Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Typhoid Mary


Not much factual information is known about Mary Mallon prior to 1907.  She was born in Ireland in 1869 and arrived in America sometime in the 1890s. Tall, sturdily built and apparently healthy, she was a quiet person who mostly kept to herself (Gibbons). Mary seemed to be educated, liked to read and also could write very well as her surviving letters indicate. It is unclear if she had any formal training as a cook, although it is obvious she enjoyed cooking and relied upon her skills for her livelihood. Mary sought employment through want ads and job agencies in New York City and Boston. Mostly, she worked as a cook in private residences for wealthy families.

Actress Marian Tomas Griffin plays Mary Mallon
Actress Marian Tomas Griffin plays Mary

When Dr. Soper arrived at the Park Avenue home in the spring of 1907, he had high expectations and was convinced he was performing a valued public service. He confronted Mary Mallon in the kitchen and described the trail of typhoid that she left behind. After a few minutes, Mary became angry. "Mary did not see Soper as the answer to some long-troubling question about the series of odd and unpleasant coincidences that had long followed her," writes Bourdain (26). When Soper told her that he needed to take blood and urine samples from her, she became enraged. Mary picked up a large carving fork and advanced upon the doctor. Soper ran from the house, with Mary not far behind. He jumped a nearby fence and escaped unharmed. But later that same day, an assistant staked out the rooming house where she was staying. He watched as Mary entered and exited and soon he was able to gain entry to her room.

According to his report, it was a pigsty; unsanitary beyond words and covered with dog feces and urine stains. The assistant told Soper that he would not be surprised if typhoid bacteria was propagating in the filth. Soper made an arrangement to meet with Mary again, and this time he brought along a friend, Dr. Raymond Hoobler. Together, they tried to explain to Mary their suspicions that she was a carrier of typhoid, and that by her unsanitary habits, she was spreading the disease wherever she went. "Dr. Hoobler and I described the situation with as much tact and judgment as we possessed," Soper later wrote. "We explained our suspicions. We pointed out the need of examinations which might reveal the source of the infectious matter which Mary was producing" (Soper 6). But Mary was strong-willed and adamant as well. She wouldn't listen to reason. She refused to believe Dr. Soper and would not submit to an examination.

True to her belief that she was not a carrier of typhoid, Mary went back to work. She continued to cook for the same Park Avenue family much to the dismay of Dr. Soper and the health authorities. Why her employer didn't terminate her at this time is unknown. But clearly something had to be done. If Mary was allowed to remain working as a cook, there was no telling the amount of damage she could do. And if she should disappear and get a job in a public restaurant somewhere, the results could be disastrous.


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