Coroners in Philadelphia
Boston Medical and Surgical Journal
of December 28th ; but by abridgment of my paper some important facts were omitted, which perhaps can be made to contribute towards the overthrow of a system which gives such authoritative power to unprincipled men. The first act of the coroner's representative when he reached the hotel was to invite all present to take a drink with him ; and the first place I visited by the undertaker's direction in search of the coroner was a bar-room, where the proprietor informed me that the coroner " had
... the coroner " had just left," but was soon expected back. Not a witness, so far as I could learn, was summoned from the hotel ; certainly none was present at the inquest but Dr. Munn, who went in accordance with my request, and was asked no question about the case. Respectfully, Henry J. Barnes, M. D. 21 Beacon Street. " A gentleman in this city, a relative of Dr. Abel Ball, whose sudden death in Philadelphia last November will be remembered, is the authority for the statements given below, showing how the business pertaining to the coroner's office was performed. " On his arrival in Philadelphia in response to a summons, the gentleman found that an intoxicated man claiming to represent the city coroner had demanded the body, to which the hotel proprietor and a physician objected. The former said that Dr. Ball was his friend, and had died in his house, without a suspicion of other than a natural cause, to which a respectable physician who was in attendance would certify, and that an inquest was unnecessary ; furthermore, he expected a relative that day to take charge of the body. It was finally given up to the undertaker, who accompanied this man, with the understanding that he was to keep it until some one arrived authorized to take charge of it, and the promise of the "coroner" that no autopsy or inquest should be made. Contrary to this promise, the body had been removed to the Morgue, an autopsy made, an inquest begun ; and the coroner's undertaker, on being visited by the relative with a request to be given the body, at once replied that it could not be done that day. He gave as a reason that they (the coroner and himself) were democrats and the Hoard of Health republicans, who were not in pleasant relations with them. Finally, the undertaker agreed to do what he could, and representing that a box would be needed in which to put the body he offered to sell one to the gentleman, and taking him to his warerooms did sell him a pine box. " Afterwards they sought and found the coroner, who said, ' Nothing can be done to-day, as the doctor who made the autopsy has not rendered his report, and an inquest, begun Saturday, has adjourned until Monday.' The gentleman then asked him why these proceedings had been instituted ; and he replied that ' in case the deceased had a life insurance, friends could obtain the policy.' Members of the family of the deceased were shocked, on seeing The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal as published by The New England Journal of Medicine.