This weekend, I discovered a blog that questioned some of my statements about Addie’s murder. The blog writer feels that Addie was not murdered, and that my conclusions are erroneous.
I’m right, and he’s wrong (I love it when that happens), and I can explain the reasons why.
For instance, this fellow refuted my statement regarding the low mortality rate of diphtheria. (I’d said that in the early 2oth Century, someone in Addie’s age bracket had a 5-10% chance of dying from diphtheria.) His blog denounces that statistic, and claims that the contemporary rate (the 2011 mortality rate) from diphtheria is 10%, but that in the early 20th Century, the mortality rate “was closer to 50%.”
His source for this information is a chart, with lots of pretty colors and squiggly lines, but if he’d looked closer at his own chart, he’d see that it actually represented mortality rates per 100,000 people, and it was a chart referencing disease rates of the population as a whole. In other words, it was designed to show what percentage of the U. S. population had perished in a particular year from diphtheria (and the rate for 1901 was .00004%).
That chart tells us nothing about the 1901 mortality rate for patients afflicted with diphtheria.
Monday morning and afternoon, I spent too many hours reading, “Report of the State Board of Health, State of Wisconsin, 1899-1900” (and what a page turner that was). The document represents the time period from September 1899 to September 1900, and it’ll have to do until I can find the report for 1900-1901. (Addie died in June 1901.)
Now keep in mind that this report included all ages. Children under five and adults past 40 had twice the mortality rate of other age groups. And within this document was a section titled, “Health Officer’s Correspondence,” with a plethora of notes from physicians declaring that diphtheria often moved through families, killing all the young children. In other words, children’s deaths, due to diphtheria, probably represent a lot of these “mortality rate” numbers.
In the state of Wisconsin, in 1899, the mortality rate for diphtheria was 13% (see graphic below). But being the intrepid researcher, I wanted to learn even more.
In 1900, physicians agreed that proper sanitation was the key to inhibiting the spread of diphtheria-laden germs. Larger cities with sanitation issues and close living arrangements had higher mortality rates. For instance, in Milwaukee, the mortality rate for diphtheria was 16.75%. Conversely, if you just looked at the cities and villages with 2,000 people or less, the mortality rate was a mere 9.1%.
[Milwaukee (population 280,000), reported 746 cases of diphtheria and 125 deaths. Conversely, the smaller towns of Menomonie, Kaukauna, Hortonville and Westfield reported 10, 6, 5 and 4 cases of diphtheria and no deaths. In Schleisingervhle, there were 20 cases and only 1 death. This was pretty typical of small towns in Wisconsin.]
Back to cities and villages with less than 2,000 people: About 9% of the people in those areas perished from diphtheria. Bear in mind, that 9.1% rate included children. If you could strip away the “under five and more than 40” group, the number would surely be significantly less. In Hay River, there was one case of diphtheria and one death: A child.
Hay River Health Officer J. C. Lake’s report says that he would not have lost that one child if the parents had sought help earlier.
In the 1890s, diphtheria rates began to decline, due to the discovery and availability of an anti-toxin, developed by German scientist Emil von Behring. By 1895, the anti-toxin was in production in the United States, and in use throughout the country.
All of which is to say, the 1900 mortality rate of 9.1% is very believable, and if we could extract adults from that number, it would surely be much lower.
In conclusion, I stand by my original statement. The odds that Addie died from diphtheria are pretty low. Factor in her age (29 years old), and her duration of illness (16 hours) and those odds become almost laughable.
And more to the point, there were zero cases of diphtheria in Lake Mills and surrounding areas. And this was not uncommon. About 25% of Wisconsin’s small cities had no reported cases of diphtheria. In these smaller towns, there was lots of small pox, pneumonia. consumption, la grippe, and dysentery, but no diphtheria.
In the anti-Addie blog mentioned above, there was another fact he took exception to. He claimed that the lack of a burial permit proved only that there’d been a bureaucratic boo-boo. My afternoon in this dusty old tome proved him wrong on that score, too.
With few exceptions, the physicians’ comments included a statement such as, “The laws requiring the reporting of births and burial permits are observed,” or some physicians wrote, “The laws requiring the reporting of births are not always observed because neighbor women sometimes attend to the birth…”
In regards to the burial permit, most doctors said that the “reporting of burial permits are always observed…”
The lone exception was a health officer in a rural setting who stated that all of his deceased patients did have “properly filled out burial permits,” but then his report took an interesting turn with a commentary about a quack on the edge of town and “who knows what he’s doing out there.”
I was impressed that there were two documents the state wanted a report on: Birth certificates and burial permits. Not death certificates, but BURIAL permits. This tells me that burial permits were considered an important state document and it was expected that health officers would make certain that these records were meticulously maintained.
Of the 135 physicians’ reports that I read, there was only one that said that “the laws regarding the issuing of burial permits are strictly maintained.”
Notice the addition of that word, “strictly”?
That statement with its extra important words came from the health officer in Lake Mills.
Perhaps if someone died out on the farm and was buried in the family plot and later moved to a city cemetery, there would not have been a burial permit from the city of Lake Mills.
But if someone (oh, say, someone like Addie) died in the city of Lake Mills, and was attended to by a local physician (oh say, someone like Oatway) who just happens to be the HEALTH OFFICER who understands that he’ll be duty bound to file a report in a few weeks, explaining that “laws regarding the issue of burial permits are strictly maintained,” then I’d guess that someone like Addie had darn well better have a burial permit filed and properly executed.
Oatway knew that the state required that Addie’s death certificate have a burial permit number, so he made one up. Oatway also knew that Enoch’s demand that Addie be buried at once (before 10:00 am the next morning), prevented Oatway from getting a legitimate burial permit, so he falsified the document and made up a burial permit number (#32), and then signed a sworn affidavit that the information was true.
So which is worse, conspiring to cover up a murder, or malfeasance and violation of state law?
Thanks to Mark Hardin for finding this report from early 20th Century Wisconsin!! What an amazing bunch of facts and figures!!
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