“The Jennings Horror”: A Quack Cancer Doctor Tortures the Oil Region, 1876

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On this blog I have covered many foul murders, but none quite so insidious as that of young Mary Jennings of Troy Township.

Mary Jennings was a sweet, fifteen-year-old girl who was going to school and growing up all in due time until her life was taken by a quack doctor in February 1876.

Troy Township
Source: Wikipedia

A man who posed as a doctor, one J.S. Osborn, declared that she was afflicted with blood cancer and must be immediately treated. In reality, she was not at all ill. The Titusville Herald wrote, “She was a young girl just merging into womanhood, and was troubled with those disabilities incident to her age, such as occasional headache, pain in the stomach, nervousness and a general feeling of unrest. The symptoms were physiological or natural, and therefore required no medical interference. It is only necessary that they should have attended to her sanitary or hygenic (sic) condition to recover her in the process of time to the natural functions of her womanhood.”

Mercury II Chloride
Source: Wikipedia

In layman’s terms, Mary was entering puberty, getting some teenage acne, and starting her period. However, Osborn was about to make sure Mary would never see the end of her teenage years.

As treatment for her “affliction,” the quack doctor applied a corrosive salve to her skin – bichloride of mercury. The compound created horrific blisters across her entire body, from her neck to the base of her spine. Osborn also rubbed it on her face and hair. Mary’s entire body began to shed its own skin, sloughing off in pieces and burning her to death on the outside and internally. Not only did her skin come away from her body, but even her gums, teeth, and internal organs began to blister and rupture. The Herald termed her death worse than murder.

The Herald reporter went on to say that there has never been “a more cruel, relentless or appalling death than that which overtook this innocent and estimable young lady, who with her body rotted to the bones died in unendurable agony, on her hands and knees, calling on her God to kill her and relieve her from the most excruciating suffering. Crucifixion is considered to be one of the most painful deaths and has been ostracized by all civilized nations, but it is nothing compared with the death of Mary Jennings. The former takes but few hours to destroy life, but the latter took three weeks of agony utterly indescribable by human pen.”

Three weeks it took poor Mary Jennings to succumb to her horrific injuries. And she was not the only victim.

The Herald found out that Osborn also inflicted his hideous compound on other people across the region. A woman from Sugar Creek was dying at the same time as Mary Jennings from being mutilated by Osborn. The previous October, Osborn had also

Mercury II.jpg
Source: Etsy

applied his liniment to a woman named Mrs. Hancox and her two sons. Before “treating” them, Osborn bled Hancox to the point of fainting and then applied the mercury across her back. He then did the same to her two sons. Fortunately, these three victims did not die due to timely intervention by a true medical professional, Dr. Barr.

Osborn was eventually caught in Dempseytown and tried on February 9th, 1876. He was imprisoned, but unfortunately his imprisonment was not permanent.

In the October 5th, 1876 edition of the Herald, it reports that Osborn was able to flee his jail cell by applying the same corrosive compound of mercury that he used on people to the iron bars of his cell. The compound melted the bars and he escaped. If his mercury could melt iron bars imagine the atrocities it wrought on human skin…

Thankfully, Osborn would not escape justice altogether. After fleeing jail, he landed in Kentucky where he found himself in a fight with a man whom he ended up killing. That Kentucky town hanged Osborn to death a few days later. The Herald wrote, “If this report

Jail Example
Jail Example Source: kansastravel.org

be true, there is trouble ahead for the keeper of that warm place below, for Osborn will insist on applying his cancer medicine which causes a burning far more terrible than anything known in that region.”

The devil himself should fear Osborn, they said, because his medicine was more destructive than the fires of hell.

Mary Jennings would not live to see her sixteenth year, but eight months later, her murderer would not live to torture another innocent soul.

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