Was Aunt Addie Shot in the Head? (Part VI)

Updated!  Following my visit last week to Lake Mills, we’ve now uncovered evidence that proves – incontrovertibly – that Dr. Oatway did falsify Addie’s death certificate! This is a powerful piece of evidence!

June 19, 1901 was a very, very busy day in Lake Mills.

That was the day that Addie Hoyt Fargo – a 29-year-old socialite in the prime of her life – died very suddenly and unexpectedly from diphtheria.  Married to one of Lake Mills’ wealthiest men, Addie lived with Enoch and his two daughters in one of Lake Mills‘ most grandiose homes, The Fargo Mansion.

According to local lore and two published reports, Addie Hoyt Fargo didn’t really die of diphtheria. That was a contrived story created to cover up the truth:  Addie died from a gunshot wound to the head, delivered by her ever-loving husband, Enoch Fargo.

The 51-year-old Enoch Fargo was in love with Maddie Hoyt (no relation to Addie) and wanted Addie out of the way so he could marry Maddie. The same sources claim that Dr. William H. Oatway openly stated years later, “No one was fooled” by Oatway’s alleged falsification of Addie’s death certificate (showing diphtheria as the cause of death), and that folks knew Enoch had killed his young wife as she lay sleeping in her bed.

The local newspaper account (below) states that Addie first started feeling unwell Tuesday morning, June 18th 1901.  According to the obituary (also below), Enoch’s physician (Dr. Oatway) was summoned and “The fact that she was afflicted with this dread disease was only apparent to her physician only a few hours [before she died].”

That‘s a remarkable detail.

For one, Dr. Oatway specialized in diseases of the ear, nose and throat. Diphtheria was a disease of the nose and throat. How in the world could an ear, nose and throat doctor miss a disease that first attacks the nose and throat?

Secondly, the progression of this disease – from onset to death – typically took a minimum of 6-8 days and more often, the progression was measured in weeks and arose from complications involving the brain and heart. Diphtheria was not an automatic death sentence. It was the young and elderly that perished. It was expected that otherwise healthy adults would survive this disease.

Addie came from hardy stock. Her sister (Anna Hoyt Whitmore) lived to be 99 years old.

In the early 1900s, the fatality rate for diphtheria was 5-10% for people Addie’s age (more than five years old and less than 40).  The higher death rate (less than 20%) applied to those who were under five years of age and more than 40. [Source: College of Physicians of Philadelphia, History Project.]

And one can’t help but assume that the death rate for a 29-year-old healthy woman probably be the lowest of all. In other words, how many six and seven year old children died from diphtheria? Probably enough to skew those numbers.

A fascinating aside:  The Iditarod in Alaska was first known as “The Great Race of Mercy.”  In 1925, there was an outbreak of diphtheria in Nome, and 20 drivers (mushers) and 150 sled dogs made the arduous 670-mile journey from Anchorage to Nome, to deliver the life-saving serum as fast as possible. They traversed the entire distance in less than six days’ time. Our modern-day Iditarod commemorates this “Great Race of Mercy,” that saved the lives of countless native Inuit children in 1925.

Knowing all these facts, it’s a tough sell to say that Addie first started feeling unwell sometime late Tuesday morning and was dead 18 hours later (at 2:00 am on the 19th).

Was this Oatway’s way of giving us a subtle clue in this murder mystery? Was he trying to tell someone, “This is all a contrivance. Healthy 29-year-olds don’t die in 18 hours from diphtheria.”

Let’s set all that aside for a moment. There’s another tough sell in this story.

The timing.

So Addie was unwell late Tuesday morning, and dead by 2:00 am Wednesday morning.

Addie dies at 2:00 A. M.

The doctor is summoned to pronounce her dead.

The body is removed.

A burial permit is issued.

An undertaker is engaged.

A casket is selected and obtained. (Someone from Addie’s station would have had a “custom” coffin, built to fit, as it were. Or maybe her lifeless form was simply shoved into an off-the-shelf pine box.)

Addie’s body is prepared for burial.

Grave diggers are summoned and hired to prepare a grave, and it’s likely – given the timing – that this was done in the dark.

The death certificate is completed by Dr. Oatway as attending physician.

The death certificate is certified as true by the County Health Officer, who just happens to be…

Dr. Oatway.

Addie is “laid to rest” is 10:00 A.M. the next morning.

Not a visitation, but “laid to rest.” The casket is never opened – allegedly because of the grievous fears of contagion.

Soon after 10:00 A.M., we can assume that her body is lowered into the soft earth of a waiting grave.

Eight hours after her death.

Eight hours!

As my friend David Spriggs said, “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.”

And while they were in a hurry to get this done, they were not in a hurry to tell the family. I’ve found notes, apparently penned by my Great Grandmother (Anna Hoyt Whitmore), that suggest that – as of 1904 – she assumed that her sister Addie was still alive and well in Lake Mills.

To learn more about the details of Addie’s mysterious death, click here.

Thanks to David Spriggs (Norfolk) for providing the substance of this blog, and also to Bruce A. Samoore, Volunteer Historical Researcher (Wisconsin) for unearthing much of the hard-to-find genealogical facts, death certificates and obituaries. And special thanks to Heather Lukaszewski (Waukesha, Wisconsin) for spending too-many-hours to count at the library, digging up old newspaper articles on Dr. Oatway!

The more I learn, the more I become convinced, it seems unlikely that Addie died from diphtheria.

I need your help. Please leave a comment below with your ideas, insights or thoughts.

To read the newest information, click here (updated September 12th at 11 pm).

To read Part VII, click here.

To read Part V, click here.

To read Part IV, click here.

To read Part III, click here.

To read Part II, click here.

Enoch Fargo and his bride, Addie Hoyt Fargo. This is labeled as their wedding photo from 1896.

Enoch Fargo and his bride, Addie Hoyt Fargo in 1896 at the time of their wedding. Addie was 22 years younger than Enoch. He allegedly murdered Addie so that he could marry Maddie Hoyt (no relation).


Addies death certificate, allegedly falsified by Dr. Oatway.

Addie's death certificate, allegedly falsified by Dr. Oatway. The lower portion shows that the death certificate was certified on June 19, 1901.


On October 2, 1913, the Waukesha Freeman (newspaper) reported that Dr. Oatway was moving from Lake Mills to Waukesha to open a new office there.  Interesting that, years after establishing a successful practice in Lake Mills, hed up and move to Waukesha.

On October 2, 1913, the Waukesha Freeman (newspaper) reported that Dr. Oatway was moving from Lake Mills to Waukesha to open a new office there. Interesting that, years after establishing a successful practice in Lake Mills, he'd up and move to Waukesha.



Addie's obituary as it appeared in the local paper, soon after her death.


This obituary attempted to explain her fast death from a slow disease process.

I bet Addie was "very much shocked" too. This obituary attempted to explain her fast death from a slow disease process.

Addie, in the bedroom where she was allegedly shot by her husband, Enoch Fargo.

Addie, in the bedroom where she was allegedly shot by her husband, Enoch Fargo.

Addie, about 1899.

Addie, about 1899.

And heres Maddie, the woman Enoch was (allegedly) willing to kill for.

And here's Maddie, the woman Enoch was (allegedly) willing to kill for. Contrary to local lore, she was not related to the Hoyts of Lake Mills in anyway. Maddie Louise Harbeck Hoyt Fargo was born seven years before her mother (Marie Harbeck) married Henry Hoyt. In 1880, Maddie (then seven years old) was living with her grandparents in Lake Mills. Her grandmother was Elizabeth Fargo Harbeck.

To read more about Addie and Annie Hoyt, click here.

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  1. Joeylynn Mattson

    June 19, 1901 was a VERY busy day, indeed! The plot no longer thickens, as you are unravelling this mystery! This should have been so obvious as to slap Lake Mills in the face.

    Perhaps a bigger mystery is, WHY did everyone just wink and blink? WHY was this not investigated? Had it happened today, Mr. Enoch Fargo would not get away with it. Then again, we are talking about the “rich and powerful.”

  2. Cate S

    I’ve not read all of these sections… but would an exhumation of the body/bones shed some light on the cause of death?

  3. Sears Homes

    @Cate S
    Yes, an exhumation would answer all these questions summarily, but I’m not sure how easy it’ll be to make that happen. I imagine there are many legal barriers (which means big $$$$).

    This is one of those times when it’d really be swell to know a lawyer!

  4. Ann Wells

    What happened to the first wife? How did she die? Was that covered up as well? Makes you wonder what Enoch had over the good doctor to get him to be part of the cover up.

  5. Sears Homes

    Ann, I haven’t had time to blog about THIS yet, be we recently learned that Dr. Oatway’s fortunes had a dramatic reversal after Addie’s death. He bought property, bought land in Lake Mills (which became known as The William H. Oatway Addition) and then traveled to Europe. Interesting coincidence, isn’t it?

    There are some questions about Mary Fargo’s death (wife #1) but I have nothing solid to go on – just local lore.

    Based on what I’ve learned about Oatway, he could have been coerced and bribed to falsify the death certificate. And we do know that it is a falsified document.

  6. carolyn

    Thank you for sharing this very interesting story. The two women look a great deal alike.

  7. Peter Wolfgang

    Whatever the case may be, the good Lord upstairs is the final judge of our acts here on earth, whether we want to accept it or not.

    If Addie was murdered, as this article suggests, those people or person responsible have received their just reward.

    Funny how people do horrible things to one another just to “enjoy” their short time here on earth; but only just to bring pleasure and satisfaction for only a short season. Does not make sense at all.

    Rest in peace Addie.