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 death, click here.
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Just read the article in the Journal Sentinel. Glad to see Addie’s story is getting some publicity, and sorry they didn’t find anything to help you with your investigation.
Rose’s Reply: Thanks for your note. I’m still glad I went forward with the exhumation, elsewise, we’d never have discovered two important facts: 1) She was in a very shallow grave (about 34″) and 2) She was wearing her shoes, which does *not* match with the official story.
Between that, and the incredible paper trail that Oatway left behind, I’m confident that we can safely say, Addie Hoyt did *not* die of diphtheria. And that raises another question: What happened to Addie, that the principals involved went to such great lengths to cover it up with a story like diphtheria?
That was a great write-up in the newspaper of Addie’s story. Just disappointed for you that the autopsy wasn’t conclusive. As to John Wilson making a fuss over your claims, I wouldn’t be too upset over that. He is just defending the family name which is understandable. As to my ancestor, Dr. Oatway, I can’t judge him as I don’t why or even if (for sure) he falsified the death certificate.
When Addie died, he’d been living in Lake Mills for only 2 1/2 years and was newly married. It wasn’t like he was a wealthy man with a well established practice. He must have felt forced to go along with Enoch. I have read good things about him in the old newspapers and still believe he was a good doctor, citizen and family man.
You have a good case against Enoch and you did what you could for Addie. What I am curious about is if Addie had been poisoned would there be no signs on her remains or is it too long since she’s been dead?
Rose’s reply: Sharman, that’s a good point about Oatway. The story is that he was bribed, but what does that really mean? If you’re a young doctor, freshly married and you’re standing over the body of a powerful man’s recently non-diphtheria-killed wife, and a powerful man says, “you’d better keep your mouth shut,” – you ARE going to keep your mouth shut.
I just read the article in the Journal Sentinel and noted that both Addie and Martha share the tombstone. Why? Also saw an article about his first wife Mary and her Daughter. I also see that first Mrs. Fargo, died a few months before he married Addie. http://www.johnhoytfamily.com/getperson.php?personID=I20590&tree=john I would say the Third Mrs. Fargo was lucky to of lived as long as she did.
Rose’s reply: Yes, I agree that the 3rd “Mrs. Fargo” was a lucky duck. And Enoch’s wives #1, #2 and #3 were buried around him out there at Rock Lake Cemetery. Wife #2 has now been removed. (On a side note, the newspaper had a little faux pas. Addie and Maddie were NOT related – at all.)
Just read this fascinating story about my distant relatives. I would love to know more about this. I am the great-great-great grandson of William R. Harbeck and Elizabeth (Betsy) Fargo. An autobiography of Lorenzo Fargo reveals William was his uncle.
You know, we wondered about the Fargo/Harbeck connection, but through Elizabeth (mother of Maddie).
Marie Harbeck gave birth to Maddie Harbeck in 1873. (Maddie became Enoch’s third wife in 1902.) Marie was an unmarried woman at the time which must have made life very difficult for both Marie and Maddie. Marie and Maddie lived with Marie’s parents there in Lake Mills.
In 1880, Marie Harbeck married Henry Hoyt and had four more children. The youngest offspring of the Marie Harbeck and Henry Hoyt union was Alice Hoyt [married name Rhoda], who lived in Lake Mills until her death in the late 1980s!
When Marie Harbeck married Henry Hoyt in 1880, she left little Maddie (then seven years old) with her parents, William Harbeck and his wife Elizabeth FARGO Harbeck.
So we wondered if this tired old story that “Addie and Maddie were cousins” originated from the fact that Elizabeth (Maddie’s maternal grandmother) was a FARGO, and that maybe Elizabeth and Enoch were related.
One thing I do know: Addie and Maddie were NOT related. In fact, Maddie (as is shown above) was not a Hoyt. There’s no record that it was known who Maddie’s father was.
But you’re saying that the Fargos were related to the Harbecks through William Harbeck? Color me puzzled!
I am pretty sure that more people than not have been convicted with much less evidence! Great article! There is no time limit on Justice, thank God!
Well done Rose.