Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Typhoid Mary

Epidemic

"I have been unable to learn her complete history during this period," later wrote Dr. Soper, "but from the fragments which have been collected, it is apparent that she continued to enact her hateful role of typhoid producer" (Soper 9). In February 1915, an epidemic of typhoid suddenly erupted at the Sloane Hospital for Women on W. 59th Street. Twenty-five nurses and attendants in the hospital became violently ill and were unable to work. Health inspectors rushed over to the facility, which was panic-stricken and unable to function until the problem was resolved. Sloane was known primarily as a maternity hospital, so the threat of typhoid fever was that much more frightening. Investigators, led by Dr. M. L. Logan from New York's beleaguered Health Department, focused initially on the institution's water supply. But that source was quickly eliminated when the water was found to be safe.

Dr. Logan then turned his attention to the hospital kitchen, where all meals, including those for employees, were prepared. The Times reported that a cook "prepared a certain suspected food which is known to have been partaken of by the doctors and nurses but not so certainly by the rest of the hospital force" (March 28, 1915). Because none of the patients became ill, this seemed a likely source for the disease. Two people soon died, and management prepared for a shutdown. Some people joked about the possibility of "Typhoid Mary" working in the hospital kitchen. They didn't know how accurate they were.

After examining all the kitchen help, authorities focused their suspicions to a female cook who tested positive for typhoid. However, the next day, she failed to appear for work. N.Y.P.D. Officer John Bevins, who had seen the woman years before, reported to the Health Department that he recognized her from years ago as the real "Typhoid Mary." Investigators checked hospital records and found that the woman gave her address as a private house in Corona, Queens. The police hastily put together an arrest team and hurried over to the location.

When they arrived, they knocked on the door for several minutes but received no answer. A ladder was taken from a nearby home and placed on a second floor window. When cops entered, they found the home empty. But after an extensive search, they discovered Mary hiding in a bathroom. "As they went from room to room the muffled door slamming was always just ahead of them," reported one local newspaper. "At last, they pushed open the door of a bathroom and found a woman crouching there. She told them finally ... she was Mary Mallon!" (Leavitt 150). This time, she surrendered without a struggle and was taken back to Manhattan in handcuffs while officials decided what to do next.

Typhoid Mary is arrested.
Typhoid Mary is arrested.

In the meantime, the extent of the typhoid outbreak was just beginning to be made public. "One death occurred in a nurse who had received only a partial immunization in 1912," one health official told reporters. "Another sudden death ... occurred in a chambermaid 65 years of age, in the second week of her illness (March 28, 1915, Times). It was plain for everyone to see: Mary Mallon had intentionally infected innocent people by her callous and reckless behavior.

But what should be done with her?

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