Saturday, September 17, 2011

Serial Baby-Murderer Elizabeth Ashmead, Child Care Provider - 1910

FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 4): Philadelphia, March 31. – For persons are in prison, three awaiting the action of the grand jury and the fourth under indictment on the charge of being an accessory to the death of an infant, as a result of Coroner Dugan’s crusade against the syndicate of malpracticioners which he says exists in this city. Detectives are after clews at an inquest at death of Mary B. Sloan and Sarah Hughes, young women who died more than a year ago. 

Mrs. Elizabeth Ashmead, also known as “Dr. Conde,” and “Dr. Maron,” is the principal in the case. The coroner declares that many young women and countless babies have come to their death through treatment received at Mrs. Ashmead’s establishment. The woman, her son, Howland Ashmead, Jr., and Dr. Matthew McVicker have been committed to prison without bail. “Dr.” David A. Mosier is indicted and is said made a confession revealing the names of others engaged in the same nefarious business. Additional arrests are expected.

Stories of babies taken from unconscious mothers and thrust into the red hot coals of a cellar furnace were told before Coroner Dugan, Wednesday, according to a Philadelphia special to the Boston Herald at the inquest into the deaths of Sarah Hughes and Mary B. Sloan, who are alleged to died as the result of illegal operations.

In reality the hearing had a wider scope than the more probing into the demise of the two women. It was a blow at the alleged malpractice syndicate and the crematory which is said to have stifled many an infant’s cries, was told of “Dr.” David T. Mosier of 1739 French street, the alleged head of the operators, who had made a full confession to the coroner.

As a result of the testimony, Dr. Matthew McVickers of 1606 Wharton street; Mrs. Elizabeth Ashmead of 256 South 12th street, and her son, Howland Ashmead, were committed to prison by the coroner.

Grace Ashmead, daughter of the woman, was locked up as a witness.

Bogus health certificates also played a part in the story. The sensational inquest was the climax of the inquiry of the coroner into the baby farm hand. For a long time the house on South 12th street has been observation. Deaths of women and the utter disappearance of their infants were traced to it. The story of the part the cellar furnace played in the tragedies under the supervision of Mrs. Ashmead, who is known as the “woman in black,” came out as a side light.

Although Dr. Mosier, the fallen king of the syndicate, told the story of the furnace on the stand, the prisoners were held not for the deaths of the infants, but for the killing of the mothers who had brought them into the world. Mrs. Ashmead, when interviewed in her cell, today, said that Mosier’s story was false in every detail.

Mosier, after the usual preliminary questions, was asked: “Tell us about the killing of infants.”

“I know a great deal about it,” he began. “I saw a number of children thrown into the furnace. Mrs. Ashmead had them in her apron. One or two children were crying, and she tossed all of them into the furnace.”

[“Babies In Furnaces - Philadelphia Coroner Unearthing Terrible Sink of Crime” The Daily Kennebeck Journal (Augusta, Me.), Apr. 1, 1904, p. 3]


FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 4): Philadelphia. — Dante’s trip through hell and purgatory unfolded not one tithe of the degradation n and social depravity shown in stories told by witnesses in the “baby farm” and lying-in hospital eases winch have been told at the recent one tithe of the degradation and social deaths of Mary H. Sloan and Sarah Hughes.

With this evidence the coroner is slowly weaving a net around men and women of this city. The stones are of the most appalling character, and indicate the small value placed on human life by the vultures lying in wait for their victims. As the result of these inquests Mrs. Elisabeth Ashmead, alias “Dr. Conde”; Howland Ashmead, her son: Dr. David T. (Hosier, alias “Dr. J. Adams.” and Dr. Matthew McVicker, are under bond awaiting the action of the grand jury, charged with being accessories to the death of the girls.

In addition, Grace Ashmead, daughter of the woman accused, and Jennie Harhaw were held to the grand jury in bond as witnesses. The investigations will be continued without intermission until every “baby farm” in the city has been investigated, and the moral atmosphere cleared of the contaminating influences. Among the witnesses are: physicians, undertakers, men who have been the cause of young girls going to the various institutions, and some of the girls, who have been found by the coroner’s detectives and induced to testify.

From the evidence adduced Philadelphia is a veritable pesthole. It affects high and low, and rich and poor. All that came to the nets of the blood-suckers were fish, so long as they had money to pay for their desires.

Girls and women whose love had led them too far along the path from which there is no return, sought these so-called hospitals, such as that over which Mrs. Ashmead is said to have presided. If the financial arrangement was satisfactory, they were admitted. Operations were performed by men who posed as reputable physicians. Sometimes they were successful, in that the patient did not die. But often they resulted fatally.

Under such circumstances the remains of the girl were turned over to an undertaker for burial, burial certificates being secured by forging the name of well-known physicians, giving some natural cause of death.

Very often, it is said, when this was impossible, the bodies were dissected, the various parts packed in small boxes and shipped to destinations where confederates disposed of them in various ways. The bodies of the infants brought into the world in these sore-spots on a civilized globe, were often burned in the furnace of the house, so two witnesses testified. One man said he had seen Mrs. Ashmead throw crying infants into a red-hot furnace, and had also seen her dispose of dead bodies in the same way.

One of Mrs. Ashmead’s neighbors asserted that the odor of burning flesh was to sickening that when she saw smoke coming from the chimney she always shut her windows.

Dr. Jos. H. King, a physician of thirty years’ standing, told the coronet that he had been informed by Mrs. Ashmead that she was in the malpractice business and that it netted her from $800 to $900 weekly. She wanted him to go into it.

This same physician swore that he asked the woman what she did with the bodies of the infants thus brought into the world, and was told that she allowed them to starve to death and burned them in her furnace.

E. M, Skinner related the fate of pretty Mary B. Sloan, who he said was in delicate health when she went to Mrs. Ashmead’s place and paid the woman $50 for an operation. Three days after the operation the girl was ordered from the house and died from the effects of exposure, he claimed.

Coroner Dugan estimates that from 2,500 to 3,000 unregistered births occur yearly in Philadelphia, and says that from the statements at his disposal fully 800 or 900 occur at the place conducted by Mrs. Ashmead.

For five years the police and scavengers have been finding the bodies of fresh-born children in the streets, sewers, churches, inquests made by Coroner Dugan on the that the majority of these were born illegitimately in the “hospital,” and, dying for want of care or nourishment, were thus disposed of.

The accused persons have denied every charge, claiming that the witnesses against them were induced to testify in order to gain the friendliness of Coroner Dugan.

[“Babies Were Buried Alive – Mothers’ Bodies Were Cut Up,” The Tacoma Times (Wa.), Apr. 11, 1904, p. 4]



FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 4): Millville, N. J., May 20.—Mystery rivaling the famous Gunness case surrounds the alleged “baby farm” of Mrs. Elizabeth Ashmead. She, with others parties, is now under arrest.

The entire town is in an uproar over the sensational disclosures brought to light by the arrests Sentiment is strongly against Mrs. Ashmead, principally because she has twice before been in the toils of the police of Philadelphia. Mrs. Ashmead is locked up at the city hall under $2,500 bail. William Stanford, her son-in-law, is, in another cell, held in the same amount.

Held as witnesses; under police. guard are Mr. and Mrs. T. L. Knowles of New York, and Mrs. Grace Stanford, daughter of the Ashmead woman. They are at the Weatherby House, where Mrs. Knowles is in a condition that necessitates the services of a physician.

Mystery, crime and romance, are rightly woven together in this strange case, which has startled not only southern Jersey, but the entire state.

Or two years, Marshal Charles Biggs and Officer Thomas Broeden have been endeavoring to collect evidence against the Ashmead woman.

During these two years, the two officers quietly went about their business and as each-bit of evidence was obtained careful placed it away for future reference. Last Saturday night Chief Biggs and Officer Breeden were both at the station when the 5 o’clock train came in Mrs. Ashmead was at the depot eagerly peering at the faces of the passengers as they alighted. Suddenly her face brightened as she rushed forward to greet a young man and a woman who bore every mark of refinement. The man carried a suitcase and appeared to be nervous. The trio climbed into the waiting carriage and were immediately driven off.

The chief and his assistant believed the time to act had come. They returned to the city hall and calling together the remaining members of the force told them what was to be done. With Chief Biggs in the lead the officers started for the Ashmead farm. In the party there were Officer Breeden, Wright, Clark, Haines and Phifer.

They arrived at “The Pines” shortly, after 7 o’clock. All was quiet at the house, and without waiting to knock the officers rushed in and told Mrs. Ashmead she was under arrest. The woman tried to hide something that she held beneath her apron, but she was detected before she had accomplished her purpose, and the raiders confiscated a grip filled with the surgical appliances. These instruments are made only to be used by skilled physicians in the practice of their profession.

Turning to ascend the stairs where voices could be heard on the second floor one of the officers noticed that Mrs. Ashmead tried to make for a pantry. Shouting to one of the raiders to catch her the rest of the officers went upstairs, where they found Mrs. Knowles in bed. More instruments were found here.

The officer who had captured Mrs. Ashmead had in the meantime hand-cuffed her and looking in the pantry which she had tried to reach found a shotgun and pistol on the upper floor the officers ordered the apparently ill woman to dress and told, her she was under arrest as a witness in a most serious case. Stanford was also found on the upper floor of the house.

After the prisoners had been taken  to the jail and the witnesses to a hotel where they were placed under guard. The officers returned to the farm and made a thorough search of the premises. Every room was examined. The officers suspecting there must have been some place where bodies of children had been made away with, began a search.

All night and a great part of the day they remained in and about the house digging in the cellar and in the garden; but up to tonight had unearthed no clews.

Many letters written to the Ashmead woman were, found, and these were taken to the headquarters, and an effort will be made to locate the writers.

[“New-Jersey ‘Baby Farm’ Mystery Rivals Gunness Case,” syndicated, The Waterloo Times-Tribune (Io.), May 21, 1910, p. 8]


FULL TEXT (Article 4 of 4): Wilmington, Del., July 1.—Mrs. Elizabeth Ashmead, 60 years old, the notorious baby farmer, convicted in the federal court of using the mails for improper purposes, was yesterday sentenced by Judge Bradford to five years’ imprisonment in the government prison at Leavenworth, Kan.

She was also sentenced to pay $1000 fine and costs of prosecution. The woman was trapped by Postoffice Inspector Plummer by means of decoy letters. The accused served three years’ imprisonment in Philadelphia for operating a baby farm and subsequently served nine months also in Philadelphia for violation of postal laws.

Mrs. Ashmead will start Sunday in the custody of Deputy United States Marshal John Mitchell.

[“Given Five Years – Baby Farmer Was Sent to Federal Prison,” The Lowell Sun (Ma.), Jul. 1, 1911, p. 7]


• Elizabeth Ashmead: CHRONOLOGY

1899 – (circa) bodies of newborns found “the streets, sewers, churches”

1903– Mary B. Sloan, Sarah Hughes, died from abortion ca 1903

1904 – Philadelphia; 4 arrests: Elizabeth Ashmead, Howland Ashmead, Dr. Matthew McVicker, Dr. David Mosier (full confession), also: Grace Ashmead (d of EA) “locked up as a witness”; “bogus death certificates”; some charged with deaths of mothers through abortions, others charged with deaths of infants (thrown into furnace alive); Dr. Jos. H. King, witness; Coroner Dugan,; abortion deaths of Mary B. Sloan (died 1903) & Sarah Hughes (died 1903); Grace Ashmead “locked up as a witness”; Dr. David Mosier turned state’s evidence; Dr. Mosier testified that babies were taken from unconscious mothers and thrust alive into cellar furnace by Mrs. Ashmead.

1905– Separate (related?) case & trial of  Dr. Percy De Mills McLeod, Boston, for the abortion death of  Susanna A. Geary, linked to Grace Ashmead

1909– Inquest, Millville, N. J. before Justice Chard; William Stafford and Grace Ashmead Stafford; Grace accused of burning baby

1910– Milleville, NJ; EA and 6 others arrested, including Mr. & Mrs. C. T. L. Knowles; in this case the daughter, Mrs. Grace Ashmead Stanford, makes charges against EA; son Howland also refuses to assist EA

1911 – Wilmington, Delaware; EA Convicted Jul. 1, 1911, 5 years in Leavenworth prison. Improper use of mails. Pervious sentences 3 years in Philadelphia for operating a baby farm; 9 mo. In Philadelphia (mail); Judge Bradford, Federal court


FROM a book published in 1906:

~ Wholesale Burning of the New-Born. ~

In the 1904 presidential campaign—while speaking in Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and other eastern states in behalf of Eugene V. Debs, the Socialist candidate for president—I saw from time to time in the daily newspapers such terrible accounts of the wholesale burning of new-born babes, and the kidnaping and sale of innocent young girls into hopeless slavery in underground brothels in Philadelphia and other far-east cities, that I could not rest until I had first ascertained the truth of these incredible crimes against women and the newborn. For this purpose I canceled dates in southern Ohio and secured appointments which brought me, each day nearer to the city of Philadelphia. Upon arriving there I determined upon making a thorough investigation of these crimes in order to be able to speak and write with that certainty which is absolutely necessary in cases of such an appallingly outrageous nature. I was fortunate in at once finding a comrade-friend, and met many other comrades through her, but in order to insure the complete success of my undertaking, I said nothing to anyone of the grewsome mission which brought me to the quaker city.

I, of course, must first find the location of the premises where the horrible murders had taken place. This, to my great surprise, I learned at once from my landlady, as they were only two squares away. From her I also learned that a relative of hers while attending medical college had been compelled, a whole year before the place was closed by the officers, to vacate his room in the premises on account of his unrest and suspicions that something of a criminal nature was going on—but he had only his suspicions.

But at last the smell which came from the premises, always after midnight, became unendurable. Then the officers came and closed up the place and arrested Mrs. Ashmead and some of her associates. And then throughout the neighborhood everyone spoke almost silently of their going and of the dismantled inferno which must remain there in their midst.

Throughout my investigations I was compelled to guard my every inquiry in the neighborhood with apparent simon-pure curiosity, for Mrs. Ashmead, the last of the three indicted furnace murderers, was at the time fighting final commitment to state prison, and every one was yet fearful of becoming in some way involved in the court proceedings.

My visit to the murder premises—to me so crowded with horror—was without large interest. I found the building newly painted in front, and in use as a tailoring plant. But it had been vacant for more than a year, ever since the premises were closed by the officers. I peered through the basement windows to see if the furnace were still there, but it was hidden from view by basement stowage.

Past the inevitable barrier of the coroner’s and prosecuting attorney’s official domain I moved only by the exercise of the cunning of a professional sleuth. Had I not in earlier years been at one time a practicing attorney, at another a practicing physician, I should have been turned back by the receiving clerks. At the coroner’s office I was a visiting physician, at the district prosecutor’s I was a visiting attorney from the West. From that time my path seemed easy. But the growing horror of the details of the crimes disclosed finally compelled me, again and again, to lay aside everything and regain command of myself before I could carry the work forward.


From the chief of the coroner’s official detective force, I learned details of these crimes which bar recital. Some of the baby victims were burned alive. So much does secrecy crowd dispatch.

The following extracts from Philadelphia newspapers cover, more comprehensively than I could state them, some of the horrifying details of the crimes against the new-born in that vicinity.

The Philadelphia North American, Feb. 24th, 1904: SinCe New Years twenty dead babies have been found, and there is no possible clue to trace the perpetrators.

At the time of her arrest, Mrs. Ashmead was in correspondence with two-hundred women in trouble as far south as Kansas City, Missouri, and Savannah, Georgia. Shenandoah, Scranton, Wilkesbarre, Clearfield, and York in Pennsylvania are towns from which girls came here in parlor cars and went home in ice boxes. Some of them died in houses not in the malpractice syndicate.

The Philadelphia North-American, Feb. 28th, 1904: Baby farms give such poor care to the babies they die in a short time. They are an adjunct of the malpractitioners in Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia North-American, Sunday, March 13th, 1904.: Babies sell for $50.00, respectability guaranteed. For $100.00 to $500.00 if rosy and round-faced, or as low as $5.00.

The baby market is like a well conducted stock yard.

Coroner Dugan says: “Women in this business ship babies to all parts of the world. A baby farm is a baby cemetery. One woman said, ‘I have sold as many as three for one woman.’ This same woman says she has sold hundreds of babies.

The Philadelphia Journal, April 1st, 1904: Babies for which there is no sale are starved to death, or are allowed to die from neglect. In one farm babies are thrown into sewers or are left in churches or alleys.

The North-American, April 3rd, ‘1904: Hundreds of signed letters are pouring into the coroner’s office concerning girls from near and far towns who mysteriously disappeared. The coroner says, “I am able to trace many women to these places, but I can find no one who knows whether they are dead or alive, and no record of their death. What becomes of them one can only imagine. I know that many girls have died in this place (Mrs. Ashmead’s) but can find no trace of their burial. Whether the bodies of adults were incinerated or not I do not know. I have the names and addresses of these women, and know that after they sought the aid of malpractitioners, none of their friends ever heard from them after the fees were paid.”

The Philadelphia North-American, April 3d, 1904: Six women from out of Philadelphia are in Philadelphia hospitals critically ill from malpractice.

The Philadelphia Press, April 5th, 1904: Sworn testimony the past week shows that these baby victims of baby farming are burned alive, sold to black-mailers and adventuresses, placed anywhere and everywhere to get rid of them. If they die, their bodies are thrown down sewers, or left at night in vacant lots.

The Philadelphia American Journal-Examiner, April 8th, 1904: Traffic in infants is so profitable, a dozen or more baby farms are in or near Philadelphia. ‘ If a babe is defective or unsalable, it is denied further food or care. If it cannot be sold, it is starved to death and buried, or burned in a furnace, or burned alive. Barren women give a large price, and childless pairs. Some babies are returned until they finally become shopworn, and are starved, burned in furnaces, or dumped in a trench from a wheelbarrow in a secret cemetery of the baby farm.’

The Philadelphia Press, April 22nd, 1904: A dozen of these establishments have gone out of business that had fifty babies in. What has become of this half-hundred babies? All efforts fail to give any trace of them.

Girls are sent from New York, and if a critical condition follows, are sent to Baltimore, Washington or other points. This system makes it almost impossible to trace these crimes to their source.

The Philadelphia Record, April 22nd, 1904: Bodies of babies are buried in cellars. They use quick-lime to destroy the traces.

The Philadelphia Record, April 23rd, 1904: Babies are killed by charcoal fumes. At another place they are strangled with rope and put into the cesspool.

The Philadelphia Press, May 18th, 1904: Coroner Dugan declares his crusade against baby farms and the malpractice syndicate ended, and says that he has driven both from the city. He says he did not undertake to and never could entirely stop this malpractice. From the very nature of the crime, he says, he realizes that it always has and always will to some extent exist. He intended only to do what he has accomplished—to drive out the syndicate that closely organized represented the most dangerous and revolting form of the evil. He said: “When I began this work, not less than eighteen of these establishments were in this city. The malpractice syndicate is so extensive it would be utterly impossible to stop these crimes altogether. My work has been successful beyond expectation.

The Philadelphia Press, May 25th, 1904: A colored woman living here boards unknown babes for $1.00.a week.

The Philadelphia Press, June 15th, 1904: Coroner Dugan says Mrs. Tilburn has been in this trade 18 years, and has now performed 1000 criminal operations. Her last case, dying now, is 17 years old. Her patients include members of highly respected families. She kept a record of each case for many years.

The Philadelphia Press, Sept. 14th, 1904: Coroner Dugan says officials are unable to prevent the traffic in the sale of babies. There is no law against buying and selling infants.

The only way to get at this is under the law of cruelty. If they are inhumanly treated, the keepers can be convicted. But often it is proven that the babe is better off when adopted than with its own parents. But to buy and sell like animals!

The Philadelphia Press, Sept. 25th, 1904: Two dead babes found in a pasteboard box in the quarry in Germantown (a suburb of Philadelphia).

The Philadelphia Press, Oct. 11th, 1904: A woman who buys and sells babies for the market fattens the sickly ones. She gives $25.00 for a babe in good health, and prefers girls. This baby shopkeeper advertises in one paper to buy babies, in another to sell for adoption.

The summer of 1904, various syndicate newspapers published the following telegraph from Philadelphia:

“That the horrible murder syndicate, the headquarters of which are said to have been at No. 256 South Twelfth St., slew in cold blood from sixteen to eighteen newly born infants each week, thus netting at the rate of $50.00 for each murder, a weekly income of from $800 to $900, has been testified to before Coroner Dugan.”

“I saw live babies wrapped in an apron and carried to a furnace, into which they were thrown," said Dr. David Mosier, one of the witnesses.

“Mrs. Ashmead said to me: ‘We wrapped the babies up in a newspaper and laid them aside until they died, when we either threw them into the heater or out on the dump,’ ” said Dr. Joseph H. King.

And listening to these awful statements, her face drawn and white, sat Mrs. Elizabeth Ashmead, a member of one of the most prominent families in Philadelphia, who is accused of being the head of this syndicate.

It was in her house, it was alleged, in the heart of the old fashionable quarter of the city, that these terrible crimes were perpetrated. With her son Howland, this woman, under the name of Dr. Conde, is accused of being responsible for the death of at least one-third of the 2500 to 3000 children born in Philadelphia each year whose births are never recorded.

Said Coroner Dugan, after a thorough investigation: “I have evidence that babies were thrown in the flames of a furnace alive. I have evidence that they were wrapped in papers and laid aside to die. I have evidence that of the 2500 to 3000 unregistered births in this city fully 800 to 900 a year occurred in the house at 256 South Twelfth St‘. I have evidence that there is a syndicate of illegal practitioners in this city that is operating under three different names and at three different places. They are advertising in the county papers in Reading, Allentown and all the small places around Philadelphia, luring girls to their dens under promises of perfect safety. I am determined to drive these creatures from Philadelphia."

Wherever I go, or wherever I stay, I cannot get away from the recital of fresh murders of the newborn. Two more of these cases which came to my knowledge in my work this summer, will suffice to inform you of the awful scope of these crimes.

A mother seeing the dead body of her murdered babe crowded by the attending murder-physician into her kitchen stove, was forever silenced by his one threat: “You shut up, or I’ll fix you! This is your job and you’ll have to stand for it, or I’ll fix you !”

In an Ohio town this summer, after had concluded my talk on “Crimes of the Profit Furnace,” I learned from a fireman paid to fire one of the great trust furnaces, that, going as usual in the early gray morning light before sunrise to fire the furnace he was paid to fire, he saw a well-known and reputable physician skulking away from the door of his furnace. Before firing up, be inspected the ashpit, and was horrified to find in it a fresh born baby wrapped in newspapers—dead.

With these appalling details crowding our consciousness, we will leave for a subsequent chapter the relating of these crimes to the housekeeping, labor and political or governing conditions which cause them.

[Nina Evaline Wood, “Wholesale Burning of the New-Born,” in: Crimes of the Profit Furnace; Mann & Beach Porinters, Portland, Oregon, 1906 pp. 7-15]


For more cases of “Baby Farmers,” professional child care providers who murdered children see The Forgotten Serial Killers.


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