1912 : MacGregor Murder Trial Grips Ubly, Michigan

April 2, 2023 all-day

Was Dr. Robert MacGregor of Ubly, Michigan a murderer? A poisoner? A serial killer? The residents in the small Michigan Thumb town of Ubly are still split on this decision, and have been ever since 1912.

MacGregor was a modestly good-looking guy, who was admired by more than just one of his female patients. Along comes Carrie Sparling, wife of John Wesley Sparling and mother of 4 boys and a girl. Even though she was having trouble with her eyes, the doctor did a complete physical examination. Carrie must have been pretty “impressive”, for the doctor made it a point to personally make the hour-ride to the Sparling home on numerous occasions, to check on her ‘eyes’ behind her closed bedroom door.

After some time had passed, Carrie’s husband John Wesley began having excruciating stomach pains. He died just a few days later, on July 8, 1909.

Dr. MacGregor continued traveling to the Sparling home to see Carrie and help her with financial decisions. Naturally, the local gossips began talking amongst themselves and spreading rumors. One piece of advice Dr. MacGregor gave Carrie was to take out life insurance on her four hard-working boys. After all, they were working to keep the farm going and could be injured. So she did.

Not long afterward, Carrie’s son Peter began having stomach pains. In a couple of months, he was dead.

Dr. MacGregor talked Carrie into buying a new farm and moving…conveniently, it was near his office.

What next? Why, the good doc talked Carrie into adding another $1,000 to each of her sons’ insurance policies. So she did. Not surprisingly, son Albert acquired stomach pains. He threw up every day until he finally died, two years after his brother Peter.

Carrie then bought another house, which Dr. MacGregor and his wife Ida moved into and used as an office.

During August, son Cyril got his own bout of stomach pains. After he passed away, other doctors were asked for their opinions. It was determined he died from arsenic poisoning. The doctors began to declare that Carrie was poisoning her own sons in order to collect all that insurance money. After an investigation discovered a box of arsenic in Carrie’s home, that was all the proof they needed. After examining the previous bodies, they found arsenic and strychnine in their systems as well.

So if suspicion was on Carrie, why was the doctor brought to trial?

Authorities began compiling the history between the doc and Carrie and figured they better investigate this guy. They discovered that each time Carrie cashed in an insurance policy, the good doctor’s bank accounts suddenly increased.

Hmm…..did Dr. MacGregor set Carrie up?

On April 2, 1912, the trial of Dr. MacGregor began. He was found guilty and charged with murder in the first degree of Cyril Sparling. The charges against Carrie were dropped. Carrie and her son Ray moved to Port Huron, where she died in 1933. If the male Sparling deaths were in chronological order, then son Ray should have died between Albert and Cyril. However, even though some wondered about this, Ray was never accused or questioned about the murders.

In 1916, Michigan Governor Ferris issued MacGregor a full and unconditional pardon. And the controversy continues.

Following his pardon, Dr. MacGregor served as a prison doctor for the rest of his life.

Sources  :

John Robinson, MICHIGAN CRIME: The Murder Case of Dr. MacGregor, 99.1 WFMK Blog, November 23, 2020
Sparling Murders“, Murderpedia Blog.