Category: Suicide by Fumes!

Lizzie Van Osten’s Child

Posted by – November 17, 2013

Philadelphia, PA – 1892 (?)



Her Father and Sisters Come to the City and Make Inquiries Regarding the Dead and Her Property—An Inquest Will Be Held To-day.

Bowed down with grief, John Montgomery, one of the most respected residents of Kennett Square, Chester county, came to this city yesterday, accompanied by two daughters, to take charge of the body of his daughter, Annie Montgomery, alias Lizzie Van Osten, who committed suicide by taking chloroform at the disreputable resort kept by her at 926 Mount Vernon street.

He called at the Coroner’s office yesterday afternoon in response to a dispatch from that official.

“I came to take Annie home with me,” was his first utterance.

Coroner Ashbridge did not know whom he meant at first, but when he learned the man’s name he led him back into his private office and there, as gently as he could told the father what he knew concerning the life and death of his daughter.

The old man groaned aloud when the Coroner told him some facts that reflected seriously on the woman’s character. “My Annie never did that; no, she could never have done that,” he said.

He listened attentively to the story of his wayward daughter’s life. He insisted upon being taken at once to the body of the suicide.

On arriving at the house, where an Eighth district officer had been on guard all night, the Coroner took Mr. Montgomery to the place where his daughter lay. The white spread was drawn back, and in the dim light could be seen the body of the suicide, a woman of medium height, with long auburn hair The long years of dissipation had not altogether obliterated the traces of beauty which had once made her the reigning queen of her native village.

It is supposed that the woman was married to a man named Graves, though this has not been positively ascertained. The father and two sisters of the woman are trying to find whether this is so. The initials on a wedding ring appear to bear out this theory.

Miss Montgomery had living with her for about a year a little baby, which it is said she had adopted. If it can be proven that this is the case the child will fall heir to about $20,000 worth of property the woman leaves. The child is being well taken care of.

Deputy Coroner Dugan is guarding with jealous care between four and five hundred letters he found on the premises. They are addressed to Mrs. Montgomery in the most endearing terms. The publication of the names of the writers would shock society and set the entire city talking. Many well-known men are represented in the correspondence.

“Did you read any of the letters?” was asked the Deputy Coroner.

“I read a few of them, and in no novel was there ever such love-sickening terms applied to any one as have been to this woman.”

“What’s going to become of the letters?”

The Deputy Coroner’s lower jaw fell. “I didn’t think of that,” he said. “I’m sure I’m not going to keep them. Why, I would rather have charge of so much gold than those letters.”

“Why would you?”

“Why would I? Do you know that it would ruin hundreds of peaceful, happy homes if those letters got before the public in any way. All I’ve got to say is that I think the men who wrote such letters are the most consummate fools on earth.”

An inquest will be held by the Coroner this morning.


Second Article – from the Steele Scrapbook:


Lizzie Van Osten, Proprietresss of a Lodging House on Mount Vernon Street, Takes Chloroform With Suicidal Intent.

Lieutenant Smith, of the Eighth district, was notified last night that Lizzie Van Osten, proprietress of a lodging house at 926 and 928 Mount Vernon street, had been found dead in bed. An investigation of the case was made, and it was found that the woman had committed suicide by drinking or inhaling chloroform.

Jacob Graham, a colored man employed in the house, says that shortly after noon yesterday the woman sent him to the drug store for twenty-five cents worth of chloroform, saying sh ewanted to use it for taking stains out of her carpet. When he returned and gave her the drug she went at once to her room. About eight o’clock last evening her room was visited for the purpose of ascertaining why she had not made her appearance, and she was found in bed in an unconscious condition.

Dr. Finn, of 627 north Tenth street, was hastily summoned, and on examining the woman, he pronounced her dead. Beneath her pillow was the chloroform bottle, from which the greater portion of the powerful anaesthetic had been taken, but whether it had been inhaled or drank it is impossible to determine until an autopsy is held.

The people in the house are unable to give any explanation of the motive for the act, as she had appeared to be in as good spirits as usual during the day, and she had no trouble of which any of her associates had any knowledge. Undertaker Good took charge of the body last night, and Dr. Sidebotham, Coroner’s physician, will make a post-mortem examination of the body to-day.


Follow-up Article:



The Body Sent to Kennett Square, Where It Will Be Buried To-day—The Little Girl Found in the House Is Not the Child of the Dead Woman—Those Letters She Received.

The closing chapter in the career of Annie E. Montgomery, better known as Lizzie Van Osten, was rehearsed yesterday afternoon at the Coroner’s investigation of the circumstances surrounding the suicide’s death. The hearing-room was crowded with former friends of the woman. John Montgomery, her father, a respected resident of Kennett Square, Chester county, and his two daughters were present. They evinced a deep interest in all the proceedings. Elizabeth Johnson, a colored domestic, held the baby found in the Van Osten house. It is a pretty little girl about two and a half years old, with a round, chubby face, large, expressive dark blue eyes and golden hair.

Mr. Montgomery was the first witness called. He testified that he had identified the body of the dead woman as that of his daughter. She was a single woman to the best of his knowledge. He had made careful inquiry and had no reason to believe that she was ever married.

Elizabeth Johnson was next called. She stated that she had been a domestic in the employ of Miss Van Osten since last November.

“Whose child is that?” inquired the Coroner.

“As far as I know it is Miss Van Osten’s,” was the reply.

“Did she tell you that it was?” continued the Coroner.

“Yes, sir.”

“Did she ever say it was an adopted child, and did she look after it?”

“She said it was hers, and she took very good care of it and looked after it herself. She always told me she was the mother.”

Continuing, the witness said that her mistress had been indisposed for several days. On Saturday evening two men called and she entertained them. That was the last time she left her room. She had been drinking beer.

“Was there a gentleman who was very intimate at the house who had stopped calling on Miss Van Osten?”

“I don’t know anything about that.”

The Coroner instructed the witness to take care of the child, as he would send for it.

John Graham, employed at the home, was called next, and testified that he was directed to purchase twenty-five cents worth of laudanum. He was told that it was to be used in removing some grease spots from a carpet. He did not remember that Miss Van Osten had been drinking, but related seeing several empty liquor and wine bottles in her room. Mary E. Davis, another domestic, gave similar testimony to that given by Elizabeth Johnson. F. B. Schriver, a clerk at Rumsey’s drug store, Tenth and Green streets, stated that Miss Van Osten had a standing prescription at the store for a mixture of bromide of soda. He had sold the chloroform to the servant.

Coroner Ashbridge said that the woman had been suffering from nervous prostration due to her excesses, and was consequently susceptible to the influence of the drug. A verdict of death due to inhaling chloroform was then rendered.

The Coroner told Mr. Montgomery that the next move he should make would be to take out letters of administration on the property his daughter left, and he should file a copy at the Coroner’s office, so that his daughter’s valuables, consisting of a gold watch and chain and several diamond rings and the deeds of the two properties she owned, 926-8 Mount Vernon street, could be turned over to him. It is likely that the gushing letters Miss Van Osten received will also be turned over to Mr. Montgomery.

Late in the afternoon the body of Miss Van Osten was shipped to her childhood home in Kennett Square, where it will be interred to-day in the family burial plot.

Regarding the baby Deputy Coroner Dugan has ascertained beyond a doubt that it is not the offspring of the Van Osten woman, but the illegitimate child of one of her former domestics, and was born in the Sheltering Arms. A number of persons have signified their willingness to adopt it. Mr. Montgomery stated that he would be willing to care for the child, but the members of his family request him not to do so.


Another Article (Lizzie was quite the sensation, can’t you tell?) – from the Steele Scrapbook:



She Was Annie Elizabeth Montgomery and Came From Chester County to This City Twenty Years Ago-Why She Left Her Home and How She Lived in Philadelphia.

The mystery surrounding the life and death of Elizabeth Van Osten, who committed suicide by taking chloroform, has been solved by Deputy Coroner Dugan. The woman’s real name is Annie Elizabeth Montgomery, and the story of her career is filled with pathos and sadness and disappointment.

Miss Montgomery’s childhood home was in the pretty town of Kennett Square, Chester county, where her parents now reside and are very well to do. Here twenty years ago she was the belle of the village, admired and loved by all. While her father and mother were members of the Society of Friends, she could not be held down to their good, old-fashioned notions, and every social event of the place found her among its leaders. The Friends’ meeting-house was too slow for her, and she attended the Presbyterian church, where her abilities as a musician were recognized, and she played the organ in the Sunday-school.

Though she had suitors by the score, she scorned them all for the attentions of the son of one of the wealthiest citizens of the town. He was seen with her on every occasion, and though she was warned that his morals were of very doubtful calibre, she continued in his company. Long rambles in the woods by day and strolls by moonlight followed. The wilful girl’s father would not permit the young man to enter his house, and could not persuade his daughter to abandon meeting him out.

Matters went on this way for a year or more. It was rumored that the two were to be married. Then the young fellow’s attentions to Miss Montgomery began to lag. He grew cold in his affections, and finally he refused to notice her.

Realizing that she had permitted unlawful relations to be sustained, Miss Montgomery broke down before her mother and told her the whole story of her disgrace. How under promise of marriage her lover had succeeded in accomplishing her ruin. Threats by the father and the tears and entreaties of the girl’s mother failed to induce the faithless lover to make good his promise. The story of the girl’s disgrace leaked out, and one day she left the town. That was the last heard of her there.

She came to Philadelphia, intending to live down the past and earn her own living. She changed her name, and her identity was soon entirely lost in the busy life of a great city. She hunted for employment, but was not successful in securing it. She fell into the hands of the vultures always on the lookout for such unfortunates as she, and before long the innocent, bright, happy girl of a year before was installed in a disreputable resort.

But the girl was too shrewd to remain in the place long and earn money for another at the expense of her health. She learned sufficient about the business and then set up a house for herself.

She became installed at 926 Mount Vernon street. Business became so brisk that the one house was found to be too small to accomodate her numerous visitors, and she purchased the property adjoining. Perhaps no similar house in the city was more extensively supported.

Regarding the cause of the suicide, Mr. Dugan stated that it was doubtless the result of remorse. She had been very melancholy of late, and had probably reflected long upon her early life and her final condition. An inquest will be held on Friday.


Well, I’m a bit confused about the date that should be ascribed to this one. You see, I bought a copy of a scrapbook that was advertised as “1892 Death Scrapbook”, so I had thought that the year should be given as 1892 (although, since it’s a clipping, there’s no way to confirm that). However, when I did a search on “Lizzie Van Osten” just for the heck of it to see if there was any information that could help me determine the date, the only links I found were to some clippings that Alf had posted from his “1885 Death Scrapbook” (aka “The Steele Scrapbook” – shown above). Since both of the scrapbooks were sold by the same person on Ebay, and were undoubtedly compiled by the same person in the 19th Century, it stands to reason that they may actually be from the same time… so… this one may require some research to determine when exactly Lizzie died. I did some research on Ancestry.Com and found that her “real”name of Annie Montgomery was listed in the Chester City, PA directory from 1888-89 and the Philadelphia City Directory in 1890… which makes me think that she must have died sometime after 1890. I’ll keep digging and hopefully figure out this mystery… If anyone out there lives in the Philadelphia or Kennett Square, PA areas and they want to do some research for me, it would be greatly appreciated!


From the collection of The Comtesse DeSpair

He Tried To Die By Gas

Posted by – November 17, 2013

February 2, 1892


Stephen J. Thompson Loses at Horse-racing and Tires of Life—His Mother Goes to New York, Where the Deed Was Done.

Special Dispatch to The North American.
NEW YORK, Feb. 2.—At the Putnam House, Fourth avenue and Twenty-third street, last evening, a well-dressed young man registered as “J. Davis.” At 10 o’clock this morning he was called according to his order. He didn’t answer to the knocks at his door and it was broken open. The room was full of gas, and two burners were found turned on. The young man was lying in the bed unconscious. He was taken to Bellevue Hospital, where the physicians said he would recover. In the room were found two letters. One, dated February 1, 1892, was directed to Mrs. J. M. Thompson, 232 south Twenty-second street, Philadelphia. It reads: —

“MY DEAR MA — I can’t account for your not answering my letter. I am in an awful condition—walking the streets without a penny, with no overcoat and no place to sleep; and then my own mother will not help me. Well, I don’t think you will see me alive again if I can get something to put an end to all my trouble, for I am sick and tired of all this. If you care to keep me from doing this send me $10 or $15 by mail as soon as you get this, so I can get a room someplace for a week. If not I shall most surely carry out my plan. Then you will have no other person but yourself to blame. At this moment I am wild.”

The letter was unsigned. The envelope on the other letter was addressed to Miss A. C. O’Donnell, No. 85 Lexington avenue. On it was also written “My Sister” and “A Beauty.” It read: “I am walking through the streets with no place to lay my head, so for God’s sake do as I say. Send me enough money to get a bed with for the night. If possible send an answer soon.”

This letter was also unsigned. Mrs. O’Donnell when seen was greatly agitated, and though she denied that the young man was her brother seemed much concerned about him. It has been learned that the would-be suicide is Stephen J. Thompson, that his parents live in Philadelphia, are wealthy, and that he has an income of $3000 a year. Betting on horse races is said to have been the cause of his down-fall.


From the collection of The Comtesse DeSpair
(The 1892 Morbid Scrapbook)