With an estimated 53 victims, Helene (or "Helen") Geisen-Volk, is New York City's worst serial killer.
The main post on the Geisen-Volk case is to be found at: Helen Geisen-Volk, New York City Child Care Provider Who Murdered Children – 1925
Below the study notes you will find two long newspaper articles on the case.
Angerer, Stephen – died; corpse abandoned in yellow satchel in hallway of “tenement in the 70s” according to G-V.
Beale Faith – (possibly), died Jan. 13, 1925. (under false name of one of twins?).
Beukess (“Bukers”), Baby – missing.
Bleitsche, Elenor – died.
Burton, Robert – malnutrition, Bellevue hospital (substituted for Beukess (Bukers) baby). died Mar. 11 at Lenox Hill hospital.
Cooper, Patricia – 2 y-o; barely survived starvation; rescued May 8, 1925.
Hughes, Bernice – died, Lenox Hill hospital; had previously been substituted for Hirsch baby.
Snyder, Robert – died May 8, 1925 at Metropolitan hospital.
Toohey, Agnes – died Dec. 15, 1924; “natural causes.”
Twins (girl and boy) – died; the girl had been substituted with Bernice Hughes?
Weiss, Louis – 6 mo.; “missing.”
Winters, William – 4-m-o, died Feb. 1925; fractured skull (“cracked in half”).
Unnamed child – murdered by G-V, “years before” 1925 in Croton; witnessed by Mrs. Soudieres.
• Seven children rescued on May 8, 1925 from the 86th St. infantorium and sent to Bellevue hospital:
1) Margaret Mooney, born Feb. 1925; Mother, Mrs. Mary C. Mooney, Erie, Pa.
2) Katherine Ramos, born Feb. 1925.
3) Mary McDonald, born Feb. 1925.
4) Irene Wild, born Oct. 1925.
5) Robert Berton, born Nov. 1924.
6) Anne Langley; mother, Mrs. M. H. Langley, 980 Bergen St., Brooklyn.
7) Nada Montich, care of Magnus, 14 E. 103d St.
• Four Children Claimed and restored to parents on May 8, 1925:
1) Pauline Schaale, born May 1923. Claimed by Mrs. J. Gerber, 9533 Banton St., Elmhust, Lonng Island, N. Y.
2) Harold Wilson, born Feb. 1924. Mother, Mrs. H. Wilson, 347 W. 16th St.
3) Edward Ippolito; mother, Mrs. C. Ippolito, Bensonhurst, Long Island, N. Y.
4) Patricia Brennan, 217 E. 19th St.
1917 – (“Helen Geiser”), first degree manslaughter charge; abortion death of a mother; indicted; dismissed.
1922 – kidnapping (of baby) charge against G-V.
Dec. 15, 1924 – Agnes Toohey, 18 mo., dies.
Dec. 1924 – Beukess child placed with G-V; “disappeared.”
Jan 1, 1925 – (through Feb. 15) 4 deaths at G-V infantorium reported.
Jan. 13, 1925 – death of baby (in hospital?), unnamed; perhaps Faith Beale.
Feb. 1, 1925 – Stephen Angerer, baby, placed with G-V.
Feb. 1925 – William Winters, 4-mo., dies.
Feb. 28, 1925 – William Angerer (f) visits G-V; baby son, Stephen A., not there.
Mar. 11, 1925 –Robert Burton dies at Lenox Hill hospital.
May 5, 1925 – William Angerer given substitute baby.
May 8, 1925 – G-V held at Jefferson Market jail on “child substitution” charge; $35,000 bail.
May 8, 1925 – Mob of 500 women outside GV’s 86th street infantorium.
May 9, 1925 – in Harlem Court Magistrate Vitale demands disclosure of fate on missing William Angerer.
May 9, 1925 – “twenty-third victim,” a 2-year-old boy, dies at Bellevue hospital.
May 11, 1925 – female mob at jail “Bridge of Sighs.”
May 12, 1825 – court orders for 2 exhumations; S. C. Justice Cotillo.
May 13, 1925 – exhumation of William Winters & Agnes Toohey.
May 14, 1925 – autopsy of Agnes Toohey.
May 21, 1925 – unnamed baby (sold to Mrs. Nat Bass) photographed by press at Bellevue hospital.
Jul. 16 – G-V pleads guilty to lesser charge.
Jul. 22, 1925 – G-V sentenced to 3 1/2 to 7 years; Auburn Prison.
Angerer, Mrs. – mother of Stephen, who died; nervous breakdown, reason for placement of baby with G-V.
Angerer, Stephen – father of Stephen, died.
Angerer, William – 536 E. 147th st., Bronx.
Bass, Mrs. Nat – purchased unnamed baby.
Beale, Faith – baby daughter of Italian concert singer; presumed dead (Jan. 13, 1925).
Beukess, Mrs. Mary – Philadelphia resident; placed grandchild with G-V.
Birch, Mrs. Frances – witness.
Bleitsche, Mrs. Jacob – mother of Elenor, who died and son; resides Flatbush.
Branick, Mrs. – Catholic Big Sisters.
Camnitzer, Dr. Arthur – abortion killed Anna Seeburg; indicted May 1918; dismissed.
Cassasa, Dr. Charles – S. D. asst. medical examiner.
Cooley, Edwin J. – Catholic probation officer; produced report.
Cooper, Mrs. Margaret – mother of Patricia (2); verbally attacked G-V.
Cotillo – Supreme Court Justice; issued court orders for exhumations.
Fielhart, Mrs. Rose – purchased 2-w-o girl for $100 from G-V in Sep. 1924.
Flogel (Flozel?), Alfreda – 18-y-o, adopted daughter of G-V; beaten by G-V.
Flogel (Flozel?), Adolph – father of Alfreda; resides Maujer St., Williamsburg.
Gardner, William – neighbor of G-V.
Garrett, Esther – nurse (“attendant”); former employee of G-V.
Goldman, Dr. – responsible for “supervision” of G-V operation.
Heaton, Dr. Mary – one of 20 women who with her lawyer, Newman Levy, testified in favor of G-V.
Herrick, Jacob – undertaker, E. 86th st.
Hirsch, Mrs. Frances – employee of G-V; nursed own baby at G-V’s; witness; described baby substitutions.
Hughes, Bernice baby, buried in Potter’s field.
Kass, Josephine – 86th st. bldg. neighbor of G-V; nervous breakdown; moved to Ca.
Lagrino, Raymond – son of Mary Shimkus; the "Baby Raymond" substituted for deceased Stephen Angerer.
Levy, Newman – G-V’s trial attorney.
Lorsie, Mrs. Marie (Mazie) – attendant at G-V’s 86th street infantorium.
McIntyre, John P. – trial Judge.
Meroff, Mrs. Irene – witness; formerly employed by G-V.
Mooney, Mrs. C. – child born at G-V’s place, Feb. 1925, witness (?); resides in Erie, Pa.
Murray, W. John – Croton, N. Y.; a “home” where G-V worked; and Mrs. Soudieres, attendant, witness.
Neustaedter, Isadore – G-V attorney.
O’Leary, Dr. – G-V claimed he had diagnosed Angerer baby.
Pecora, Ferdinand – Chief Assistant District Attorney.
Perlan, Jesse – Exec. Dir. Jewish Board of guardians.
Rosalsky – Judge, General sessions court; Grand Jury.
Ryan, William P. – Assistant District Attorney.
Schmidt, Rev. George F. – G-V’s pastor, Emanuel Lutheran Church, supporter of her innocence claims.
Schultze, Dr. Otto M. – performed autopsy.
Seeburg, Anna – died from abortion; indictment for manslaughter in May 1918.
Shimkus, Mary – mother of unnamed Angerer substitute baby, Raymond Lagrino.
Smith, Dr. Elmer – Angerer family physician, confirmed baby was substitution.
Snyder, Mrs. Helen – 226 E. 86th; mother of baby Robert who died.
Soudieres, Mrs. Annette – witnessed murder of baby; threatened by G-V.
Sprague, Mrs. Mabel – probation officer; General Sessions Court.
Toohey, Mrs. Margaret – mother of Agnes, who died.
Toohey, Agnes – 18 mo, died; exhumed.
Vilmer – nurse; in photo holding “Shimkus” baby.
Vitale, Magistrate Albert – Harlem Court magistrate; May 9, 1925 hearing.
Volk, August W. – husband of G-V.
Voshla, Florentina – midwife for “Fielhart” baby girl.
Weiss, Louis – 6 mo.; placed by parents with G-V; missing.
White, Charles – Assistant District Attorney.
Wilson, Harold – 15-m-o baby retrieved by mother on May 8, 1925.
Winkelman, Edward – Detective, Homicide Squad.
Winters, William – 4 mo., died Feb. 1925; skull cracked in half; exhumed.
Auburn Prison – Auburn, N. Y.
Bureau of Vital Statistics.
Central Islip hospital for the insane – Mrs. Angerer committed there.
Jefferson Market Prison – Manhattan.
New Calvary Cemetery.
1056 Park Av. – G-V operated “maternity hospital” and nursery (1918).
St. Michael’s cemetery – Astoria, Queens.
235 E. 86th street – G-V residence in 1925, baby farm.
– G-V’s City license permitted 7 children.
– In the death certificates, the cause of the Toohey child’s death was given as mastoiditis and that of the Winters baby as congenital heart disease.
– On several occasions, a nurse and former employe of the “farm” said Mrs. Geisen-Volk beat children whose parents were behind in the payments for their care.
– Mrs. Geisen-Volk is held in $35,000 ball, charged with having attempted to substitute another baby for Angerer’s missing son.
– Charges that Mrs. Helen A. Geisen-Volk augmented the profits from her “baby farm” by selling cemetery plots to the mothers of infants who died while under her care, are being investigated today by Assistant District Attorney William P. Ryan.
– A report that the Angerer baby had died under a fictitious name at Metropolitan Hospital late last January has been recovered by the assistant district attorney.
– health records disclosed that 44 babies had died in them since January 1, 1918. (May 15, 1925).
F. QUOTATIONS of G-V:
Mrs. Jacob Bleische, mother of Eleanor: “I made a terrible row, and Mrs. Geisen-Volk said, ‘It’s all over now; the baby is dead. Keep quiet and I will give you money.’ I told her no money would buy my baby.” [Brooklyn Daily Eagle (N.Y.), May 10, 1925, p. 1]
“Babies and animals should be disciplined all the same. When they become unruly, I hold them under water or push them in closets or bang them. I’ve trained children for 20 years that way.” [Oreonta Daily Star (N. Y.), May 27, 1925, p. 1]
G. PHOTOS: figures in the case whose photographs have been published in newspapers.
Angerer, Mrs. William.
“Baby Elvira” – photo inset with G-V confession writing photo (Elvira not yet connected with any newspaper text mention).
“Baby Raymond” - Raymond Lagrino, son of Mary Shimkus, substituted for Angerer baby.
Bleitsche – group photo: Mrs. Jacob B., Eleanor, son.
Bass – Unidentified “Bass” baby.
Flogel, Alfreda – group photo.
Giesen-Volk, Helen (Helene) – many different photos.
Kass, Mrs. Josephine.
Levy - Newman – “attorney” photographed with G-V. and Alfreda Flogel (pub. Jun. 5, 1925).
Schmidt, Rev. George F. – photo with G-V.
Shimkus, Frances – photographed with Nurse Vilmer.
Toohey, Agnes – her coffin photographed at cemetery just after being dug up.
Vilmer, Nurse – photographed with Frances Shimkus.
Volk, August W.
7 rescued children – Margaret Mooney, Katherine Ramos, Mary McDonald, Irene Wild, Robert Berton, Nada Montich, Anne Langley.
FULL TEXT: The tiny, emaciated body of the twenty-second baby to die within a year under the care of Mrs. Helen Geisen-Volk in her infantorium at 235 East Eighty-sixth Street lay in the morgue last night awaiting an autopsy. The unofficial verdict was “acute malnutrition.”
The child, whose death followed almost immediately after the disclosure of conditions of neglect and ignorance described by medical men as “appalling,” was Robert Snyder, the son of Mrs. Helen Snyder, of 10 West Ninety-Sixth street. He was taken to the Metropolitan Hospital by the first physician called in on the previous day after a complaint had been entered against Mrs. Geisen-Volk. He died early yesterday morning.
~ 500 Women Fill Street ~
Distracted mothers besieged the infantorium yesterday, and in the street a milling crowd of 500 women chattered menacingly with horror-stricken eyes on the conventional brownstone front front of the house whose tragic hidden history has come to light.
Six fresh complaints have been received by Assistant District Attorney William P. Ryan, of the Homicide Bureau. The body of a child known as “Faith Bell,” reported to be the daughter of a harpist, will be exhumed, and possibly others. There is ground for belief on part of the official investigators that Faith may be a substitute baby, as William Angerer, of 536 East 147th Street, claims the child given him to be. It was his complaint that forced the investigation of the baby farm.
~ Mrs. Geisen-Volk Identifies Babies ~
Mrs. Geisen-Volk, a slender, hard-eyed woman, who served with the German Red Cross during the war and was permanently injured in the spine, was taken to her “farm” yesterday afternoon from Jefferson Market jail, where she is being held under $35,000 bail on a charge of child substitution, pending a hearing in Harlem Court this morning. She was accompanied by Mr. Ryan, Dr. Schulz, Detective Edward Winkleman, of the Homicide Squad; Miss Mabel Sprague, a probation officer, and two stenographers.
The work of identification of helpless babies, ill and crying, was the purpose of the visit. While she fumbled and shook in pulling back the blue and pink coverlets and pronouncing the children’s names with the aid of a card index, a tall woman strode in with a baby in her arms. She was Mrs. Margaret Cooper, a widow, living at 226 East Eighty-third Street and earning $32 a week downtown as a secretary.
~ Returns With Sick Child~
She had come for Patricia, a two-year old, earlier in the day.this was a return visit. For several minutes she watched Mrs. Geisen-Volk. She heard the babies’ names pronounced and saw the physicians take adhesive tale with the Christian name inscribed on it and fasten it to the children’s garments.
Bitterly she watched, hugging her baby girl. She had been in two physicians since recovering Patricia. They had found that her child’s mouth was infected (Four of the children in all were found to be in this condition) and that she was undernourished and seriously under weight. She had been paying $8 a week for the child while she went to work, and extras for clinical expenses.
“You murderer!” she suddenly shouted at the pale German woman. “Look at my child. You have killed her! I have been to two doctors and both told me she was six pounds under weight. She is in a terrible condition. A woman like you should be electrocuted!”
~ Starts Commotion ~
Immediately there was a hubbub in the basement kitchen, where the children were being examined and identified. She was assured that competent physicians were present who would look at her baby.
“None of your lies!” she snapped. “I know. You cannot explain to me. I know you.”
A woman friend accompanying her volunteered to hold Patricia, saying: “Why don’t you lick her?”
In a flash her tall, strong form swung threateningly over Mrs.Geisen-Volk, who shrank back, clutching her heart. Vincent Pisarro, agent of the Society for the Prevention of the Cruelty of Children, and detective caught Mrs. Cooper, but she threw them off and made another lunge at the shrinking object of her wrath.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about!” Mrs. Geisen-Volk yelled back at her. “I wouldn’t have accepted your child if I had seen her. She’s only been here since Friday.”
~ Mrs. Geisen-Volk Faints ~
“A woman like you ought to be strung up,” persisted Mrs. Cooper, who by now had been subdued by four men and was being rapidly backed out of the kitchen. As she went the brown-clad figure of her victim suddenly stiffened and the head of the infantorium slipped to the floor in a dead faint.
Prior to their examination of the children an ambulance had been summoned from Bellevue and two physicians assisted in the routine that followed. The only attendants at the infantorium were Mrs. Esther Garrett and Mrs. Mazie Lorzie. The babies were brought down to the kitchen wrapped in blue, pink and white blankets, and as each appeared Mrs. Geisen-Volk consulted the card index, after peeping under the coverings.
The physicians tagged each child and one mother arrived on the scene just as her baby had been labeled – a fat, blond infant, with rosy cheeks, whom she clutched thankfully, kissed and bore away. Three others who had been clamoring for their children were given babies and left hurriedly.
Seven of the little ones were taken to Bellevue to await claimants. Mrs. Geisen-Volk could give no particulars about some of them except their names. The best she could could do on the list of those going to Bellevue was:
Margaret Mooney, born February 1925. Mother, Mrs. Mary C. Mooney, Erie, Pa.
Katherine Ramos, born February 1925.
Mary McDonald, born February 1925.
Irene Wild, born October 1925.
Robert Berton, born November 1924.
Anne Langley; mother, Mrs. M. H. Langley, 980 Bergen Street, Brooklyn.
Nada Montich, care of Magnus, 14 E. 103d Street.
~ Four Children Claimed ~
The children claimed and restored to their parents were:
Pauline Schaale, born May 1923. Claimed by Mrs. J. Gerber, 9533 Banton Street, Elmhust, L. I.
Harold Wilson, born February 1924. Mother, Mrs. H. Wilson, 347 West 16th Street.
Edward Ippolito; mother, Mrs. C. Ippolito, Bensonhurst, L. I.
Patricia Brennan, 217 East Nineteenth Street.
Later in the evening Angerer went with his attorney to Bellevue, hoping to find the child for whom he claims another was substituted. He failed to identify any of the seven infants as his. His wife, who has had a nervous break-down, comes out of the hospital to-morrow and he fears the effect on her of not finding her own baby. Mrs. Geisen-Volk is sure, however, that the father is at fault and that as soon as Mrs. Angerer sees the little boy she returned to him, she will recognize him as hers.
A Health Department inspector who examined the “farm” and the children found that four infants and infected mouths. He said he would recommend that Mrs. Geisen-Volk’s license be revoked. She had nineteen child in the infantorium, while her license only allowed seven. The nurses were said to be without training or experience.
~ No Sterilization Equipment. ~
Dr. Schultze said that he and Mr. Ryan failed to find any equipment for the sterilization of feeding utensils or the pasteurization of milk. There was no inspection of the quality of the food and milk bottle nipples were freely mixed [soc]. Externally the house is very clean, with painted furniture and a roomy back yard for the children. It bears a large sign with the single word “Infantorium” across the front. The rates for keeping children were $6 and $8 a week. Mrs. Geisen-Volk’s rental is $225 a month and she has a four-year lease. She formerly conducted an infantorium at 1056 Park Avenue.
The Bureau of Vital Statistics records show that seventeen infants died at the “farm” last year, and four others between January 1 and February 15, 1925. Assistant District Attorney Charles White, attached to the Harlem Court, has been conducting an independent investigation for two months as a result of a complaint made by a nurse, who has been in Philadelphia since severing her connection with the place, but is in town now and has been subpoenaed to appear for questioning this morning at the District Attorney’s office. Physicians who have attended some of the babies also will be questioned.
Isadore Neustaedter, of 26 Broadway, attorney for Mrs. Geisen-Volk, said that there was absolutely for Mrs. Geisen-Volk, said that there was absolutely no foundation for the charges against his client. He knew her well, he said, and she had conducted her establishment in the very best way. He insisted that the child Angerer was his own.
Mrs. Geisen-Volk’s pastor, the Rev. George F. Schmidt, of Emanuel Lutheran Church, Eighty-eighth Street and Lexington Avenue, also spoke spoke on her behalf. He officiated at her marriage five years ago, he said, and declared that her husband had been brutal to her and they had separated. She did not get a divorce from him because she does not believe in divorce.
[“22nd Baby Dies As Mothers Storm ‘Farm’ – 500 Women Mill Around East 86th Street House as Infant’s Death Is Laid to Malnutrition – Owner Faints at Cry of ‘Murder!’ – Substitution Charges Increase; May Exhume Bodies of Children,” The New York Herald New York Tribune (N.Y.), Late City Edition, May 9, 1925, p. 1]
FULL TEXT: No more shocking case of its kind has come to the attention of the New York authorities than that of Mrs. Helene Geisen-Volk, the former German war nurse who dealt in babies.
According to the evidence, some fifty-three children committed to her care died of one cause or another, usually of starvation. Conditions at her infantorium – described as a baby farm – described as a “baby disposal plant” – were called miserable and filthy in the extreme. A probation officer reported after an examination of her career that she had “strangled or frozen to death or otherwise disposed of babies left in her custody in order that she might reap a profit through her acts.”
The woman came into notice after she had substituted a baby for another whose fate never was discovered. After the body of another child had been exhumed she was indicted for manslaughter.
“The reason why the defendant killed is understood when advertence is made to the fact that it was to be the pecuniary advantage of this cruel proprietor of this baby farm to destroy illegitimate children for a consideration and non-paying babies because they were liabilities.
“Beneath her proud exterior and veneer of humanity the woman conceals the callous fiendishness so common to her prototype, the undesirable midwife. She has no maternal affections, at least with respect to babies of other people. To her they are like puppies. To they are articles of merchandise to be bartered, sold or exchanged. The defendant represents a revolting anomaly in humanity.”
The above is taken from a report on Mrs. Helene Augusta Geisen-Volk, former German war nurse and keeper of a baby farm at 236 East 86th street, Manhattan. The report was made public on the day she was sentenced to serve three and a half to seven years. She had pleaded guilty to substituting a strange child for another child whose fate was never discovered.
An indictment for manslaughter, in connection with one of the fifty-three deaths of babies committed to her care, never was prosecuted against this woman.
Will it ever be?
Mrs. Geisen-Volk, a sharp-featured woman of 41, came into public notice early in May, 1925, when she was held in heavy bail as a result of numerous complaints against her and her and her institution in 86th street.
As the story unfolded in subsequent days, she appeared more and more the fiend incarnate, comparable even to the notorious “Madame Killer” [Ann Lohman, AKA “Madame Restell,” abortionist], who flourished in New York many years ago. Her infantorium was described as a baby disposal plant.” The records, as they came to light, showed that dozens of children had died of one cause or another either in the nursery or later in hospitals. Conditions at her place were pictured as the last word in misery and filth.
Most of the children died, according to the evidence, of starvation.
Mrs. Geisen-Volk was brought into court on the complaint of William Angerer, a steamfitter’s helper, who had placed his four-months-old son, Stephen, in the woman’s care the previous February 1, after his wife had suffered a nervous breakdown, and who never saw his child again.
Angerer paid $10 a week to Mrs. Geisen-Volk. On February 28, when he called, the woman told him the child had heart trouble and had been sent to Saratoga, N. Y., for treatment. A few days later, when he telephoned, Mrs. Geisen-Volk told him the child had been taken to Chicago for further treatment. He became suspicious. Finally she wrote him a letter saying little Stephen was again at her place.
The father called and Mrs. Geisen-Volk handed him over an infant which Angerer immediately knew was not his son.
“You are mistaken,” she stated positively. “I am sure this is your son.”
But Angerer knew he was not mistaken, and to prove it he brought the child to his family physician. Dr. Elmer Smith who had been present at the birth. Dr. Smith agreed with him.
~ Incomprehensible Records. ~
Furthermore, the Angerer child had had two teeth this baby had none.
Where, then, was his child? And who child was this the woman had given him?
The woman’s records at her nursery were found to be for the most part incomprehensible. In the case of the Angerer child no mention was made in the records of the child having heart trouble, and there was no mention was made in the records of the child having heart trouble, and there was no mention of the baby having been sent to Saratoga and Chicago. Mrs. Geisen-Volk still insisted the Angerer child had been returned to its father.
On the after she was ordered held the woman was taken to the infantorium to identify the babies still there. As she entered, crowds gathered in front of the place – just as they did in front of the infamous Madame Restell’s place on a memorable occasion some sixty years ago. Inside, while Mrs. Geisen-Volk sat at a table thumbing their vague records, one mother, screaming that she would kill her, made a rush at her, but was held back.
Mrs. Geisen-Volk asserted that it was all spite work. Her pastor, the Rev. George F. Schmidt, stoutly supported her, saying that all her troubles could be traced to enemies. He said he had officiated at the second marriage – her first husband was said to have been a Prussian army officer – five years before and knew her to be a good woman. He characterized the whole affair as an “outrage.”
The second husband, incidentally, had left Mrs. Geisen-Volk some three years after their marriage. Whatever happened to the first husband never became known.
The investigation moved on. And the babies continued to die. Cause – acute malnutrition, more commonly known as starvation. One died in the Metropolitan hospital May 8, and another died on May 9 at Bellevue. In Jefferson Market jail Mrs. Geisen-Volk clasped a Bible and tried to look sanctimonious.
On May 9 Mrs. Geisen-Volk and her counsel appeared in court to hear Magistrate Albert Vitale plead from the bench for the complete truth about the Angerer child. Mrs. Angerer had been sent to Central Islip hospital for the insane. Angerer’s counsel stated that if the mother knew her child was all right perhaps it might bring about her recovery.
~ For Sake of Humanity. ~
“For the sake of humanity,” said the court to the Geisen-Volk lawyer, “if this child is dead or alive, let the parents know. This mother is coming home tomorrow and if, for any reason, the child died she should know it. This is not strictly according to the law, but there are times when it is wise to disregard the law and use our common sense.”
The lawyer’s only reply was that what he had been told in confidence by his client he was not at liberty to disclose in court.
Mrs. Geisen-Volk therefore retained her secret.
Later that day the district attorney’s office unearthed an indictment charging first degree manslaughter against a “Helen Geiser” of 1066 Park avenue, in connection with an illegal operation performed upon a woman who later died in the Woman’s hospital November 6, 1917. Mrs. Geisen-Volk had formerly conducted an infantorium at 1066 Park avenue. The case had been dropped.
Another revelation from the district attorney’s office was a charge of kidnaping against this same woman in 1922 – a charge which also came to nothing. A young woman had taken her child to Mrs. Geisen-Volk’s place and paid $10 a week. Later she called and the woman pushed her out of the place, saving she could not have her child. The infant, she said, had been sent to Canada.
According to his complaint, her lawyer had talked confidentially with Mrs. Geisen-Volk and then announced that he had lost all the papers in the case. The authorities therefore had dismissed the charge “for lack of evidence.”
With testimony pouring in from various witnesses to the effect that one child at the nursery had died of other than natural causes, the investigators decided to exhume several of the bodies to see if these little graves might contain evidence of actual willful homicide.
The witness’ stories were shocking in the extreme. We will outline some of them briefly.
First, there is the story of Mrs. Margaret Buker, of Philadelphia.
Mrs. Geisen-Volk had identified a child at the infantorium as Robert Burton. Mrs. Bukers, grandmother of Robert Burton, had examined the child, which had been removed to Bellevue hospital, and stated positively that this was not her grandson. Then she related her experience with Mrs. Geisen-Volk.
She said that little Robert, born the previous August, had been taken to the infantorium in December. The child’s mother, Mrs. Mary Burton, died in January. Then during the following month the baby became ill. The cause appeared to be malnutrition. Mrs. Bukers attempted to see the child, but was prevented by Mrs. Geisen-Volk. The grandmother was informed that the child was under the care of a heart specialist.
Mrs. Bukers continued to pay $10 a week to Mrs. Geisen-Volk. Weeks later the authorities learned that little Robert had died at the Lenox Hill hospital on March 11.
Next, there was the statement of Mrs. Annette Soudieres.
Mrs. Soudieres said that years before Mrs. Geisen-Volk, under the name Miss Auguste Geisen, had worked in a home conducted by W. John Murray at Croton, N. Y., Mrs. Soudieres, mother of two children, had been employed as a nurse there. She said she had been threatened with reprisals against her own children if she ever revealed things she had seen there.
“The night before one of the children died there, I was in an adjoining room to that in which Miss Geisen and the child were,” she told Vincent Pisarra, superintendent of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. “I heard a choking sound and tried to get out of my room, but was unable to do so. The door was locked.
“I looked through a crack in the door and saw Miss Geisen feeding the baby with a nursing bottle. She was forcing the bottle into the child’s mouth. This caused the choking I heard. Then I saw her remove the nipple from the bottle and again force the bottle into the child’s mouth.
“After a time the sounds ceased, and Miss Geisen left the room. The next morning they told me that the child had died.”
~ Another Witness. ~
Assistant District Attorney William P. Ryan announced that another witness, whose name he would not divulge, had told him of an advertisement Mrs. Geisen-Volk had prepared, stating, “Wanted for adoption; blond, blue-eyed baby boy; must have two teeth.” This was on May 2, when William Angerer was insisting that the woman return the child to him.
The district attorney’s office also stated that a young woman named Mary Shimkus, 18 had identified the child given to William Angerer as her child, Raymong Lagrino, born out of wedlock.
Mrs. Francis Hirsch, a nurse who lived at the infantorium for ten weeks, testified that there were nine deaths in the place while she was there. She said Mrs. Geisen-Volk had admitted many substitutions to her. She told of a baby boy and a baby girl, twins, who had died in Bellevue soon after they were consigned to Mrs. Geisen-Volk’s care.
The baby farmer was distressed by the deaths of the twins, according to Mrs. Hirsch, because the parents were “good payers” and she hated to loose the money.” She therefore substituted a deserted child for the dead girl twin, and informed the mother that while the baby boy died, the girl was out on Long Island being treated.
Eventually, the mother discovered the deception, after she had paid some weeks’ rent. When the child died it was buried in potters’ field, for the mother refused to accept the body.
Another witness, William Gardner, said he knew of between twenty-five and thirty deaths at Mrs. Geisen-Volk two places, the one on Park Avenue and this other one on 86th street. He said the baby farmer often advertised for babies for adoption, to take the places of babies who had died or had been sold.
On May 18, while Chief Assistant District Attorney Ferdinand Pecora was preparing to submit his assembled evidence to the grand jury, Mrs. Florentine Vasahlo, a nurse, came to his office with her lawyer and admitted that she had signed a fake birth certificate at Mrs. Geisen-Volk’s solicitation so that a girl baby could be sold to a couple anxious to adopt a child.
Mrs. Vosahlo’s story led to startling revelation by a Mrs. Nat Bass, wife of a well-to-do clothing manufacturer.
Mrs. Bass state that she had purchased a baby from Mrs. Geisen-Volk for $75, and that a fake birth certificate had been made out, so that she might deceive her husband inbto believing that she had given birth to a baby. She had carried on the deception for eight months, but as the Geisen-Volk investigation was getting closer and closer to her plot, she had finally confessed to her husband.
Beass refused to keep the child. It was sent to Bellevue.
By now several bodies had been exhumed, and in the case of one of them, William Winters, the authorities decided that they had evidence of homicide.
Mrs. Geisen-Volk had given the cause of death as heart failure. The autopsy revealed that the child’s skull had been fractured. According to Dr. Otto H. Schultze, the occiptial bone had been featured clear through a few hours before death. The child had died February 3 and the body had been exhumed on information furnished by the mother.
Late in May she was indicted for substitution and for manslaughter. She pleaded not guilty to the latter charge. Her appearances in court were invariably marked by scenes of distress. The accused woman gave the appearance of being terribly maligned.
~ Cooley’s Report. ~
On July 15 she pleaded guilty to the charge of substitution. Her lawyer, Newman Levy, informed the court that the woman had been the “victim of sensationalism.” The defense promised to tell the whole truth about the Angerer baby at the next arraignment.
A week later Mrs. Geisen-Volk was sentenced.
Edwin J. Cooley, a probation officer, had investigated the woman’s career and submitted a report, part of which we have quoted. The report stated that since February, 1918, at least fifty-three infants intrusted to her care had died. She was called “cruel and bestial.”
The report stated that she had “strangled or frozen to death or otherwise disposed of babies left in her custody in order that she might reap a profit through her acts.”
After reading the report, the late Judge John F. McIntyre called her to the witness stand.
“What did you do with the Angerer child?” he asked.
“I died, and I left it in a hallway in a satchel,” she replied.
“Why did you do that?”
She said one of the relatives of the baby had asked her to do it.
“I think you are lying,” said the court. “This report indicates that you are a fiend incarnate. I see no extenuating circumstances whatsoever.”
Ordered from the stand, Mrs. Geisen-Volk screamed and had to be carried out for a while. When she came back, clutching her Bible, Judge McIntyre gave her the maximum sentence.
He sentenced her serve three and one-half to seven years in Auburn prison.
So Mrs. Geisen-Volk went to Auburn, the authorities deciding that it would be a difficult matter to convict her of manslaughter in connection with the death of the Winters child, or in connection with any of the other shocking cases of her baby farm.
[“What Has Happened to Justice?” Atlanta Constitution (Ga.), Apr. 29, 1928, The Sunday Constitution Magazine, p. 5]