Monday, February 09, 2015

Three Pre-Legalization Deaths

I have few details on the first two abortion deaths from this date, and a lot on the third.

On February 8, 1919, Ruth Fragale, a 20-year-old clerk, died at her home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her mother, Clesta M. Cochran, and her sister, Delorous F. Mischler, said that Ruth had taken ill on Sunday, February 2, but had insisted that she was not sick enough to need a doctor.  Clesta sent for Dr. Thomas C. VanHorne on February 4. He was caring for Ruth, with her mother and her sister by her side, when she told him that she'd used instruments on herself on February 1 and 2 to try to cause an abortion. An attempt about two weeks earlier had failed. VanHorne continued to attend to Ruth daily until peritonitis finally killed her, leaving her husband, Frank, widowed.

profile of a middle-aged woman with short, curly hair
Dr. Lou Davis
Dr. Lou E. Davis was tried three times for the February 8, 1934 abortion death of 27-year-old Gertrude GaesswitzThe first trial resulted in a hung jury, the second in an overturned conviction. Davis was acquitted in the third trial. Davis was implicated in five other Chicago abortion deaths: 27-year-old Anna Adler in 1913,  26-year-old Mary Whitney in 1924, 22-year-old Anna Borndal and 23-year-old Esther V. Wahlstrom in 1928, and 24-year-old Irene Kirschner in 1932.

On February 7, 19-year-old Nancy Ward, a student at the University of Oklahoma, and her boyfriend, Fred H. Landreth,  flew from Oklahoma to Kansas City and visited Dr. Richard Mucie at his ear, nose, and throat clinic. Mucie examined Nancy while Fred waited, then told the couple that he would contact them at their hotel. At 11 p.m., Mucie called and arranged to pick them up and drive them to his clinic. He took Nancy back for the back room while Fred waited in the outer office. About 20 to 30 minutes later, Mucie, dressed in a surgeon's gown, returned to the front office and asked Fred for money, $400, before starting the procedure. Mucie came out about every half hour to change the music on the phonograph, but didn't speak to Fred until about 7:30 on the morning of February 8, when he came out and asked Fred if he wanted to come back and see Nancy.

An attractive young woman with a bright smile and a page-boy haircut
Nancy Ward

Fred went with Mucie into the office and saw Nancy lying on a couch with a cover over her. Fred said, "Hello," to her, and though Nancy didn't speak, she smiled and moved her hand. Mucie told Fred that Nancy was still sedated. Fred drank some juice that Mucie gave him, then went back to the waiting room to nap. He was awakened at about 11:30 that morning by Mucie's porter. Mucie told Fred that Nancy had suffered a heart attack and was in shock and had been taken to the hospital. He told Fred that he would come back for him, then went back into his office. Fred went looking for him and followed the sound of his voice to a back room, where Mucie was lying on a cot, talking on the phone and saying something to the effect of needing to call the coroner and filling out a death certificate.

Stunned, Fred went back to the waiting area. Mucie came out a few minutes later, told him that Nancy had died, and that they needed to stick to the story that the couple had been traveling through Kansas City and had called him because Nancy had started to have chest pains.

It was around that time that the ambulance arrived. The driver and attendant found Nancy on a cot. Mucie told them that she still had a pulse, and instructed them to take her to Osteopathic Hospital and administer oxygen en route. Nancy's hand, clenched into a claw, had blood on it. Mucie wiped off the blood. The ambulance driver and attendant lifted Nancy and found that she was already stiff, and of course had no pulse.

Snapshot of middle-aged man in a fedora
Dr. Richard Mucie
It was 1:00 p.m. by the time the ambulance arrived at the hospital. The doctor there found no pulse and noted that she'd clearly been dead about four hours. He called Mucie, who told him that he'd been treating Nancy for about two weeks for a heart condition. Nancy's body was taken to the morgue, where a detective observed the autopsy, noting needle marks on her arms, buttocks, and left breast and taking custody of the uterus and the skull and upper spine of a fetus of roughly 4 1/2 to 5 months gestation still in the uterus. Most of the remainder of the fetus, consisting of a shoulder blade, upper arm and shoulder joint, and part of a collar bone, was found in the trash at Mucie's clinic.

The autopsy found abundant evidence of the abortion, including stains from antiseptic on Nancy's upper thighs and genital area, a 1/2 inch tear in Nancy's uterus. The condition of her uterus, heart, and other organs indicated that she had gone into shock and died at the clinic at about 9 a.m. February 8, in spite of Mucie's attempts to resuscitate her. She had bled to death.

Mucie dropped the story that Nancy was a cardiac patient when the case went to trial. Instead, he admitted that somebody had called him in early February to arrange an abortion for his son's girlfriend from Oklahoma, and that he'd said that the pregnancy was too far advanced. The man had called back with a revised estimate of the pregnancy. Mucie said that he'd told the man that he'd charge $4 to examine the girl and see how far advanced her pregnancy was.

He said that after he'd examined Nancy and verified that she was 4 1/2 to 5 months pregnant, she had become distressed, saying that this would "kill" her father, and threatening to kill herself. He gave her some Vistaril to calm her then took the couple to the hotel. Nancy, he said, had called him some time after midnight, crying and hysterical. He agreed to meet the couple at his clinic.

Once there, he said, Nancy had said, "I had to do it, I just had to do it." He said he'd examined her and found fetal and placental tissues protruding from her cervix. He then prepped her and completed the abortion she had started herself. He insisted that he'd lied to everybody about Nancy's pregnancy and abortion in order to avoid giving her father a shock.

Mucie was convicted on June 8, 1968, of performing an abortion "not necessary to preserve the life" of the mother. Illegal abortion at that time carried a penalty of 3-5 years, with the sentence to be increased in cases where the mother died. Mucie served 14 months then was released on parole. Parole was set to expire on July 27, 1977. His medical license was revoked on May 4, 1971. After Roe v. Wade overturned Missouri's abortion law, Mucie successfully appealed his conviction and got his license restored under a ruling that madeRoe retroactive in Missouri. He was released from probation and his record expunged of the manslaughter-abortion conviction. Ironically, Nancy's fatal abortion was retroactively declared legal on the grounds that the state's "interest in maternal health" did not allow Missouri to have prohibited Mucie from performing it.

Robert Dale Crist, who would later go on to kill three of his own abortion patients, was one of the people who testified in Mucie's behalf to get his conviction thrown out and his license restored.

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