Wednesday, May 05, 2010

1939: Teen bride dead after abortion

It was spring of 1939. Martha Wilma Rhodes Anderson was only sixteen years old, but already she was married. And already she was unhappy in her marriage. She was sexually involved with a 26-year-old sailor named William P. Bouldin. She became pregnant with Bouldin's baby.

On May 3, Bouldin, Mrs. J.R. Scott, and a man named C.D. Radcliff drove Martha to the San Diego chiropractic office of George Parchen. Martha and Mrs. Scott went inside, while Bouldin and Radcliff waited in the car. Martha asked for George's brother Frank, who was six months into his chiropractic training. Martha consulted with Frank about an abortion and paid him $50. George was not present for this transaction.

Mrs. Scott left Martha in a room with Frank and waited in the reception area. When Martha and Frank emerged, Frank gave Mrs. Scott a bottle of medicine, telling her to give Martha some of it every two hours and to expect the girl to be in pain. He gave her one of the chiropractic clinic cards and said to call if Martha "got very sick." The medicine in question was supposed to bring about the abortion.

Martha spent the night at Mrs. Scott's home, suffering pain throughout the night. Frank came to see her the next evening. On the morning of May 5, Mrs. Scott too Martha back to the chiropractic clinic, and Frank took the girl down the hall while Mrs. Scott waited in the reception area.

At 2 p.m., Martha came out to the waiting area, very pale, bloody, and so sick she could barely speak. Mrs. Scott demanded to see Frank. He took both women to a small back room where he tried to stop Martha's hemorrhage with packing. At this point George, dressed in a business suit, came in, looked at Martha, and scolded Frank for "taking a case like that."

George questioned Frank about what he'd already done to the girl, then set to work helping Frank try to save Martha, including administering artificial respiration. It was to no avail. She died some time between 5 and 5:30.

George removed the packing, and the trio brought Bouldin and Radcliff in to discuss what to do with Martha's body. Bouldin's family was in Texas, so George suggested sending Martha's body there. He himself would sign the death certificate. Frank offered $100 toward expenses. George volunteered to run interference with an undertaker.

George told Mrs. Scott to say that Martha had fallen down the stairs and had a miscarriage, and that the visits to the chiropractic office were for back pain. She was to say that she had started to hemorrhage while at Mrs. Scott's house, and had gone back to the chiropractic office to address the bleeding.

Mrs. Scott, Bouldin, and George then drove to a funeral parlor. During the drive, George pointed out that they'd all be in big trouble if the truth got out. He reminded Mrs. Scott to stick to the story he'd concocted. He and Frank would take care of the expenses of getting Martha's body buried in Luling, Texas, in Bouldin's family's private plot.

Evidently George's anxiety about the situation loosened his tongue and set him to babbling. He told Mrs. Scott and Bouldin that what had happened to Martha was "once in a million", that he hadn't been "doing any operating" for about six months because Navy doctors had been "hot behind" him, so Frank had taken over for him. He said, "If this gets out, we will go over and I will have to take the rap."

At the funeral parlor, George spoke to the undertaker about sending Martha's body to Texas. He told the undertaker that Martha had been suffering from pneumonia and the flu, "and all of a sudden her heart had just went back on her." The undertaker asked if Martha had died suddenly or if George had been attending her for a while. George said he'd been treating her for five days. The undertaker was skeptical when he saw Martha's body; she didn't look like she'd died of pneumonia.

Nevertheless, he arranged for the transport of the body and allowed George to fill out the death certificate, which listed the cause of death as cardiac failure and contributing causes as flu and lobar pneumonia dating from May 1. George also -- either deliberately or because he'd been deceived himself -- put the wrong name on the death certificate: Martha Bouldin.

George fled the San Diego area to Oregon on May 16 with his wife and family.

Somehow the authorities got wise to what had happened and had Martha's body exhumed. Dr. Toomey, who examined Martha's body after exhumation, noted severed cervical arteries and veins, and identified this as the real cause of the girl's death.

When the case went to court, each brother blamed the other. Bouldin faulted both, Frank for initiating the abortion and George for attempting to finish it. Bouldin said that Frank "shouldn't ever have taken the case, she was too far along."

Both brothers were convicted of murder and abortion -- Frank for performing it, and George for providing everything Frank needed for his practice and for assisting afterward. They were sentenced to five years to life in San Quentin.

Lest you think that chiropractors and the like hanging out their shingles as abortionists ended with Roe, ponder some of the characters caught hawking their abortions in the post-Roe era.

For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion

To email this post to a friend, use the icon below.

No comments: