MOUNT VERNON — Abby Novel and two friends spent Monday morning picketing the office of Knox County Prosecutor John Thatcher. Novel was there to, as she put it, give her mother justice.
Novel’s mother, Carrie Mulligan Gallwitz, died Aug. 20, 2007, under what Novel believes are mysterious circumstances. Gallwitz was 85 years old at the time of her death.
“She was in very good health,” Novel said about her mother. “Even though she was old, she could still jump rope, she could walk a mile. It didn’t make sense to me that three hours after I left her she was in a paralytic state with head trauma.”
Novel said she received a phone call the night of Aug. 20, 2007, from her step-father, Glen Gallwiz, who is now deceased.
“He called me at 9:30 that Sunday night and he said ‘Mamma’s not feeling good.’” Novel recalled. “I asked him what happened and he said ‘Oh, I don’t know. She says she’s dying.’ I asked to talk to her and he told me she couldn’t talk and she couldn’t breath. I told him I’d be right there.”
Novel feels her stepfather and his family seemed unconcerned and had not called 9-1-1 for her mother. Novel called 9-1-1 and was asked if she new how to perform CPR. Novel said yes, and was told to administer it until the squad arrived. Again, Novel said, there seemed to be no real concern on the part of her step-father or his family during this time.
Her mother was transported to Knox Community Hospital, where she later died. Novel was asked if her mother had fallen, because there was some trauma to the head. Novel told the hospital she didn’t think so. She was told her mother had a severed brain stem. The death was listed as being of natural causes.
Novel said she is suspicious about her mother’s death because she and her mother were to see her mother’s attorney the next morning to change Gallwitz’s will. Novel also said her mother was planning to divorce her stepfather.
“I’ve tried for two years to go through the proper channels, but to no avail,” Novel said. “My attorneys didn’t want to handle the case, so I filed a report through the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, only to be told to let it go because my mother was old.”
Novel hired two private dectives to meet with the sheriff to get an investigation started. She said she tried to get former Knox County Coroner Dr. Jeff Bowers to perform an autopsy, with Novel agreeing to pay for it.
“He refused, saying the county didn’t have the money to perform one,” she said. “And he told me it would cost me $10,000 to have it done [privately].
“I even tried going to Knox County Prosecuter John Thatcher,” she said. “But he rebuffed me, too.
“My mother was a sweet, generous, energetic little woman who helped a lot of people,” Novel added. “And I want to expose this injustice.”
In a written statement e-mailed to the Mount Vernon News, Thatcher said, “Abby Novel recently contacted me about the death of her mother, in 2007. I have spoken to Ms. Novel on the telephone at least twice. I was informed by the Sheriff’s Office that there is no evidence to indicate any crime was committed and Dr. Jeffrey Bowers, the coroner in 2007, determined Ms. Novel’s mother died of natural causes.
“I have advised Ms. Novel to inform the Sheriff’s Office of any new evidence that has come to light since 2007. New evidence might support opening an investigation. To my knowledge, Ms. Novel is expressing the same concerns now that could not be substantiated as evidence of a crime two years ago. While I understand that Ms. Novel is grieving for her mother, I am not aware of any reason to treat this situation as anything other than a natural death.”
Knox County Coroner Dr. Jennifer Ogle spoke about how a coroner deptermines if an autopsy should be done and how a private one may be performed.
“The coroner accepts or declines cases based on the evidence that is available at the time of death,” she said. “To accept a case as a coroner is a judgment call, and each coroner must decide alone which cases are worthy of further investigation. It is true that budgetary constraints may influence a coroner’s decision on whether or not to order an autopsy. However, if the coroner feels an autopsy is absolutely necessary to determine the manner of death, budgetary constraints would be secondary in that decision.
“Autopsies the coroner orders are paid for from the coroner’s budget [through the county general fund]. Currently, the price for a forensic autopsy is just over $1,000.
“Any family may pay for a private autopsy if they have questions about their loved one’s state of health at the time of death. I refer those interested in private autopsy to The Ohio State University,” she continued. “Private autopsies are very important for the remaining blood relatives to understand their family history and potential health risks. They are typically not covered by insurance and are paid for by the family. Autopsies in general often provide a sense of closure, which is very important in the grieving process.”