Date: 2 Jan 1943
Annie Lewis died from an abortion on 2 January 1943.
She was the wife of a tar macadam contractor and had lived at The Croft in Warwick Place, Leamington.
She had suffered a miscarriage on 14 December 1942 and later became ill and was later removed on the orders of her doctor to Eversleigh Nursing home on 18 December 1942. When the doctor was later called to see Anne Lewis again at the nursing home on 20 December 1942, he found her in a serious condition, and it was decided that an operation was required and she was removed to Warneford Hospital. However, she later became ill and died on 2 January 1943.
Following her death, two death certificates were issued, with the original one being withdrawn without the consent of the coroner and she was buried on 6 January 1943.
However, her body was later exhumed from Warwick Cemetery on 17 May 1943 after the coroner received an anonymous letter from the Pearl Assurance Company that they had received. In their letter to the coroner the Pearl Assurance Company wrote that a full enquiry should be made into the matter detailed in the letter before they made a payment. It was noted that when Anne Lewis had been examined in March 1941 by a doctor with a view to taking out a policy, that she had told the doctor that she had had six confinements and two miscarriages and that it was in regard to those circumstances and the letter that they felt that an investigation should be carried out. They also contacted the Leamington Police regarding the matter who also made enquiries.
The letter read, 'Dear Sirs, With reference to the claim made by Annie Lewis's husband on the death of his wife, Annie Lewis, late of 28 Warwick Place, Leamington, full enquiries should be made into this matter before payment is made. I state that it is an established fact that Mrs Lewis's death was caused through using an instrument on herself to cause a miscarriage, all done with her husband's knowledge and consent. The later Mrs Lewis's sister and parents have quarrelled over this matter with Annie Lewis's husband, naturally blaming him for instigating and consenting'.
When the coroner was informed, a warrant for Anne Lewis's exhumation was ordered and a post-mortem arranged, with her body being exhumed on 17 May 1943. The coroner noted that the reason for the exhumation was to ascertain the cause of death.
The verdict at the subsequent inquest was that her death was due to uraemia and abortion self-induced.
The coroner noted that the procedure that should have been adopted by the registrar when cases such as Anne Lewis's death were reported, that of death following abortion, whether it was natural or criminal, was that it had to be reported to the coroner. He noted that that was well known to the medical profession and that it was known that the merest breath of suspicion in such cases had to be investigated. He also noted that it was the responsibility of the coroner to determine whether an inquest was held but said that a post-mortem would have undoubtedly been ordered.
At the inquest, the registrar of births and deaths said that when he first received the death certificate from the doctor, it had had the words 'Abortion' on it and said that he had then asked the doctor whether it was a natural one or induced by artificial means. However, he said that the following day, the doctor sent him a note saying that a man that had been treating Anne Lewis as a private patient wished the cause of death to be given as Uraemia and miscarriage, and so the certificate was reworded accordingly and sent to him.
The doctor said that she had initially certified Anne Lewis's death as being due to pelvic cellulitis and septic abortion and said that the registrar himself asked her to substitute the word abortion with miscarriage. The doctor said that at first she declined, but said that after she spoke to the man that had been treating Anne Lewis privately she issued a second certificate stating that the cause of death was uraemia and miscarriage.
However, at the inquest, the registrar said that a state registered nurse was present when he made the call and said that she was prepared to state that all he had asked the doctor was whether the abortion was a natural or forced one.
However, at the inquest, the coroner asked the registrar whether he rang anyone else about the matter and he said that he didn't, although he did admit that he had spoken to the Coroner for Central Warwickshire District whilst talking to him about another matter when he asked when the inquest was to take place, although he said that he could not remember the date that it was due to take place but agreed that it was probably after Anne Lewis had been buried.
After Anne Lewis's body was exhumed from Warwick Cemetery on 17 May 1943 a professor with the West Midlands Forensic Laboratory in Birmingham said that in his opinion, after carrying out a post-mortem, that the first death certificate stating that death was due to pelvic cellulitis and septic abortion was wrong and that in his opinion death was due to uraemia anuria following a blood transfusion and abortion.
When the undertaker was called to give evidence at the inquest, he said that it was first arranged that Anne Lewis should be buried at Milverton Cemetery but that it was eventually arranged that she would be buried at Warwick Cemetery. However, he noted that Anne Lewis's husband had expressed his wish that she should not be buried in Leamington Cemetery.
When Annie Lewis's husband was questioned, he said that Anne Lewis had had six children and that he knew that she didn't want any more but denied that he knew anything about her condition in late 1942. He said that they had been friendly with a woman that lived in Adelaide Road who ran her home as a home for aged invalids and that they would pay visits there. He said that on 15 December 1942 Anne Lewis was far from well and that two days later they called a doctor in. However, it was noted that it was not their doctor, but the doctor of the woman at Adelaide Road. When Anne Lewis's husband was asked why they had not called their own doctor in, he said that they were friends with the woman, and they had met her doctor at her home quite a lot. He said that he didn't know that she was an expectant mother and said that the doctor had told him that a week in a nursing home would put her right.
Anne Lewis's husband added that he had visited Anne Lewis on numerous occasions in hospital, but said that she never mentioned having used an instrument upon herself.
Anne Lewis's sister said that Anne Lewis had told her in December 1942 that it was her intention to take a certain course of action. She said that she told her not to be silly, but said that after the act had been done, that she again commented on its folly and said that Anne Lewis said, 'If I did not do this my husband said he would leave me'. She added that when she saw Anne Lewis in hospital, Anne Lewis said to her, 'I would never have done it had I known what I was going through'.
Anne Lewis's sister said that relations had been good until around Christmas. She said that it was clear that Anne Lewis's husband was having associations with another woman. She said that she also told Anne Lewis's husband that she didn't like the way that Anne Lewis had died. She also noted that Anne Lewis's husband would not tell her or her family where Anne Lewis's funeral was going to be. She said that she said to Anne Lewis's husband, 'If you don't tell us, I shall go to the Chief Constable, because I don't like the way she died'. However, she said that she did in fact end up attending the funeral.
It was heard that the woman that lived in Adelaide Road said that she had had a great deal of experience with elderly people and said that death had occurred in her home on and off and said that more often than not relatives had asked her to carry out the registration of death, which she did in the case of Anne Lewis on behalf of her husband, and with the help of the doctor. She said that when she first went to register Anne Lewis's death the registrar told her that he was not able to register it as he would have to make some enquiries. However, she said that when she saw him the following day, he told her, 'I am pleased to be able to tell you that I can register the death this morning'. The woman said that on both occasions Anne Lewis's husband had been unable to go to the registrars because he was ill in bed with a carbuncle.
When the coroner summed up he said that he thought that there could be no doubt that Anne Lewis procured the abortion by the use of a syringe although he added that the jury might feel that her husband might have known what was going on although added that mere tacit consent did not amount to aiding and abetting.
He also added that it might be felt that there was an underlying motive on the part of some person or persons to prevent the case being reported to the coroner.
The coroner also criticised the registrar of births and deaths, stating that he had exceeded his duty and also suggested that the conduct of the doctor and the man that had privately treated Anne Lewis was not beyond reproach. He also criticised the evidence of the woman from Adelaide Road who Anne Lewis had visited shortly before her abortion, stating that her evidence was most unsatisfactory.
see Coventry Evening Telegraph - Friday 30 July 1943
see Leamington Spa Courier - Friday 30 July 1943