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Dakota Datebook

Doctor Reilly is Jailed

About this time in 1911, folks in Cavalier County were reeling from a series of events that led to the murder trial of Dr. J.J. Reilly, a highly regarded citizen. The trial involved the unexpected death of 22-year-old Mrs. Will Drury, who had married just 7 weeks before. She was known as Lilly Sweet, a well-liked schoolteacher. She was in Milton visiting friends when she became violently ill. She died the next day before her husband could get there from Langdon. The cause of death was given as blood poisoning.

Because Lilly’s death was so unusual, the county coroner was called in. An autopsy led to the conclusion that Lilly had died of complications from an abortion. Dr. Reilly was promptly arrested.

At Dr. Reilly’s preliminary hearing, townspeople got another jolt. Reilly’s main witness, a 23 year-old nurse, Nellie Gande, was arrested for manslaughter. In addition to being a nurse, she was also a teacher, and had accompanied Lilly from Langdon. While Lilly was under Dr. Reilly’s care, Nellie served as nurse.

Medical witnesses stated that Mrs. Drury died of a septic infection “brought on from without” during an illegal operation. Dr. Reilly pleaded not guilty, and stoutly maintained his innocence. Nellie Gande testified that Dr. Reilly had performed a minor operation on Lilly for hemorrhoids, and later one on her womb, but had done nothing illegal or negligent.

An article in the Langdon Courier Democrat suggested Lilly’s abortion was self-inflicted and that Gande and Reilly were trying to contain an infection when the girl died, but regardless of that opinion, the jury brought in a verdict of guilty, and Reilly was sentenced to 10 years. Nellie Gande’s charges were dismissed in a surprise move by the prosecution.

In the Bismarck Penitentiary, Dr. Reilly was put in charge of the hospital and given every liberty allowable. But just one month before an expected pardon in 1915, he abruptly died. He had become ill with tonsillitis and pneumonia.

The Milton Globe reported, “Dr. Reilly … was one of those physicians who neglected his own business on behalf of his patients and never refused to answer a call, no matter what the weather or the financial condition of those who needed his services. Time and time again he [provided] both medicine and services to struggling pioneers without money.”

Written by Merry Helm

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