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A very odd cold case

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Posted 4 months ago

 

I posted this about 8 months ago on the other LE forum, I thought it was interesting and judging by some of the responses, at least a few others there thought so too, so here is the case story which I will update a few now outdated lines in for here:


 


I was working on a sculpture of a nurse last summer






from photos of a similar sculpture on a 1924 hospital, so I went out to look for a few additional reference photos to see what the cap actually looked like. I happened to find a very old photo of  a nurse fresh out of nursing school from 1912 and it turned out the photo had her name on it- Dorcas Snodgrass, (you couldn't MAKE UP a name like that!)  so I was curious what her story was as the photo had been in the newspapers back then for a missing person story.

 






The young woman was unfortunately found deceased about 12 days after she went missing, the whole back story on this is real strange in every way, starting with she was engaged to be married and her sister told the police that Dorcas had a terrible headache the day she vanished, neither the sister nor the fiance bothered to report the young lady missing untill a few days had gone by!

The police found the body in a winding stream just outside of Catskill NY, an area that was marshy and covered with brush and tall grasses. At first they thought there was no way the body could have floated into that location, that someone had taken it there, but the could find no evidence of violence in the brush, reeds and grasses of what was a near impenetratable marsh, and the stream was difficult for even a small rowboat to navigate.

 The found her hat in the brush with it's hat pins in it and some strands of hair, it appeared to have been removed by force.


The body had been in the water about 10 days, she still had a diamond engagement ring on, her watch and $10 in her purse so they ruled out robbery etc.

They decided to test the stream by floating a dummy from the sandbar between the stream and the river and to their surprise found the dummy did indeed float all the way in to the location the body was found.

The watch maker stated that under water the watch she wore would only have run about half an hour, so with that the police figured she had drowned approximately  4:30 AM.


The sister speculated that Dorcas had boarded the wrong train at Grand Central station in NYC, and wound up near Catskill NY, which is some 112 miles North of where they lived in Mt Vernon, NY and where Dorcas worked at the local hospital. The woman had never been to that area or that town  before and had no known connections to the area or anyone there according to her sister.


This being 1912, a 112 mile "accidental" trip would have taken several hours, certainly far longer than one would continue travelling on if they simply missed their stop, so I don't believe it was an accident boarding the wrong train or that she missed her stop.




They thought perhaps she fell overboard on a boat in the river, but that doesn't make sense, what boat would have been out there on that deserted river at 4 AM? no one on the alleged boat saw or heard someone fall overboard? I doubt the boat theory completely.


Neither the sister, her husband, nor the dead woman's fiance attended the funeral!! the sister insisted that she felt violence was not possible and that she was sure her deceased sister must have committed suicide after becoming "deranged" from the headache she had earlier on the day she vanished.


I've never heard of someone suddenly becoming "deranged" from a headache and this woman was a nurse, so she had all her faculties enough to have gone to nursing school, passed the tests and all the rest.


Several witnesses near the creek shore in the area reported hearing cries of a woman in distress, these were investigated but nothing came from that (I guess no one thought to go and look at where the alleged screams were coming from?)


The coroner eventually ruled the death was a suicide, but this really doesn't make much sense either, the woman was a nurse, working in her new job, she went to work and was on her way home, this was not a case of she lost her job and became depressed and killed herself, plus she was engaged to be married and had the engagement ring on her finger when the body was found.


To make it stranger, a 16 year old friend of the deceased also vanished the same day, the 16 year old had been a patient at the deceased woman's hospital and they had become friends, the 16 year old told people that she intended to run away from home, did so but was later found alive and well.


So that's the story, very strange indeed! it's one of those cases that really makes you wonder what really happened, people get on the wrong train and things all the time, but they don't kill themselves because they did, this was 1912 travel was slow and Catskill is 112 miles away from home, this was not just some accidental "missed the right stop" on the train thing it probably took her 3 hours or more to get there, she still had cash on her to take a return train at the next stop even if she had to pay for a ticket.

She had a bad headache, it almost sounds like she might have had a small stroke or aneurism, but the coroner did not report anything unusual, they even tested for poisons though in 1912 I'm not sure how far advanced they were as far as recognizing aneurisms and strokes.


In the end he ruled it a suicide, we'll never know but it's an interesting case that makes me wonder what happened, maybe she became disoriented from a small stroke, wandered near the river in the dark and fell in, hard to imagine this woman blundering about in the dark in a rural  marsh area in the first place.

These days the police would be looking hard at the sister and the fiance, especially given neither one even bothered to go to the funeral, maybe a later story would find those two got married to each other, who knows.

Batman_max600_1__max50

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Rated +1 | Posted 4 months ago

 

Interesting piece of history here. I would place my money on the sister and fiancé in a love triangle that the Nurse got thrown out of. No one travels that far for no reason. I think the fiancé lured her there and then killed her and threw her in the river. But let us see what the more experienced homicide detectives have to say. 


Lets see what  you all got on this one folks.  


Bad stuff happens to good people, handle it and overcome.
My motto for life:
Let go and let GOD,
Only HE can control everything.

Female_bodysurfer_max50

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Rated +2 | Posted 4 months ago

 

How contemporary this photograph looks!  Expression, pose, hairstyle, lighting, etc. - almost... theatrical.


I admit I am dumfounded.  Apart from Gudercop's theory, all I can pose is a wild theory that Nurse Snodgrass was meeting her sixteen year-old friend in the Catskills.


Nobody with a terrible headache travels 112 miles by train to arrive the Catskills in 1912 unless it is a very pressing matter.  In those days, a woman traveling that far would inform others of her intentions.  Any woman overshooting herstation would make other arrangements to stop at another station, then return on the next opposite bound train.  In those days, the conductors may even have arranged to stop the opposite trains on their tracks - aligned - then transfer the lady from one train to another.


It's possible Nurse Snodgrass' sister knew where her sister had gone and that the headache was a piece of fiction meant to cover up an indiscretion. 


What nurse would go to committ suicide wearing her uniform and hat, then lose it  her hat - perhaps on a tree-branch - beforehand?  That is a very dramatic Mad Ophelia scenario.  At 430AM after a night of...what??  


Who was Nurse Snodgrass wresting with in the woods?


Was she chased?  Or was she chasing someone?


The length of time it took for the sister and fiance to notify the police makes them both highly suspect... 


Yet, could it be that Nurse Snodgrass was having an unacceptable love affair her sister had learned about and was revulsed by?  Perhaps an affair so sociably unacceptable that her sister would have lied about the true nature of Nurse Snodgrass' sojourn deep into the Catskills?


Not much to go on without investigating the facts, but now that I've posed a Hollywood B movie plot, I'd love to hear what others think!

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Rate This | Posted 4 months ago

 

I think Miss Snodgrass did it in the Hospital using a scapel - give us more CLUES.


It is what it is.............and.........these things too shall pass.

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Rate This | Posted 4 months ago

 

The nurse and her 16 year old friend were having an affair.  Sis and soon to be hubby hatched a plan to lure her to the marshy area.  Probably told her the 16 year old was in trouble.  They killed her and threw her in the water with hopes her body would never be recovered.  You would think they would have gone to the funeral so as to not look suspicious.   


I think Klammy had a hand in this.  :)


 


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~I wondered why somebody didn't do something, then I realized I was somebody. ~ unknown

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Rate This | Posted 4 months ago

 

DonnaLynn says ...



The nurse and her 16 year old friend were having an affair.  Sis and soon to be hubby hatched a plan to lure her to the marshy area.  Probably told her the 16 year old was in trouble.  They killed her and threw her in the water with hopes her body would never be recovered.  You would think they would have gone to the funeral so as to not look suspicious.   


I think Klammy had a hand in this.  :)


Frankly Your Honor - I can not recall................. 



It is what it is.............and.........these things too shall pass.

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Rate This | Posted 4 months ago

 

She was dressed is civilian clothes, the hat she wore was a black sailor's hat. Her brother in law reported her missing the next day after her disappearance.....carry on.......

Female_bodysurfer_max50

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Rate This | Posted 4 months ago

 

Lulu the dummy wore a black sailor's cap.  Can't you read?!! 


A sailor's hat is pretty jaunty for a lady in 1912.  What about the heavy boots??  And don't worry Nurse Snodgrass, if you ever existed and this is not a HOAX crafted by Sculptor, nobody ever judges down anybody here at PL.  lol

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Rate This | Posted 4 months ago

 

MarlyB says ...



Lulu the dummy wore a black sailor's cap.  Can't you read?!! 


A sailor's hat is pretty jaunty for a lady in 1912.  What about the heavy boots??  And don't worry Nurse Snodgrass, if you ever existed and this is not a HOAX crafted by Sculptor, nobody ever judges down anybody here at PL.  lol



Ahhhhh yes! BUT........Which dummy wore it?

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Rate This | Posted 4 months ago

 

She also wore black, silk stockings........how risque!!!!!

1asteriskshield_ezr_max50

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Rate This | Posted 4 months ago

 

 It was the butler, on the patio, with the candelabra. 


You can't cure stupid.

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Rate This | Posted 4 months ago

 

Who's on first - what's on second - I don't know's on third.


Can you name the shortstop???


It is what it is.............and.........these things too shall pass.

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Rate This | Posted 4 months ago

 

I do not have the slightest clue... Gotta admit it, this is  waaayyyyy beyond my capabilities.

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Rate This | Posted 4 months ago

 

Lulusgt says ...



She also wore black, silk stockings........how risque!!!!!



...............how risky??


It is what it is.............and.........these things too shall pass.

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Rate This | Posted 4 months ago

 

Let's see if I can clarify a couple of items:


The 16 year old was a young girl patient in the hospital that  miss Snodgrass was caring for as a nurse, they became friends and as I remember reading- after the girl got out of the hospital they kept in touch- could be they lived in the same neighborhood which makes sense.


The 16 year old vanished the same day but returned, I don't remember the rest of her story at the moment but think she had problems at home, or some part of her reason for being in the hospital was an ongoing medical issue or disability.


The 1912 photo of miss Snodgrass was taken in a photographer's studio some time before her death, I don't remember how much time, it was I think right after she graduated nursing school so that was why she was in uniform, it was a matter of weeks or a few months prior to her death and it was circulated in various newspapers at the time.


It does have a curiously modernish look to it in pose and all, but it's from 1912.


I think the love triangle angle seems very possible, too strange her fiance' and her own sister  didn't even report her missing for several days after she vanished! Here she was engaged to get married and vanished and no one thought to call the police by the next morning at least?


That is a good assessment- in 1912 a young lady certainly would not have gone off on her own like this without being accompanied, especially not 112 miles out of her way to a strange town.


I also don't think the watchmaker's "half hour" under water stopping the watch statement (putting the time of death around 4:30 AM)


This sounded like a guess, and no one knew for sure at what point the watch was actually  IN the water, she could have been dead for several hours and then thrown or washed into the water at 4:00 AM, and assuming it did indeed take 30 minutes instead of 2 hours for the water to ruin the watch that brings it to the 4:30 AM time which could be several hours wrong.


The time of death though whether it was 4:30 or 11:00 PM probably doesn't make any effective difference in this  though in absence of further clues, or a suspect with an alibi- neither of which came forth.


The fact she still had her diamond engagement ring, $10 cash and her watch on her they say proves it was not robbery, but as we all know, sometimes things are not what they appear to me and you can't prove a negative- just because these items were on her person doesn't prove robbery was not a motive- the robber could have become scared, maybe she screamed and the robber took off before he could take these items, maybe he had a light that stopped working and he couldn't see in the dark to take the items and ran off, many scenarios possible and robbery is still on the table along with possibly a kidnapping.


What if she did get on the wrong train, and a "kindly"  but crooked/mentally ill/con artist stranger offered to assist her, and somehow convinced her to come with him and that he would help?


This is a fascinating story but I think the medical examiner in that town just wanted to wash his hands of the whole thing, after all, she didn't live there or pay taxes to that town and no one had any connection to her at all, to them she and her death were just an inconvienience and an expense to them and without a witness or suspect, they were not going to spend an extraordinary amount of time and resources further than they already had.


 


 

Fall_2007_027__2__max50

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Rate This | Posted 4 months ago

 

 Couple of things popped into my head when I read this...


1) $10 was a lot of cash back then. About a weeks wages (though I don't know what the average nurse was paid)


2) Margaret Sanger (founder of what would eventually become Planned Parenthood) studied nursing at a school in the Catskillls around that time.


3) The story line of Dirty Dancing includes a young dancers need to obtain an abortion while working in the Catskills (but admittedly not in 1912)


i don't wish to speak ill of Ms Snodgrass, but is it possible there were complications from an abortion....or someone upset that she was getting one?


That might explain the late reporting and lack of attendance at the funeral by her family and betrothed! As well as their quick acceptance or rather insistance that violence was unlikely...

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Rate This | Posted 4 months ago

 

 


 


You bet!, $10 back then is about $238.00 today, not exactly pocket change, and more than the average person likely carries around in cash. I would say that was probbaly about a week's wages or more back then, I'm thinking it was more especially for a woman who were paid less to begin with, in fact a google search seemed to indicate:


Occupation                      Annual salary (1901)


Nurses after two years     $193


Unskilled female                 $120 


So that $10 would be closer to about two weeks pay.


That's a new angle you thought of, but from what I've read of the coroner's examination was that they found nothing unusual, and even ran some tests for poisons, although not an exhaustive testing.


They didn't find any trauma, wounds or evidence of foul play which would probably rule out her having had an abortion earlier that day, I would think if there was a fetus that would have been remarked on in the coroner's report etc.


The soon to be husband and the sister's reaction, insistance they didn't think there was violence, the fact they didn't call the police sooner and didn't even attend the funeral all are super strange! What soon to be married man whose fiance winds up mysteriously missing and dead totally skips her funeral!?


I'd have to check some of the articles I saved, but I think the soon to be husband (or the sister)  skipped the funeral to go on a trip to California but dont quote that as fact I might remember that wrong since it's been close to a year since I found this case and the details, I'll check tomorrow.


 

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Rated +1 | Posted 4 months ago

 

I want a full report on my desk by 0600 hours....................................and nobody - I MEAN NOBODY talks to the press....


It is what it is.............and.........these things too shall pass.

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Rate This | Posted 4 months ago

 

A scandalized fiance!  For both innocent and culpable would have shown up in full mourning!


Love Metro's angle.  In those days, Hmmm wonder what 'evidence of trauma' would have had to show in 1912?? 


Sculptor says ...



 


(snip)

What soon to be married man whose fiance winds up mysteriously missing and dead totally skips her funeral!?


I'd have to check some of the articles I saved, but I think the soon to be husband (or the sister)  skipped the funeral to go on a trip to California but dont quote that as fact I might remember that wrong since it's been close to a year since I found this case and the details, I'll check tomorrow.


 


Fall_2007_027__2__max50

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Rated +1 | Posted 4 months ago

 

Thank's for the support MarlyB!


I was in a rush and using my phone to post, so I wasn't able to fully describe my theory.


We don't have much of a suspect pool, or access to original case files, etc... so I was just trying to piece together a plausible motive for Ms Snodgrass' demise.


The motives for murder are usually: to keep a secret; revenge; frustration or hate; money or greed; sex or jealousy; property dispute; personal vendetta; or political


Don't know enough about her to know for sure if any of the above fits her death.  Most folks are killed by people they know.  How well they know them is another issue.


But couldn't it have also been an accidental death, caused by a botched medical procedure.  I'd have to spend more time to shore-up what are now just assumption into the science and sensibilities of that time period.


1) First how did they fix the day and time of death?  Why did they believe it was 4AM?  My analog wrist watch looks exactly the same at 4PM as it does at 4AM.  Was that when the "ear-witnesses" reportedly heard the screaming?


2) What were the protocols for conducting autopsies in that area in 1912?  If memory serves, the coroner could sometimes be the area's mortician too...


3) What scientific procedures were used?  What methods were used to abort a pregnancy?  Remember, penicillan is still 16 years away.  Could they have detected such things in a floating corpse after 10 days in the water in 1912? 


In 1912, abortions were outlawed in many areas.  Unwed young ladies were sent off to distant relatives, only to return with a new "sibling" in tow.  Such procedures were dangerous (e.g rushed, hushed, and unsanitary) and little in the way of antibotics or follow-up care.  Remember the book "Cider House Rules" by John Irving?


And in my first post I did not mean to imply that Sanger performed aboltions...simply that perhaps her path was defined by what she saw while studying nursing in the Catskills.  And my reference to Dirty Dancing was simply a theatrical segue (pun intended!)

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Rate This | Posted 4 months ago

 

This paints a picture of medical procedures of the time


Page 15 is an article on sex hygiene


Page 188 actually mentions the discovery of Ms Snodgrass' body


And there's an ad that discussses a malt extract as a recuperative for a number of ailments ("Pabst Extract" was made with the help of barley!) 


 


h t t p ://books.google.com/books?id=NnMXAQAAIAAJ&pg=RA1-PA188&lpg=RA1-PA188&dq=dorcas+snodgrass&source=bl&ots=bA1xZq0YhP&sig=BI3_N7uIbwHDJxMo7IWpjIWFQc0&hl=en&sa=X&ei=oYR_U5OoC4L5oASAhYK4DA&ved=0CEQQ6AEwBTgo#v=onepage&q=dorcas%20snodgrass&f=false


 

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Rate This | Posted 4 months ago

 

That link didn't work Metro, but I think I found the page in the book.


 


I did find this paragraph which says a lot:



Miss Dorcas Iyams “Doc” Snodgrass, age 26, was reported missing from Mount Vernon, New York, in July 1912, by her brother-in-law John L. Crider. Snodgrass was 5′6″, about 135 lbs. She was recently engaged to an F. Eugene Schmidt, lived with her sister and brother-in-law, and said she was going shopping in New York City when last seen boarding a train. The Criders, Schmidt, and Snodgrass were planning to move to California together soon.



The sister speculated that Dorcas took the wrong train (in her “derangement”) and became upset enough to commit suicide, or maybe she only stumbled into the creek by accident. Officials concurred, and the death was quickly pronounced a likely suicide.


Within days of the body’s discovery, Mr. and Mrs. Crider moved to Oakland CA as previously arranged. They did not attend the funeral of Miss Snodgrass in West Virginia; nor did her fiance, Mr. Schmidt.



I seriously can't imagine a  soon to be married girl with a  headache becoming "derainged" and  getting on the wrong train by accident while going shopping and then killing herself because she was upset about getting on the wrong train!


The whole speculation there  is preposterous and it's difficult to imagine even the most green, untrained, clueless deputy straight out  of  the Andy Griffith show would have accepted any of that.


I think it's a truism to say the forensics of the day were very primitive, and that the medical examiner was probably no one other than the local country doctor who did the best he could under the circumstances with the relatively basic primitive  medical training of the era, certainly nothing like the coroner of today who can order up scores of toxicology tests, DNA tests and so much more, and has much more training.


I wonder if copies of the original medical findings and all have been scanned and could be found  in Google somewhere.


 I think the answer of how they determined the day and 4:00 AM instead of 4:00 PM is in some of the articles I saved, I'll look later tonight and see what I find, I seem to remember one of them did mention how they arrived at that, possibly the people who reportedly heard someone in distress around that time.