Isaac Clanin – Charged with Fornication

Rumours had been surrounding the two for years and the whisperings grew more sensational as they passed from lip to lip. It was asserted that Isaac and Mary had been living together as husband and wife for two to three years and that one not acquainted with the facts would not suspect that they were not married. It was also alleged that two children had been born to Isaac and Mary, children of whom the whereabouts were unknown to any of the neighbours. It was stated that a baby had been born only last December to Mary and it was never seen again. It was based on this that the grand jury issued the indictment.

Mary had separated from her husband, Elias Hodge several years prior to her arrest. According to her, she married Elias two weeks after meeting him and that he left her after living together only a short time. Mary also stated she was the daughter of David Fraze, of Marion, Indiana. Interestingly no records in Indiana appear for David Fraze, Elias Hodge or Mary Fraze Hodge. After Elias’ departure Mary moved to her brother’s house where she had her first child, a daughter. This little girl was placed in an orphan’s home. When she was arrested Mary had a son who was four years old living with her.

Isaac had been widowed twice; his first wife was Mary M. Jones whom he married on December 22, 1875 and the second Minnie Laflin whom he married on October 12, 1892. Isaac had a total of five children – Charles (born 1876), Samuel (born 1878), George (born 1880), Albert (born 1884) and John (born 1893); two of these children, Charles and Samuel had died by 1899.

Both Mary and Isaac insisted that their relationship was only of employer and employee (housekeeper) and had been since she moved to the Clanin home on June 6, 1896.

Two days after their arrest for fornication, additional charges were brought against Isaac and Mary, that of taking human life. Police and States Attorney William M. Amsden searched the farm that the two were living and found the remains of an infant buried a few inches deep in a wood box. The box was 18 x 24 inches in which lye had been shipped. The box and the remains were well preserved. It was believed this was the body of the infant born the previous December.

In addition, in the trunk of a decayed stump, bones were also discovered and Coroner J. C. Whitson pronounced them to be the bones of an infant. Evidence provided from witnesses before the grand jury shows that this child was born about two years prior to the discovery of the bones.

Assisting the search team in their efforts to find the bodies of the infants was Isaac’s 19 year old son, George Clanin. However it should be noted that George was uncooperative until officers began to pressure him into talking.

After the discoveries on the farm, a newspaper reporter visited the jail and interviewed both Isaac and Mary regarding the ghastly finds. Mary stated to the reporter, “If a baby has been found there I don’t know anything about it. No, I never had any children while I lived with Clannin.” Isaac on the other hand was more careful with his words and simply said, “I do not know anything about it. I do not care to make a statement.” The reporter goes on to say that Isaac was about 40 years of age, small in stature and of more than ordinary intelligence. Mary was 35 years of age and of a robust physique. Also while Isaac was visibly perturbed at the findings on his farm, Mary was not the least affected by them.

Although it was September when Isaac and Mary were arrested they become under the scrutiny of Sates Attorney Amsden in December. It was at that time, a neighbour of Isaac’s reported to the Attorney the alleged crime of a child born to Mary, a child who then went missing. For nine months the States Attorney built his case, interviewing neighbours and gathering evidence until he had enough to take to the grand jury.

Coroner Whitson and Dr. Francis conducted a post mortem on the infant found in the box, however they were not able to determine if the child had lived any length of time or what the cause of death was. However at the inquest Coroner Whitson found that the unnamed, newborn, illegitimate child came to its death as a result of violence inflicted by Mary Hodge and Isaac Clanin. He then recommended that the two be held without bond to answer to the grand jury to the crime of murder. At the inquest the most damaging evidence came from George Clanin who stated that the child was born in December 1898 and his evidence was to the effect Mary had made away with the child.

On September 19, 1899 the grand jury indicted Isaac Clanin and Mary Hodge for murder in the first degree. In mid-October Mary elected to be tried alone. She was arraigned and entered a plea of not guilty before the judge.

Twelve men were selected for the jury and the trail began on October 23, 1899. States Attorney Amsden’s outline of what they expected to prove against Mary was that illicit relations had existed between Isaac and Mary for some time and that at least two children were born to them. That on December 6, 1898 a baby was born to Mary. That there was a witness present at childbirth who offered her services; a child was born, this witness heard it cry and later when she went to the room the child was dead.

Witnesses for the prosecution included:

  1. A.R. Smith who explained a plat map of the Clanin house and grounds.
  2. Della Warrenburg who was summoned to the house to work as Mary was too sick. She heard the child crying but when she went into the room where Mary was, the child was dead.
  3. George Clanin stated that his father Isaac and Mary shared a bed together. Note that George was not a willing witness. A warrant was issued for his arrest when he did not appear in court to testify. He was eventually secured and brought to court.
  4. Sherriff Bradford testified as to the arrest of Mary and that she denied a baby being born to her. He also stated that the box in evidence was the one taken from the Clanin farm.
  5. Coroner Whitson testified that Mary had denied that a child was born or that one was buried on the farm. He exhibited the bones found in the box taken from the Clanin farm.
  6. Dr. Francis testified to assisting in the post-mortem and that he thought the child was a full term child.
  7. Gus Condo identified the bones as the ones in the box found on the Clanin farm.

The defense, led by W. S. Marshall, opened that they would show that Mary while pregnant on the morning of December 8 fell on the doorstep, injuring her hip. That immediately labour pain began and within two hours a child was born. A physician was summoned but as far as Mary knew made no examination of her, that she became unconscious, and that the next thing she knew was that Della Warrenburg was changing the bedding. Mary was told that the child had been born dead.

Witnesses for the defense were:

  1. Dr. Daniels who testified he was summoned to the house. He made no examination of Mary but left some medicine and informed that if she did not improve to send for another doctor as he would not return. On recall Dr. Daniels stated a full term child or even a baby at seven or eight months might cry before birth and that death from natural causes may follow. Additional expert witnesses attested to this fact.
  2. Dr. William Flynn was called as one of the expert witness and testified that without medical attention there was more likelihood of a miscarriage then when a doctor was present. He also said that a child born dead would probably be born with its eyes shut.
  3. Dr. A. A. Hamilton stated that a child might cry before delivery but that the strength of the voice would depend on the lustiness of the baby.
  4. Isaac Clanin said that Mary had “kept house” for him for three years. He admitted that she had had a baby in December of 1898. He stated that Dr. Daniels was summoned and that Della Warrenburg was present. After the baby was born, Isaac and Della entered the room with Della stating the child was dead. Isaac told that the infant was wrapped in a fragment of a quilt and placed in a box by Della and then the box was removed by him. Isaac stated that he did not hear the baby cry and that the infant’s eyes and mouth were closed.
  5. Mary Ancil, sister of Isaac, was called for the purpose of impeaching Della Warrenburg’s testimony. She testified that Della had told her in the presence of witnesses that the child was stillborn. Mary stated that this conversation with Della occurred four days after the alleged murder.
  6. Mary Hodge explained that she had experienced a fall on the steps and that labour was induced and that she then fell unconscious. Mary did not see the baby and knew nothing of it until told about it.

Attorney Marshall also introduced figures to show that of legitimate children, one in eighteen die but for illegitimate children one in ten fail to survive and that where there is no medical attention, the chances of living were even more reduced.

In closing, Prosecutor Condo asked the jury based on the evidence presented to impose the death penalty on Mary.

In his closing, the defense lawyer Strickler did not dismiss the alleged illicit relations between Isaac and Mary; he did however insist that Mary be punished for the crime of which she is proved guilty, and if murder is not proven that no conviction on that charge be found. He criticized the questionable methods of the police and stated that the state’s evidence was purely circumstantial. He insisted the finding of a dead infant was not evidence of a crime. He showed the discrepancy in Della Warrenburg’s testimony and reminded the jury that the testimony had also been impeached by other witnesses. He claimed that the infant showed no signs of violence and insisted that before conviction could be made premeditation had to be shown.

The trial lasted three days. The jury began deliberating at 3:15 pm on the third day. After twenty hours of deliberation, at 5:00 pm on the following day, the jury returned with the following verdict, “We, the jury, find the defendant not guilty.”

The jury was polled and it was found that at the beginning of deliberations eight of the men were for not guilty with the four remaining believing Mary was guilty of the crime.

With the acquittal of Mary on the charge of murder in the first degree, the murder charge against Isaac was then dismissed. The charge of fornication against the two still stood.

Eventually both Isaac and Mary pled guilty to the charge of fornication. They were fined $25.00 each and sentenced to ten days in jail.

In 1900 United States Federal Census, Isaac Clanin appears living in Richland, Indiana with his three sons, George, Albert and John. In this census he also has a new housekeeper named Phoebe Lee. Interestingly it states that he is married and had been for the last two years, however no wife appears in the census with him. Isaac passed away on May 18, 1914 in Sweetser, Indiana at the home of his sister, Sarah Mayne. He was buried in the Converse Cemetery in Richland Township, Indiana.

Of Mary and her son, no trace of them was found in the 1900 United States Federal Census or any further records.