On June 19, 1901, 29-year-old Addie Hoyt Fargo – a beautiful, intelligent, gregarious young woman – was allegedly shot and killed by Enoch Fargo, her wealthy, powerful, 51-year-old husband. But Enoch was never punished for this crime. According to local lore and two published reports (and now, contemporary evidence), Enoch bribed a local doctor (William Oatway) to falsify Addie’s death certificate, so that no one would ever know the truth.
And what could his motive have been? Enoch found someone he liked better, and was remarried (his third marriage) in February 1902, a mere eight months after Addie’s death. In Victorian times, the period of mourning was 12 months. To remarry during the mourning period would have been scandalous.
Addie Hoyt Fargo‘s death certificate lists “diphtheria” as the cause of death, but according to The History of Lake Mills, Dr. Oatway openly admitted in later years, “No one was fooled” by this falsified document.
Enoch’s own granddaughter stated (in The History of Lake Mills), “A number of persons who knew [Enoch Fargo] will tell the same story – he shot Addie.”
The local newspaper account (below) states that Addie was first stricken with illness on Tuesday morning, June 18th 1901, and was dead by 2:00 am Wednesday morning, or about 18 hours after the first symptoms appeared.
That doesn’t make much sense.
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.]
Was this “Diphtheria” story 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.
Addie dies at 2:00 A. M.
The doctor is summoned to pronounce her dead.
The undertaker is summoned and a coffin is selected.
The coffin is taken to the house and up to the second floor.
Her body is respectfully laid out in the coffin, behind closed doors, and carried outside to a waiting hearse.
The body is taken to the undertaker.
The undertaker requests a burial permit from the cemetery’s secretary (Robert Fargo).
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…
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.
As my friend David Spriggs said, “All that in one day for an unexpected death? It’s 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.
Now that’s disturbing.
Shortly before Addie died, she sent a picture of herself to her sister and brother-in-law in Denver (Mr. and Mrs. Wilbur W. Whitmore). In that picture, Addie’s eye, lips and nose are swollen and distorted. She doesn’t even look like the same woman shown in those wedding photos, taken five years earlier. I believe this last photo was Addie’s “SOS” to her family, and that Addie knew that Enoch was going to kill her. (See photo below.)
Did he shoot her? Or maybe he just went too far one night when he was beating her. Or maybe he put a pillow over her face and suffocated her, which would be a good fit with the diphtheria story (published as her obituary).
There’s another piece of this puzzle that’s especially compelling: There’s no burial permit for Addie. And that tells us that when Dr. Oatway filled out the death certificate, he did not represent the facts honestly, for this death certificate (completed and certified by Oatway) states that a burial permit was obtained, and it’s listed as permit #32. In fact, the impeccable records of the city cemetery shows that Addie’s burial permit would have been #22, but there is no permit for Addie in the city’s ledger of burial permits.
And permit #32 belongs to Alinda Horniley, who died in October 1902.
And yet, burial permits were required – by law – for every grave that was opened in the cemetery.
In his mad rush to get the death certificate filled out, Oatway apparently “guessed” at which number was coming up on the burial permit ledger. He guessed wrong. He never figured anyone would go behind him and double-check.
Besides, Enoch Fargo was an important, wealthy powerful man. Addie Hoyt was a 29-year-old girl, whose parents were dead and her only family – a sister and brother-in-law – lived far away in Denver. Addie was alone in the world, and when Enoch killed her, no one dared ask too many questions.
Enoch successfully used his power and privilege to get away with the murder of his young wife.
Above the mystery of it all, there’s another fact. Addie was my great Aunt, and the baby sister of my great-grandmother.
I’ve no doubt that it’ll take indefatigable persistence to get to the bottom of this mystery, and answer the question – once and for all – of what happened to my beautiful, intelligent, gregarious Aunt Addie, whose life ended abruptly when she was 29 years old. And I am an indefatigable and persistent soul. I will see this through to the end.
* * *