Monday, December 24, 2012

Four Christmas Eve Deaths

All of the women whose deaths we commemorate today died from criminal abortions, three of them at the hands of physicians and one at the hands of a surgical nurse who was clearly getting support from a physician.

>On December 24, 1908, 38-year-old homemaker Christina Pearson died in Chicago from compilations of an abortion. Dr. L. A. Mueller was held by the coroner, but for reasons not given in the source document he was not charged.

In 1928, Roy E. Hardesty won an award of $5,000 for the death of his wife, Arretta. At the age of 31, she had sought an illegal abortion and died on Christmas Eve, 1924 as a result, leaving her husband to raise their three children. Arretta paid a physician, John T. Martin, $10 for the abortion, which was performed surgically. After returning home, Arretta expelled the dead fetus and took ill. The surgeon came to her home to provide follow-up care, but within 48 hours, Arretta was dead.

On Christmas day of 1934, the nude body of a young woman was found in a thicket near a highway south of New York City. Laura and Joseph Devine, whose 19-year-old daughter, Loretta Wilson, had been missing since December 19, contacted authorities and were able to positively identify the body. When an autopsy revealed the cause of death as abortion, Loretta's husband of two years indicated that he had not even been aware that Loretta was pregnant. Dr. John H. Becker Jr., who admitted to having examined Loretta on December 17, was charged with homicide in the death. He denied performing the abortion.

Over the years, many details of the Jacqueline Smith case have been lost, and the remaining story often is dismissed as an urban legend. But strange and macabre as the story is, it was all too true. Jacqueline Smith, age 20, moved to New York and took an apartment with two other women early in 1955. Her boyfriend, Thomas G. Daniel, arranged for 46-year-old scrub nurse, Leobaldo Pejuan, to perform an abortion at Daniel's apartment on Christmas Eve. After performing the abortion, Pejuan became alarmed at the young woman's condition, and summoned Dr. Ramiro Morales, who told him that Jackie was dead. Daniel and Pejuan cut Jacqueline's body into pieces and took it to Pejuan's home, and cut into as many as 50 pieces, which they wrapped in Christmas paper and disposed of in trash cans along side streets off Broadway, from 72nd to 80th. On December 30, Jacqueline's father came looking for her, and at first Daniel said she was missing, then that she had committed suicide, but eventually he confessed.

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