Sunday, June 19, 2016

Abortion, Murder, and Suicide

The abortion deaths commemorated today connect to other tragedies: a suicide and a murder


An Abortion and a Murder in 1908

On June 19, 1908, undertaker Thomas Graham went to the house of William C. Patterson in West Philadelphia. There he picked up the body of Patterson's 27-year-old sister-in-law, Elizabeth "Bess" Alexander Geis. The young woman, Graham was told, had died that day of Bright's disease. Elizabeth's brother, Leslie Alexander, knew that Bess had not died from Bright's disease. He went to the police, telling them that she had died from a botched abortion and demanding that they arrest Dr. William H. Heck, who had cared for Elizabeth during her final illness.


Police questioned Heck, who said that he had given Bess some medication, then came back the next morning and found that her condition had deteriorated. "I did what I could for her," he said, "but when I was called four and a half hours later she was dead. I was told that a child had been born before she passed away." Supporting the idea that Bess had died from an abortion, her body had been removed from the Haasz and taken to undertaker Sarah Elliot, who had already buried the baby under the name Elizabeth A. Wilson, child of Fred Wilson and Elizabeth Alexander Wilson. "in an obscure corner of the Franklin Cemetery." Elliot sent Bess's body to another undertaker, George Graham, who buried Bess in Mt. Moriah Cemetery.
The investigation was complicated, and in some ways derailed, on June 26, when Wilson died after drinking poisoned ale that had been sent to him via an express office. Police theorized that Bess's husband, Frederick Geis, Jr., had poisoned Heck in revenge for having caused his wife's death. However, after sorting through testimony and dates, it became clear that the poisoned ale had been purchased before Bess's death.

A Typical Chicago Abortion, 1922


On June 19, 1922, homemaker Veronica Maslanka, a 26-year-old Polish immigrant, died in her Chicago home from complications of an abortion performed there that day. The coroner identified midwife Mary Pesova as the person responsible for Veronica's death. Since there were many midwives in addition to physicians practicing abortion in Chicago at the time, Veronica's abortion was typical of those perpetrated in that era.

An Abortion and a Suicide, 1927

Headshot from a news clipping showing a white man with short dark hair and fine features, weaing a bow tie
Dr. George Slater
On Friday, June 18, 1927, Dr. George F. Slater admitted 20-year-old Anna Mae Smith to a Chicago hospital, saying that she was suffering from appendicitis. The next day, Anna died from after telling a police detective-- as well as her husband and sister -- that Slater had perpetrated an abortion on her.
A police officer went to Slater's home the following morning to inform him of Anna Mae's death and to deliver a summons to appear at an inquest. Slater calmly breakfasted with his family, sent his kids off to Sunday school, then went into the bathroom and took poison, dying in his wife's arms after telling her to look after the children. Mrs. Slater told police that he was innocent of the abortion charge and that she was certain he had killed himself over some financial problems.
This was not the first time Slater had been implicated in an abortion death. He had been held in 1922 for the abortion death of Delia Campbell and had been indicted by a grand jury for homicide on May 1, 1926 for the 1925 abortion death of 23-year-old Helen Bain.
 

1928: The First of Two Deaths Attributed to Dr. Mike Roberson

Dr. Mike Roberson was convicted and sentenced to two to five years for the abortion death of 23-year-old Miss Irma Louise Robinson, a schoolteacher from Raleigh, North Carolina. A man named M. H. Davis said that he'd paid Roberson $50 to for the abortion, perpetrated in Roberson's office on June 1, 1928. The pair had made a total of four trips to arrange the abortion, Davis said, and he had waited in the waiting room of Roberson's practice while Irma had gone back to have the abortion done. He was there, he said, when Roberson gave Irma aftercare instructions and sent her to the home of Mrs. E. E. Forsythe, who was paid $40 to care for Irma as she recovered. The next day, Irma became seriously ill and was taken to the hospital where her condition deteriorated until she died on June 19. Two doctors who examined Irma said she'd died of blood poisoning from an incomplete abortion.
Roberson was either not tried a second time or was not convicted in the second trial, because he was free in 1932 to be implicated in the abortion death of Myrtle Gardner.

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