th. Addie died on June 19, 1901.


As mentioned above, burial permits were required for every grave that was opened. This burial permit was for a stillborn baby (unnamed). As cemetery sexton Bill Hartwig explained, a burial permit was required for every grave - no exceptions. This was the only permit I saw that had the same permit date and death date. In the case of an unnamed, stillborn child, the logistics involved in burial were very different.

Page one of Dr. Bentleys report from Portage, WI. This covered all of 1901.

From the State Board of Health Report, this is the first page one of Dr. Bentley's report from Portage, WI. This covered all of 1901. Page two continues below.


Dr. Bentley's report on Portage, second page (see top).


Theres no doubt that life with Enoch took a toll on Addie.

Life with Enoch took a toll on Addie. She was 29 here.


And why would a woman - who prided herself on her appearance - send this photo to her brother-in-law in Denver? I am confiident she wanted them to know what was happening to her in Lake Mills.

And why would a woman - who prided herself on her appearance - send this photo to her family in Denver? Did she want them to know what was happening to her in Lake Mills?


Addie: Before and After Enoch. The photo on the right was taken five years after her marriage to Enoch. She was 29 years old, and shed be dead soon after this photo was taken.

Addie: Before and After Enoch. The photo on the right was taken five years after her marriage to Enoch. She was 29 years old, and she'd be dead soon after this photo was taken. Look at her receding hairline and swollen lower lip. Her "cupid's bow" is now misaligned, and there's pronounced puffiness under her right eye.


Look at that waist-line!  Good thing I wasnt around then. That wasp-waist thing wouldnt have worked for me. Id have to say that my shape is more reminiscent of an egg than a wasp.

I'm comforted to know that Addie had some happy days at the mansion.


The fam sitting in front of the house in Lake Mills, WI. Enoch is at the top, with Addie below him. Enochs two daughters are Elsie and Mattie.

The fam sitting in front of the house in Lake Mills, WI. Enoch is at the top, with Addie below him. Enoch's two daughters are Elsie (top right) and Mattie (lower right). Elsie (1876-1959) married a McCammon. Mattie (1883-1956) became Mattie Fargo Raber.





Fluffy plays with Addie

Addie loved cats.


Addies little

Was this what the well-dressed, sick-in-bed diphtheria patient wore in 1901? Based on the remnants found in Addie's grave, these were probably similar to the shoes that Addie was wearing (and was buried with) when she died in June 1901.


Addie was exhumed on November 3, 2011. She will not be returning to Lake Mills.

Addie was exhumed on November 3, 2011. She will not be returning to Lake Mills. After the autopsy is complete, Addie's remains will be coming home with me.


Addies grave was empty by 12:00 noon.

Addie's grave was empty by 12:00 noon.


Addie in 1886 (about 14 years old).

Addie in 1886 (about 14 years old).

Addie - close-up

Addie - close-up

Addie and her sister, Anna Hoyt (my great-grandmother).

Addie and her sister, Anna Hoyt (my great-grandmother).

Addie in 1894, about 18 months before she married Enoch.

Addie in 1894, about 18 months before she married Enoch.

Addie in her traveling clothes

Addie in her traveling clothes

To read more about Addie’s death, click here.

Update as of 11:33 pm on November 24, 2011: Click here and read the comment by SteveWO:

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  1. Joeylynn Mattson

    the obit is suspiciously detailed… we surely don’t get that kind of detail today!

  2. Katie Otto

    Rosemary – another great blog! Can’t wait until you have all of your research completed and you write the book! One thing – your sentence: “To learn more about the details of Addie’s mysterious death, click here.” – the “here” is not linked.

  3. Debbie

    Are there living descendants of Enoch? Perhaps there is some family information to be had. Have the body exhumed? Talk to the ghost? I watch some of those tv shows, where people supposedly have contact with those who have since passed away. Just throwing out some ideas here.

  4. Dave Spriggs

    In light of the “highly contagious” nature of diphtheria, I wonder just how many other Lake Mills residents succumbed to this disease in the weeks before and after Addie’s death. Hmmmm???

    I wonder why no one else in the Fargo home seems to have been infected by this “highly contagious” disease, despite their proximity to Addie, even Maddie’s reported nursing of Addie. Miraculously, they all seem to have come through it in perfect health. Hmmmm?

    I bet that diphtheria gave them the perfect excuse to immediately burn ALL the bedding that very night Addie died.

  5. Dave Spriggs

    June 19, 1901 was a very busy day:
    – Addie dies at 2 AM.
    – A burial permit is issued.
    – An undertaker is engaged.
    – Addie is buried.
    – A Death Certificate is completed by Dr. Oatway as attending physician
    – The Death Certificate is certified as true by the County Health Officer … wait for it … Dr. Oatway.

    Talk about efficiency!!! All that in one day for an unexpected death?? Why … it is almost as if they knew that it was going to happen and had already made preparations.

  6. Sears Homes

    @Dave Spriggs
    That’s an excellent point, David. If there was an epidemic of diphtheria in Lake Mills, I bet it would make the news.

    But I’m willing to bet $50 that there was not an epidemic of diphtheria in Lake Mills, because the more I learn, the more I doubt that Addie died from a disease (unless you consider lead poisoning delivered via a revolver a disease).