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June 21: Case Closed

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Dr. Steven Fisher was a well-respected physician who practiced medicine in New Salem. On this date in 1928, Fisher’s friends and neighbors were shocked to learn he was wanted for murder. The sheriff arrived in New Salem to arrest Fisher, but the good doctor had disappeared.

Fisher’s difficulties began when local farmer Lawrence Burley accused him of murder following the death of Mrs. Burley, who had seen Fisher for an unspecified medical problem. Fisher had performed an operation on her, but it did not go well. When her condition deteriorated, she was transferred to the hospital in Bismarck. Burley said that as she lay near death she made statements that caused him to accuse Fisher of murder. She had died of peritonitis, and Fisher was charged with second degree murder.

When he learned of the charge, Fisher fled. He told friends he was going on a house call, but no one had heard of him since. Officials were confident, however, that he had remained in the area. His car was found in his garage, and police suspected that another local resident was helping Fisher evade arrest.

There was a great deal of speculation about the possible outcome of the case. The potential of an explosive trial was a popular topic of conversation. The conclusion turned out to be more shocking than anyone expected. On June 26th, the news broke that Dr. Fisher had taken his own life. He was found aimlessly wandering by a local farmer who took Fisher to the hotel in Carson and left the room to call for a physician. When they returned, they found Fisher dead. The doctor who came to treat him found five bottles of morphine, two of which were empty. Fisher apparently ingested the morphine, then cut his wrist with a piece of broken glass.

The doctor’s death immediately silenced the gossip and rumors. The thoughts of local residents turned to sympathy for the family of a man who had long been a loved and respected member of the community. The case was closed.

Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher

Bismarck Tribune. “Doctor Flees When Husband Makes Charge.” Bismarck ND. 6/21/1928. Page 2.
Bismarck Tribune. “New Salem Doctor is Still at Large.” Bismarck ND. 6/22/1928. Page 3.
Bismarck Tribune. “Fisher Might Be in Morton.” Bismarck ND. 6/25/1928. Page 8.
Bismarck Tribune. “Dr. Fisher, Fugitive Physician, Takes Life in Carson Hotel.” 6/26/1928. Page 1.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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