Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Typhoid Mary

Kidnapped!

Dr. Herman Biggs
Dr. Herman Biggs

Because of the growing fear of typhoid in New York City and with the Ithaca epidemic of 1903 still fresh on the public mind, Dr. Soper decided to visit the city's chief medical officer, Dr. Herman Biggs. He explained that Mary Mallon was almost certainly a healthy carrier and the danger of letting her remain at large in the general population was an enormous health risk. It was only a matter of time, Dr. Soper said, before she would initiate a full-scale epidemic that could kill hundreds or even thousands of people. Dr. Soper requested that Mary be taken into custody and the required samples be forcibly taken from her.

This was a drastic step, and one that had never happened before in American history. No healthy person had ever been taken into custody under such conditions and held against her will without a trial. It was a violation of Mary's constitutional rights to due process of law as an American citizen. But the health of the public was of primary concern, and soon, the board decided to act. "Biggs and his Health Department colleagues found Soper's epidemiological evidence sufficiently compelling to follow through on his suggestions" (Leavitt 20).

Dr. S. Josephine Baker
Dr. S. Josephine Baker

On March 19, 1907, an ambulance, Dr. Soper, Dr. S. Josephine Baker and three cops showed up at the Park Avenue home where Mary Mallon had been hired as a cook. The police surrounded the building as best they could while Dr. Soper knocked on the front door. Mary answered the door, but as soon as she saw an officer out front, she slammed the door shut and ran. She seemed to have disappeared, and a search was quickly begun. When officers checked through some trash cans behind the home, Mary was found hiding behind the garbage. Officers grabbed her and tried to restrain the hysterical woman. "She came out fighting and swearing, both of which she could do with appalling efficiency and vigor," said Dr. Baker (Leavitt 46). She bit two of the officers before they managed to handcuff her and drag her to the waiting ambulance out front.

She was taken to a detention center at the Willard Parker Hospital located at the foot of 16th Street on the East River. "I literally sat on her all the way to the hospital," Dr. Baker said later. "It was like being in a cage with an angry lion" (Leavitt 46). When she later tested positive for typhoid, Mary was removed from the hospital and taken to North Brother Island, located in the East River between Riker's Island and the rocky shores of the south Bronx.

North Brother Island
North Brother Island

North Brother Island, all of twenty acres, was used at that time primarily as a treatment and quarantine center for tuberculosis patients. But it was famous for another reason. In June 1904, the ferry General Slocum caught fire while steaming up the East River on a church outing carrying 1,200 passengers. The fire began in the bow of the vessel and quickly spread to the rest of the boat trapping hundreds of people below deck. Instead of heading for shore immediately, Captain William Van Schaick proceeded at high speed to North Brother Island. The brisk winds fed the flames and as a result, over 1,000 men, women and children lost their lives in the fire. "For hours after the disaster the waters around North Brother Island were thick with dead bodies, and these were pulled aboard all kinds of craft as quickly as they could be and laid out in awful rows on the pier," reported the Times (June 16, 1904). 

The Glen Slocum sinks
The Glen Slocum sinks

Riverside Hospital, located in the center of the island, was the place where health officials placed patients with infectious diseases when no one knew what else to do with them. Mary, however, was not placed with the TB patients. She was allowed to live in a one-story bungalow on the grounds of the hospital where she could cook her own meals and live in relative seclusion.

 

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