Monday, May 26, 2008

1915: Abortionist shoots dead patient to try to cover up crime

Dr. Eva Shaver was involved in one of the most spectacular and bizarre abortion cases of the century. A young Chicago woman, Anna Johnson, was found dead with a bullet hole in her head on May 26, 1915, in Shaver's home. Shaver told police that she had hired Johnson as a maid, and that the girl had committed suicide. But investigators concluded that Anna had died after Shaver had botched an abortion on her. They tore up the floorboards in the house, searching for the remains of aborted babies.

Anna's "sweetheart", Marshall Hostetler, told the coroner that he had known Anna for a year, since they'd met at a dance hall. They'd planned to marry. When she discovered that she was pregnant, Hostetler had purchased abortifactient pills for her from Shaver's son, Clarence. The fetus survived this chemical assault, so Hostetler arranged for Shaver to perform a surgical abortion.

Hostetler reportedly "sobbed" and "collapsed" at the inquest into Anna's death. New coverage painted him has having been misled by Dr. Shaver and her son, though he had gone into hiding upon the girl's death at one point been a suspect.

Shaver was tried for Johnson's death and the abortion death of another patient, Lillie Giovenco, in 1914.

Interestingly enough, Anna Johnson's death sparked a crackdown on midwife-abortionists rather than physician-abortionists, even though the corner's records showed both professions to be responsible for a roughly equal number of deaths in Chicago during that era.


D said...

"Anna Johnson's death sparked a crackdown on midwife-abortionists rather than physician-abortionists"

This does not surprise me. Before the rise of pro-lifism, the main argument against abortion was "offenses against the person," with "person" meaning "body." Back then, anti-abortion people saw themselves as protecting women from quacks. Midwives were probably easier to frame as quacks than doctors.

Christina Dunigan said...

If you read more contemporary commentary you'd see that there was a dual concern for both the mother and the baby, with a presumption that a woman would have to be nearly mad with desperation to do something as horrible as have her baby killed.

Unlike today when the presumption seems to be that there is nothing any woman alive wants more than a shredded fetus flushed down the garbage disposal on her behalf.