Monday, September 19, 2011

Dim-Witted Serial Baby-Killers, Ethel Lewis & Okal Gorham - Michigan, 1929

NOTE: Sources vary on the spelling of Mrs. Gorham’s first name: Opal,” “Okel,” “Okal,” “Oakel.”


FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 3): FULL TEXT: St. Joseph, Mich., Feb. 14. – Two demented mothers who murdered their five children were questioned further today as authorities sought to learn if even more babies had died at their hands.

A confession signed by Mrs. Okal Gorham, 25, said the babies were poisoned or strangled to death by herself and her mother, Mrs. Ethel Lewis, 57. She could give no reason for the acts but said she and her mother frequently quarreled over family matters.

The women will be subjected to sanity tests today or tomorrow and the sheriff will seek to learn if they disposed of children born to unmarried women in addition to murdering their own.

The sheriff’s office announced that Mrs. Gorham had signed a confession which related how she and her mother killed four children. the story was disconnected and and it was impossible to tell the identity of the victims, Wilbur Cunningham, prosecutor said.

Murder charges have been withdrawn until the sanity tests are completed.

The murders were revealed when the coroner became suspicious over the death of the last infant. Mrs. Lewis claimed whooping cough caused the death but the coroner found finger marks on the child’s throat.

Mrs. Gorham, in one confession said seven babies had been killed but later changed her story saying only five were murdered. Three of those were her own and the other two her mother’s she said. One of her babies she wheeled 12 miles to Eau Claire, Wis., in a baby carriage to commit the murder, the confession said.

Mrs. Gorham declared her mother placed poison in milk given to the babies and some were killed in this manner. Others were strangled she said.

William Lewis, husband of the confessed murderer, said two of their children died at birth. He and his son-in-law Herbert Gorham, were questioned but the sheriff’s office inclined to believe they had done nothing to do with the murders.

A search for graves near the Lewis home was made but none were found. A more extensive search will be conducted later in connection with the theory that the two women disposed of illegitimate children in addition to their own.

[“2 Demented Mothers Slay Five Children.” syndicated (UP), Feb. 14, 1929, p. 1]


FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 3): St. Lewis, Mich., Feb. 13 – Sheriff Eved G. Bryant said tonight that Mrs. Okel Gorham, 23, had confessed she was present Sunday morning when her mother, Mrs. Ethel Lewis, 49, poisoned and strangled the infant son of the younger woman, and Mrs. Gorham had formally charged her mother killed three other grandchildren and four children of her own.

The young mother, whose home is in Dowagiac, Mich., charged earlier in the day that her mother had killed five infant children, but in a signed statement tonight, increased the number to eight.

“Ma put dope in the milk and choked it,” Mrs. Gorham said when questioned about the death of the boy, Clarence Wesley, 17 months old, who died Sunday.

“I seen her choke it with her hand.”

She had asserted previously that her mother gave the child poisoned milk Saturday night

Mrs. Lewis, the sheriff said, admitted placing poison in the child’s milk, but denied choking the boy or causing the deaths of the seven other children.

“It’s a lie. They’re all lies,” Mrs. Lewis shouted. “The girl must be crazy.”

The younger woman asserted in her confession that she also witnessed the poisoning of another daughter, Isabelle Gorham, but said she was not a witness to the others.

The children who Mrs. Gorham charges were strangled and not poisoned by her mother, besides Clarence Wesley and Isabelle, were Louise Jane Gorham, 18 months old, who died in February 1922, Mary Jane Gorham, 18 months old, died in November 1926, two twin daughters of the elder woman born of a former marriage to Henry Ford, a farmer living near Big Rapids, Mich., and two other infant children of the older woman, whose names she “couldn’t remember.”

All died at the home of Mrs. Lewis at Eau Claire, Mich., and a former home at Indian Lake, Mich., Mrs. Gorham said.

“She killed them because she didn’t like me to visit her,” was the only motive for the alleged slayings the younger woman gave.

Wallace Lewis, Eau Claire junk dealer, husband of Mrs. Lewis, and Herbert Gorham, were held, but denied knowledge of the alleged slayings.

Formal charges against the two women probably will be withheld, authorities said, pending a mental examination.

Investigation began Tuesday, when county officials were requested by the undertaker who conducted the funeral of the child who died Sunday to look into the case. Marks on the body, he said, led him to believe the child had been choked. Mrs. Lewis and Mrs. Gorham was arrested and the daughter’s charges followed.

Mrs. Lewis, authorities said, at first denied any knowledge of the deaths. Then, they said, she broke down, and at one point in the questioning said, “I didn’t know it would cause all this trouble.”

Mrs. Lewis was divorced from Ford about ten years ago, the marriage to Lewis following. Three children, born while she was married to Ford, now are living. Gorham is 61 years old.

[“Deaths Of Eight Children Laid To Mother By Woman – Four Tots Of Each Slain, She Admits – ‘Didn’t Like Me To Visit Her,’ Daughter’s Explanation.” syndicated (AP), The Galveston Daily News (Tx.), Feb. 14, 1929, p. 1]


FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 3): St. Joseph, Mich., March 9. – Mrs. Oakel Gorham, 25, and her mother, Mrs. Ethel Lewis, 49, accused of murdering one infant and suspected of killing six others, are mental deficients and should be sent to state institution for the rest of their lives, a sanity commission of two physicians reported to the Berrien county Circuit Court today.

The physicians were Drs. Roy A. Morter, acting superintendent of  Kalamazoo State Hospital for the Insane, and C. N. Sowers of Benton Harbor. The two women killed seven of their own babies, according to Mrs. Gorham’s confession.


The younger woman is actually insane, suffers from delusions and is of the imbecile type, according to the report. Mrs. Lewis was found sane, but weak mentally with the mind of a six-year-old child, and of the imbecile type.

Berrien county authorities who have specifically charged the pair with murdering Clarence Wesley Gorham, five-months-old child son of Mrs. Gorham, on Feb. 10, are expected to approve the alienists’ recommendations.


Investigation of several mysterious baby deaths in the two families disclosed a squalid story of unwanted children born in poverty with their parents unable to care for them. Mrs. Gorham confessed the two women had killed seven of their children but her stories were disjointed and varied.

Prof. William A. Roemer, of Notre Dame University, after an informal examination of the two women reported that they were sane although of low mentalities.

The women’s husbands, Herbert Gorham, 61, and Wallace Lewis, 59,  were arrested with their wives on Feb. 12, but released after it was shown they had no connection with the baby murders.

[“Want Slayers Sent To Asylum – Women Baby Killers Defective, Doctors Report.” Syndicated (UP), The Pittsburgh Press (Pa.), Mar. 10, 1929, p. 6]






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