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Medical Examiner's Report

Sylvia Letvak Jaffe describes a record that can offer a vivid word picture of your ancestors.

Have you contacted the medical examiner’s office in your city for genealogical research? If you haven’t, you should!

The archives of the St. Louis Medical Examiner’s Office (formerly known as the coroner’s office). The ledger on the table reads “Property Book: Coroner.”
The medical examiner’s office was once known in St. Louis as the coroner’s office. The medical examiner’s office deals with deaths caused by violence, accidents and mysterious causes. Usually, a police report is made and people are questioned. An official report is made of the proceedings and filed away.

The St. Louis medical examiners’ office safeguards its records in acid free boxes and records are filed according to year of occurrence. An archivist works one day a week and finds the reports that have been requested. Researchers can phone in their requests. The charge for the report is $4.00 for the first page and $2.00 for each ensuing page. However, a researcher does not have to buy the report. The researcher is allowed to visit the office and read through the report and make notes.

One of the three names we gave the examiner’s personnel was of my husband’s mother’s first marriage, which took place on 10 January 1910. He died on 9 May 1911, leaving my husband’s mother with a seven-month-old daughter. She married my husband’s father within six weeks. However, she too died at a young age from burns suffered when her dress caught fire when she passed too closely to a heating stove. Her name was the second name to be researched and the third name was of my grandfather’s sister who folklore said that she committed suicide as she had a mean husband. The latter name did not produce any records.

However, the cause of death of the young husband who died at the age of 22 was unknown to his wife’s children. His name was given to the medical examiner as the family wondered what could have caused the death of such a young man. His report consisted of four pages. The first page contained the Case No. 212; and was listed as an inquest in the coroner’s office at 9:25 a.m., on 10 May 1911. It listed the name of the deputy coroner who conducted the examination and the names of the witnesses which included the brother of the deceased, the doctor’s exhibit, the police report and the verdict.

The Examination Report
Brother being duly sworn, testifies:
Q: Jacob Sachs, No. 212. What is your name?
A: H. Sachs.
Q: And your address?
A: 1728 Biddle Street.
Q: Your occupation?
A: Horse collar maker.
Q: This is your brother, Jacob Sachs?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: Now state what had been the trouble with him; what had he been ailing with?
A: Tuberculosis.
Q: How long had he been sick?
A: About three months.
Q: Have any doctor attending him for this?
A: We had a lot of doctors for him; the last, we went to Doctor Freeman, and he examined him, said to go to San Antonio, Texas, and that was the last doctor we had.
Q: Did he go to Texas?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: How long did he stay there?
A: He was there a day, and it took five days altogether, and he said the climate was too high for him.
Q: Did he also go to the Mount St. Rose Hospital?
A: Yes, sir, before that.
Q: Why did he leave there?
A: Well, he felt kind of better: you know, we are poor, we had to pay $16.00 a week, and he left better, and he came to the house.
Q: He went to Texas after that, after he was at the Mount St. Rose?
A: No, we had him up to the house, about a couple of weeks, and he thought he was able to go down there, he was kind of weak.
Q: There wasn’t anything happened to your brother, in any way, wasn’t hurt?
A: I wasn’t there.
Q: He died from natural causes; he didn’t poison himself, or didn’t commit suicide?
A: I don’t think so.
Q: Who was with him, when he died?
A: Nobody was home; my mother went out to the butcher shop, when she came home, she found him in a dying condition.
Q: Did he take poison, or anything of that kind?
A: No, sir, didn’t find anything at all.
Q. When he died, did he have a hemorrhage, did he spit up blood?
A: No, sir.
Q: Did he spit blood, before that?
A: He did, before he went to the hospital, he spit up blood for two weeks.
Q: Every time he would cough?
A: Yes, sir, the blood would come out when he first got sick, he was coughing up blood two weeks steady.
Q: That is all.

The next page, showed a prescription blank which the doctor had written: “This is to certify that I saw J. Sachs, and treated him about the 23rd of April 1911.”

The report on the burning death of Lena Jaffe ends with the conclusion that the death was an accident.

Police Report: Jacob Sachs
The police report was written by Col. William Young, Chief of Police, dated 9 May 1911 and was written on the official stationary of the Metropolitan Police Department, Fourth District. The letter read:
About 4:30 o’clock this P.M., Jake Sacks, 22 years old, single, residing with parents at 1013 High Street, while at his home at above number, died without medical attention. Dr. S. T. Lipsitz, of 1019 N. 14th street, was summoned and after examination pronounced him dead, the body is still at the family residence and there is no marks of violence on same. It was later learned that young Sacks had been under the care of Dr. J. Fredeman, of Berlin and Euclid Aves., for sometime and that he had been to San Antonio, Texas, for his health being there but five days returning home last week. Dr. Fredeman stated that he would issue a burial certificate in the A.M. Young Sacks has been suffering from tuberculosis for sometime which is supposed to have caused his death.

The letter was signed by the captain of the district and listed the names of witnesses and was stamped with the official seal of the police department.

The next page was a copy of the coroner’s record, which listed the age, social condition, birthplace, occupation and residence. The record added that the deceased came to his death on the 9 May 1911 at about 4:30 p.m., at his residence, from pulmonary tuberculosis.

The report listed names of his parents, which had been unknown in the family. The report provided a mental picture of an ailing young man. The report stated he was married on one page, though his mother said he was single and lived with his parents. This now brings forth a flood of questions. Why was he living with his parents and not his wife? Why did his mother say he was single? Why wasn’t the wife’s name mentioned? New leads for new research.

His wife remarried about six weeks after his death. Was her marriage an arranged marriage for a young widow, or was it love at first sight? Her second husband left a young widower with five youngsters to raise, worked nights and was not too communicative. His children did not ask questions even as adults.

The Inquest
The first page of the wife’s report is an inquest cover page held in the coroner’s office. It lists witnesses, a police report, a report from City Hospital No. 1, and Verdict. The second page reads:

Case No. 236, In the Coroner’s Court, City of St. Louis, State of Missouri. Inquest held February 14, 1935, on the body of Lena Jaffe, by Harold H. Schulz, Deputy Coroner, and a Jury: Police Report read: Officer Fred L. Brown, (4th Dist.) being duly sworn, testified as follows:
Q: What is your full name?
A: Fred L. Brown
Q: Your address?
A: 1706 Nicholson Place
Q: Fourth District?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: You have heard this report. Is it a true and correct copy?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: You conveyed Lena Jaffe to the hospital?
A: We followed her there.
Q: Was she able to make any statement at any time as to just how this accident happened?
A: No, she spoke very poor English.
Q: Any evidence of any disturbance or trouble there in the home?
A: No, sir.
Q. Did you notice this stove when you arrived, was it pretty hot?
A: There was a space about 36 in., off the ground and it was red-hot. It was very evident that she had passed too close to the stove, through that space, and her dress brushed against the stove.

Gottlieb Bassler being duly sworn, testified as follows:
Q: What is your full name?
A: Gottlieb Bassler.
Q: Your address?
A: 1709 Carr.
Q: Your Occupation?
A: Laborer.
Q: Are you related to the deceased?
A: No.
Q: Where were you at the time she was burned?
A: About 25 feet away from the sink where I was, in the kitchen.
Q: Was she in the bedoom?
A: Yes.
Q: Was the stove very hot, or red-hot, where she was burned?
A: Yes.
Q: As soon as she came you grabbed blankets and tried to put the fire out?
A: Yes.
Q: Who was in the bedroom with her?
A: Nobody but he had gone to bed. He was asleep.
Q: In the same room?
A: No, in another room.
Q: Did she tell you she caught fire on the stove?
A: She came running but the flames were in back of her.

Samuel Jaffe (Rel) being duly sworn, testified as follows:
Q: What is your full name.
A: Samuel Jaffe.
Q: Your address?
A: 1709 Carr.
Q: You are the husband of Lena Jaffe?
A: Yes.
Q: Your occupation?
A: Baggage Department, Union Station
Q: Were you home at the time your wife was burned?
A: Yes.
Q: What room were you in?
A: Another room. The stove was about 3 feet away from the bed.
Q: The first you knew was when you heard her scream?
A: She came to my bed and started screaming. The house was full of smoke.

Police Report: Lena Jaffe
At 10:56 o’clock a.m., on February 12, 1935, in response to a radio call that there was an accident at 1710 Carr Street, Sergeant Nienaber and Patrolman Brown of this district, found at 1709 Carr Street one: Lena Jaffe, 40 years old, born in Russia, married, housework, residing at 1709 Carr Street, who was conveyed to City Hospital #1, in department Ford Coach #197, used as auto patrol, accompanied by Prison Guard James Murphy of this district, where Dr. E. Crecelius, pronounced her suffering from first degree burns of entire body, condition serious and remained at the hospital for further treatment.

She was unable to make a coherent statement as to how she received the burns, due to her condition.

Gottlieb Bassler, 57 years old, born in Mo., single, a laborer, residing at 1709 Carr St., stated that he was in the kitchen of the Jaffe home and was washing two shirts, he heard Mrs. Jaffe scream and she came running into the kitchen with her dress in flames and he grabbed some blankets from the bed in adjoining room and wrapped them around her in an effort to smother the flames, and in doing so burnt his left hand. He was conveyed to City Hospital #1, in department Ford Coach #204, where Dr. E. Crecelius, pronounced him suffering from first degree burns of all finger tips on left hand, serious and after treatment went to his home.
Samuel Jaffe, residing at the above address, husband of Lena Jaffe, stated he was sleeping in the bedroom of their home and was awakened by his wife screaming and upon getting up, he observed Bassler trying to put out the flames on his wife’s clothing.

Upon investigation in the room where Mrs. Jaffe ran from with her dress on fire, Sergeant Nienaber and Officer Brown, found a small heating stove with the upper half red from being so hot, and situated about 15 inches from one corner of a bed and Mrs. Jaffe apparently tried to pass through this space and the back of her dress brushed against the hot stove setting the dress on fire.
Later about 11:08 o’clock p.m., on February 12, 1935, the above Lena Jaffe, died at the City Hospital.

Witnesses have been notified to be in the Coroner’s Office at 9 o’clock a.m., on the 14th inst.
(Signed by police officials)

The Medical Director’s report on the hospitalization of Lena Jaffe and the final hours of her life.
Medical Director’s Report
The medical director’s report reads:
Patient entered the hospital with history of burns all over body, 1 degree and 2 degree, was washing clothes when a woolen sweater caught fire from a burner. History given by sister and is very incomplete.

Physical examination: Patient admitted in a semi-conscious state, with all her clothes burned off; in extreme shock-unable to obtain a pulse or any blood pressure. Head-front of hair singed. Eyes-eyebrows singed and also eyelids. 1 degree burn of lids; face-all 1 degree and 2 degree burns-more marked about chin. Nose, negative, except for 2 degree burn; ears, negative to external examination. Mouth not examined due to pain produced. Breast and chest wall burned with 1 degree and 2 degree burns — lung fields apparently clear with breathing loud vascular, heart sounds weak and distant; unable to detect any murmurs. Abdomen 1 degree and 2 degree burns of abdominal wall, Legs-burned from knee up on both sides. Back shows some area of burns 1 degree and 2 degree. Arms severely burned, especially hands, 3 degree burn in some areas. All burned skin and tissues removed, tannic acid 5 percent applied. Patient expired at 11:08 p.m. on February 12, 1935. Signed by A.P. Rowlette, M.D.

Coroner’s Report: Shock and first degree burns of entire body received February 12, at about 10:56 a.m., at residence, when her clothing became ignited from a red hot heating stove, when she passed through a small space, touching the stove.
(Signed by Deputy Coroner; lists witnesses)

The medical examiner report is more than facts. It’s a vivid word picture for the mind’s eye and the genealogist reading the report feels as if on the scene of the accident. Some of the information is conflicting. My husband says his mother spoke perfect English. Here again, the researcher has to document the facts with further research.

Research will bring the family history alive, allowing descendants in generations to come to understand and feel a rapport with their ancestors.

This article originally appeared in the November/December 1998 issue of Family Chronicle.


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