Addie Has Left Lake Mills – UPDATED!

As of Thursday (November 3rd) at 11:45 am, Addie Hoyt Fargo is no longer in Lake Mills. (Update: Read the autopsy results here!)

Her skeletal remains were removed from the grave that bears her name and transported to Milwaukee, for a state-of-the-art, top-notch autopsy by Milwaukee Medical Examiner, Dr. Brian Peterson and Dr. Fred Anapol, Professor of Anthropology at University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.

November 3rd was Addie’s exhumation day. To read more about why this exhumation was performed, click here.

At 7:15 am, I arrived at the gravesite. At 7:30, Minister McBride met me there, and we “gathered together” at Addie’s gravesite and asked for God’s blessings on the exhumation.

In all my travels, I don’t know when I’ve met a more Christly individual than  Bill McBride. Lake Mills is richly blessed to have such a spiritual warrior in their midst.

And  I think many of us present at the exhumation felt that Christly presence at this holy event. I know I did.

At 8:00 a.m., David Olsen (Olsen Funeral Home, Jefferson) arrived to assist the family (that’d be me). David Olsen is one of the heroes in this story, and without him, Addie’s exhumation would never have happened. I can’t say enough good things about this incredible man. He volunteered his services and gave countless hours of his time to make this come together.

His motive: He said it was the “right thing to do.”

Attorney Kurt Anderson arrived about 8:45 am. Like Dave Olsen, he was also a hero in this story. Without Kurt, there would not have been an exhumation. He spent countless hours working to get the court order and dealt with other legal issues.

Tom Boycks arrived about 9:00 am, and as soon as I laid eyes him, he gave me a big, warm smile. I was so happy to see him there. Innkeepers Tom Boycks and Barry Luce were another pair of angelic helpers in this story. I could talk for days about their many kindnesses. And don’t get me started on their gorgeous mansion. During my prolonged stay in Lake Mills, they treated me like a member of  their own family, and permitted me to stay at their home.

Dr. Brian Peterson and Dr. Fred Anapol arrived at the cemetery about 9:40 am. (The exhumation was scheduled to start at 10:00 am.) These two men were the consummate professionals. As I watched them work, at times on their knees in the damp grave, I felt that Addie was smiling from above, pleased that all the right people had stepped into my life at exactly the right time, to unearth the truth. God, His Angels and maybe Addie herself didn’t just send me helpers; She sent me the “best of the best.”

As expected, skeletal remains were found in Addie’s grave, and the bones were mostly intact.

Yesterday, as the exhumation progressed, there were a few surprises.

First, a fact:  I learned that coffins were typically buried at a depth of about 6-8 feet deep in Wisconsin.

Addie’s remains were found at 34″ (as measured by the medical examiner).

If she were in an 18″ high coffin, the top of the coffin would have been 16″ below the top of the soil. That’s an extremely shallow grave and a disturbing bit of evidence. (She was buried June 19, 1901. The ground would not have been frozen.)

This, coupled with the fact that there’s no burial permit for Addie is suspicious, and it suggests that it was not a professional grave digger who dug the grave.

Addie was wearing dress shoes, black leather with a tight lace on the front, and a small heel.

I’m still wrapping my mind around this. She died at 2:00 am from diphtheria. According to the obit, the disease was so fast-acting and so awful that she died in 16 hours, and was hastily buried and in the ground by 10:00 am. That’s eight hours later. If you were in bed, dying from diphtheria, would you be wearing your dress shoes? And if you died of a communicable disease and you were in the ground eight hours later, do you think someone would take the time to put on your high-top lace-up shoes? Probably not. They knew there’d be no viewing. Why was she wearing shoes? I’m still thinking about this.

Inside the grave were countless pieces of broken window glass, and it’s possible that the container in which Addie was buried had a glass top, but that doesn’t make sense either, because of the thickness of window glass. It was so thin that the first shovel full of dirt would have cracked the too-thin glass.

Update:  We’re now fairly confident that this coffin had a small viewing window on the top.  These were known as “safety coffins,” because they provided a means for viewing the deceased without the threat of contagion. Was it a “display coffin”? Was it the only thing in stock at 4:00 am at the local funeral home? Enoch knew there’d be no viewing. Why did he use such a coffin?

Second update!  Unfortunately, due in large part to the extremely shallow grave (she was buried at 34″, above the frost line), and the length of time (110 years),  and some missing pieces (much of her skull was missing), the autopsy was inconclusive. To read more about the autopsy results, click here..

To read more about Addie, click here.

To read about the inconsistencies in Addie’s obituary, click here.


The city required this "fence" at the site.


Addie's grave is now empty.

Addies foot stone still remains at her empty tomb.

Addie's head stone in Lake Mills is now a cenotaph.

Please leave a comment below.

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  1. Cathy Ringer

    And Double Wow!
    Addie’s Angels have been hard at work!

    Through you and the countless others who have donated their time and effort in getting to the truth, I know she will finally be at rest. The truth will finally come out after 110 years! I am so proud of you, you are a brave and courageous woman Rose, God and Addie are smiling on you!

    As far as the glass…was it like window glass? Were there remnants of a wooden casket?

    Rose’s Reply: There were evidences of a wooden container of some kind. Still trying to figure it out. It is a puzzle.

  2. Janet Hess LaMonica

    Wow, still more questions that answers; hopefully, that will change soon. Congratulations on finally getting started on the questions of how Addie died, and bringing peace to her soul.

  3. Chris

    Are any of the original window glasses left at Addie’s old home? Could forensics compare the window glasses to the fragments found in the grave?

  4. sonrie

    What a fascinating genealogical mystery!

  5. Rachel

    WOW! It appears to me that *someone* needed to get her in the ground very fast to have dug such a shallow grave! I bet there wasn’t enough to help to dig a grave any deeper in such a hurry.

    Sounds pretty suspicious to me, even more so knowing this information!

    I’m with Shakespeare on this one “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”

    Rose’s Reply: Rachel, my daughter mentioned that too (about lack of help). If it was just ONE person digging a grave, they’d have become exhausted in short order, especially if they were not accustomed to such hard work.

  6. Sharman (Oatway) Arslanian

    You are quite amazing Rose! I love your conviction and determination to have gotten this far. I am waiting to see what the conclusion of this incredible story will be.

    Yes, a grave this shallow does seem suspicious.

    You certainly found a wonderful team of helpers.

  7. Becca

    WOW!! Rose, the story of Addie has fascinated and moved me in many ways. I sit here now with tears. God bless you for taking on this task. Now there are new questions to be answered and I am sure that you will get to the bottom of this mystery. Oh how I am fascinated and anxious for the next chapter. The pictures, the clothes, the HATS, love hearing and seeing this tale unfold with you – thank you for sharing.


  8. Samantha Shelton

    Wow! This story is more than amazing! The courage that you have to face this ordeal is just so inspiring. I hope that this mystery comes to a close and that she can finally rest in peace! What is very interesting to me is the fact that there wasn’t even the common decency of a proper burial…what kind of husband throws his wife in the grave that’s only 34″ deep? If this were to happen today red flags would be thrown left and right. Lets just hope cause of death can be determined or at least diphtheria can be ruled out.

  9. Debbie

    Wow. Coffin – I would say it could have been a display coffin. Shallow grave — digging in a hurry, so why go deeper? Shoes – evidence? Maybe they had blood on them? Isn’t there a special light, that when shown on objects, if there was blood on them, the light would show that?

    Rose’s reply: I asked about that, too, but they said that when the body decomposes, things bleed out, so there is going to be blood present on the fabric anyway. As to the shoes, they were mostly deteriorated, but the heel was intact and so were parts of the laces on the front.

  10. Cindy Shedd

    I’m very glad for the way this is working out. Thank you for your part in it and for the work of all those involved. I’m looking forward to hearing what they learn.

  11. Sarah Vee

    Wow I’m am a lifelong Lake Mills resident and this is eye opening. I once looked into some of the Lake Mills history. It is very interesting! If you haven’t you should go to the LD Fargo Library and look at some of the old books there. They have great information about early Lake Mills and maybe Addie. I would love to know more about this loving the history. Thank you for this story.

    Rose’s Reply: When I was at the L. D. Fargo Library earlier this week, the index card for Addie Fargo had been removed which was very, very odd. I sat down and read six months of the Lake Mills Leader and found an incredible article written after Addie’s death. I will post that soon.

  12. Brenda Zimmerman

    I am so so so very happy for you!! I haven’t been on here for a little while. As I am reading the posts I got the chills knowing you are so much closer to finding out some kind of logic to all of the mess. Good for You!!! Keep going forward and please keep letting us all know how your quest is going.

  13. David Spriggs

    With the evidence that has been literally uncovered, I think that we may now conclude that neither Addie nor anyone else in Lake Mills in 1901 was infected with diphtheria. Dr. Oatway said as much in his official annual report to the State of Wisconsin, which, unlike his certificate of death for Addie, was probably the truth.

    Regardless of the results of the autopsy, the discovery of Addie’s shoes on her feet in the grave is the most incriminating evidence found so far. Those shoes disprove the entire concocted story of Addie’s death by asphyxiation resulting from diphtheria … a fable which has endured for 110 years. There is no statute of limitations on the truth.

  14. Mandie Brewer

    Dear Addie, it may have taken people over 100 years to try to solve your death but they are all here for you now. Although without your decision to make and send that photo album, and then to choose to include that haunting photo of yourself and what he had done to you, none of this would be happening.

    Your murder would have been forever covered up. How hard it must of been to look at yourself in that photo, and what fear you must have been feeling. I hope your courage can inspire others in this modern time, who might be suffering the same fate, to reach out and get help.

    You dear Addie were a brave woman. Hopefully your case will be solved swiftly, and you can be laid to rest with the love and respect you deserve as it is long overdue. ♥

  15. Shari

    Do you know how his first wife died?

    Rose’s Reply: Now THAT’S an interesting question, but Mary Rutherford is no relation to me. NONE. Mary Rutherford has plenty of kin right there in the area. Addie is my blood kin, and she’s the one I’m charged with looking out for. Plus, legally, I have no standing in anything involving Mary Rutherford and financially I am SPENT.

    There is so much more to this Addie story.

    At first, I was not going to write a book about this story. I just wanted Addie’s soul to find peace. That was (and remains) my #1 goal. As to the writing aspect, I’ve written eight books. I’m really tired of writing. It’s a lot of work, research and hassle. However, the experiences of this last week have changed my mind.

  16. Pam

    Perhaps the grave digger was from Europe? In the United Kingdom, if the soil is free draining and porous, only 24 inches of soil on top is required.

    Rose’s Reply: Things are different in the frozen tundra of Wisconsin. Lake Mills is about 2-1/2 hours north of Chicago. It is COLD up there!

    I’ve recently learned that graves are dug below the line where frost heave is an issue.

    And what is frost heave? I wondered about that myself. It’s the frost line in the earth, where temps can hit 32 degrees. I was told that most graves in Wisconsin are located six to eight feet below the surface of the ground, because of frost heave. If you buried a coffin too close to the surface, water could potentially freeze UNDER the coffin and through expansion (water expands when frozen) could force the coffin and its contents up through the surface.

    In really cold places like Wisconsin, the frost line is about three feet down, so the six foot depth leaves a margin for one-in-a-hundred-years, record-breaking cold snaps.

  17. Pam

    Good point. I wish you the best of luck in finding answers to your mystery! It’s invigorating to find truths that were buried so long ago!

  18. Bev Pinkerman

    So many more pieces of the puzzle have been uncovered along with Addie herself. The shoes and the simple human logic attached to them that a woman would not wear them in her sickbed I imagine with all that was going on, calling Dr. Oatway, fetching coffin, digging grave, briefing household on cover story, etc., nobody thought about making Addie’s clothing fit the story that was to be presented.

    Sadly the clothes Addie was wearing have not survived, only the shoes, but they themselves hint at the rest of her outfit, and provide another brick in the wall of evidence. Obviously nobody there expected Addie ever to be seen again.

    Take the possibility of arsenic poisoning out of the equation at the moment and there are still many things that point to foul play and a cover up. Either the death certificate is a lie, and it is riddled with inaccuracies, or Dr. Oatway lied in his report to the state that there were no deaths from diphtheria .

    The death certificate has many points that don’t add up, the report to the state was a simple statement. Lies tend to be complicated, the truth is simple. The death certificate indicates a burial permit which would have sent out gravediggers, who were used to the job, and dug to the standard depth on a regular basis. Whoever dug Addie’s grave didn’t do that, if I was paying a gravedigger to dig a grave for my departed spouse I wouldn’t be happy if they had only bothered to go to half the normal depth.

    All these questions. If you stop and ask yourself if this is indeed the cover up of a murder who in the list of characters would have enough social and economic power to get away with it the only answer is Enoch Fargo. Murder is a crime, courts have standards on proof, the lower standard for proof is in a civil court as described below.

    “In civil litigation the standard of proof is either proof by a preponderance of the evidence or proof by clear and convincing evidence. These are lower burdens of proof. A preponderance of the evidence simply means that one side has more evidence in its favor than the other, even by the smallest degree. Clear and convincing evidence is evidence that establishes a high probability that the fact sought to be proved is true. The main reason that the high proof standard of reasonable doubt is used in criminal trials is that criminal trials can result in the deprivation of a defendant’s liberty or in the defendant’s death, outcomes far more severe than occur in civil trials where money damages are the common remedy.”

    Personally I would say that there was more evidence to indicate foul play at this point, maybe enough for civil court. Addie’s remains are being examined at the moment and maybe there will be more proof, arsenic poisoning or a gunshot wound. That could bring us to the burden for criminal court as described below. People have said Rose is jumping to conclusions based on local legend, while the legend may have initially drawn her in, the fact that this is a family member has driven her to seek out the truth. I see it as a mounting wall of evidence, being built brick by brick.

    “The standard that must be met by the prosecution’s evidence in a criminal prosecution: that no other logical explanation can be derived from the facts except that the defendant committed the crime, thereby overcoming the presumption that a person is innocent until proven guilty.

    If the jurors or judge have no doubt as to the defendant’s guilt, or if their only doubts are unreasonable doubts, then the prosecutor has proven the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and the defendant should be pronounced guilty.
    The term connotes that evidence establishes a particular point to a moral certainty and that it is beyond dispute that any reasonable alternative is possible. It does not mean that no doubt exists as to the accused’s guilt, but only that no Reasonable Doubt is possible from the evidence presented.”

    On a personal note I couldn’t help but be touched by the glass top on the coffin, it evoked the image of a Disney Princess waiting to be rescued. Knowing that Rose thinks that every little girl should feel like a Princess she should take comfort in knowing that she has come to take care of Addie.

    Both of my legal definitions came from

    Rose’s reply: Thanks, Bev! My husband said the SAME thing about the court cases, that the body of evidence rises to the standard to meet the threshold of a civil case, but not that of a criminal case. As we were walking in the airport corridor yesterday, he told me this same “threshold” difference.

    Mr. Hubby Lawyer has also been very interested in this case, and he said that the shallow grave and shoes and falsified death certificate and state board of health report (no diphtheria in Lake Mills in 1901) were also the KEY PIECES of evidence. One piece of evidence can be circumstantial, but when you get several of them, it becomes quite a case.

    They found her lower jaw (with teeth still in place), but no upper jaw, which is interesting. Nonetheless, I understand that TEETH can provide some information, too.

  19. Shari

    I understand she was not related to you. I do see now in one of your posts,

    “There’s also a story that Fargo’s first wife (Mary Rutherford) died under suspicious circumstances. Her obituary listed “typhoid” as the cause of death. In March 1895, Mary Rutherford (Wife #1) died, and in February 1896, Enoch was married to Addie (20 years his junior).”

    Maybe someone else would be interested in researching the Mary Rutherford death. If he did do that to Addie, maybe it was because he was able to get away with it once before. I hope the autopsy and testing gives you some answers. Thanks for giving her a voice!

  20. Carol Baewer

    This story has really captured my interest. I’m so glad the exhumation was done and we may have the answers to so many questions soon. Do you know if there are any of Dr. Oatway’s relatives still residing in Lake Mills?

  21. Sharman Arslanian

    Dr. Oatway was my 1st cousin 2 X removed and I have done the family history, so I know there are no relatives left in Lake Mills. He has a grandson in another state and I sometimes wonder if he is following this?

    Rose’s Reply: Sharman, there’s an old legend that Oatway made a deathbed confession at the end of his life, and I’d love to know if that’s the case, but I’ve no clue how to track down that “legend.” Any ideas?

  22. Sharman Arslanian

    The only thing I can think of is to contact his grandson…..which I would hate to do. We all love and respect our grandfathers and their memories, so I would never approach him with this. There is no legend known to our Oatway family and I have contacted cousins all over Canada. I would also love to get to the bottom of this and prove or disprove all the rumors.
    Let’s see what the autopsy shows.

  23. Bev Pinkerman

    @Sharman Arslanian
    I feel that Dr. Oatway was pressured into the lies on the death certificate. He did not repeat the same story to the state in his reports to them on deaths from diphtheria, this was probably a report that Enoch knew nothing of. There were so many “holes” in the death certificate you have to wonder if he was hoping somebody would question it at some point. Given his wealth and place in the society of Lake Mills I’m sure he knew, and was probably told, that Enoch Fargo could make or break him. So he did what he felt he had no choice but to do, and went along with the Fargo version of events.

    He could not bring Addie back and as thinly veiled as the coverup may have been, it is as true now as it was then there is another set of rules for the rich, and money will always buy the best defense. Did he eventually leave Lake Mills to distance himself from it? At the end of his life maybe he decided to speak out, it having weighed heavily on his mind all those years. If I was a relative of Dr. Oatway I would feel compassion for him, and give any information I could to solve the mystery, I think that’s what he would want.

  24. Sharman Arslanian

    I don’t judge Dr. Oatway. I wasn’t there. As far as I am concerned he was a highly respected doctor and an upstanding citizen. I don’t know why he falsified the death certificate, if he did; we still don’t have the autopsy report.

    August 7, 1913, The Waukesha Freeman

    Lake Mills Leader:— It is with sincere regret that we have learned that Dr. W. H. Oatway has made arrangements to move to Waukesha on or about August 15 to engage in the general practice of his profession and we are somewhat reconciled by his decision to spend at least one day of each week at Lake Mills in attending to the wants of his patients.
    Dr. Oatway was a successful physician in Lake Mills for eight or ten years, during which time he handled many difficult cases very successfully.

    About four years ago he decided to take a year off and he visited Germany to study the best authorities on the diseases of the eye, ear and nose and since his return he has given special attention to the treatment of diseases of those important organs and with marked success.

    During the doctor’s residence in Lake Mills, he has been interested in civic affairs, holding the office of president of the common council for five years, and serving eight years as health officer, in which offices he acquitted himself well.
    Dr. and Mrs. Oatway are deeply interested in the things that have the intellectual, moral and religious interests of the city at heart and they have been willing to give time and money to bring about good results. They stand high socially and will be valuable additions to any community.

    We desire to commend Dr. and Mrs. Oatway and their children to the people of Waukesha as worthy of their confidence and the doctor as worthy of their patronage, and we indulge the hope that their residence in Waukesha may be as pleasant as it has been in Lake Mills.

  25. Bev Pinkerman

    @Sharman Arslanian
    If the cause of death on the death certificate stands he lied to the state, if he didn’t lie to the state then the cause of death is something other than diphtheria, then he lied on the death certificate.

    Aside from all the other things in the mystery this can only go one of two ways. An autopsy result will do nothing to change that a lie was told, it could clarify which was the lie though. If I were him (with hopes of achieving all he did in his field) in 1901 and up against the might of Enoch Fargo I don’t know what I would do. Good people make bad choices at times, they are human, the better the person the more regret they feel.

    Rose’s Reply: Bev, I have thought of this, too. Oatway received many accolades later in life for all his good works. It’s possible he spent the rest of his life trying to make up for this. But your point is an important one: He either lied on the death certificate, or he lied when he filed a report with the state board of health. I suspect the report to the state board of health is the truth.

    On a separate note, having read 135 of these reports from different health officials, there was just not that much diphtheria around in Wisconsin in the early 1900s.

  26. Rhonda Frazier

    Wait, there’s a book on this? Your comment was 2011. Did you write the book?

  27. Sears Homes

    Never did write a book on this. Oh well. Lots of blog posts!