Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Mystery Perp and a Spectacular Murder Case

On May 26, 1950, Annis Whitlow Brown performed an abortion on Joy Joy, the unmarried mother of a six-year-old daughter. Brown botched the job, causing hemorrhage and failing to properly treat the patient. Joy died quickly from blood loss. I have not determined what Brown's profession was. Though the vast majority of pre-Roe abortions were perpetrated by doctors, Brown probably would have been identified as a physician in documents as Dr. Brown were that the case. However, not being a physician didn't necessarily mean not being trained. About half of the perhaps 10% of abortions being committed by non-physicians were done by people who did have medical training, such as nurses, midwives, and dentists. Of those abortionists with no formal medical training, most did have a physician who taught them abortion techniques, made instruments and medications available, and provided emergency care if the patient suffered complications. Very few abortionists had no training or access to medications and medical equipment.

Dr. Eva Shaver
One of the most spectacular and bizarre abortion cases of the 20th century involved a physician abortionist, Dr. Eva Shaver. A 25-year-old hairdresser from Ludington, Michigan, Anna Johnson, was found dead with a bullet wound in her head on May 26, 1915, in Shaver's in Chicago. Two bullet holes marred the walls of Dr. Shaver's son Clarence's room, where Anna's body lay. Strangely, though the revolver, belonging to Clarence, was found resting in Anna's left hand, the bullet had entered on the right. 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 and Marshall
Anna's "sweetheart," Marshall Hostetler, told the coroner's jury that they had been engaged to marry for eight months. When Anna discovered that she was pregnant, Hostetler had offered to marry her promptly, but Anna didn't want anybody to think they had only married because of the pregnancy. A few days later, Hostetler bought some abortifacient pills from. Anna took the pills according to instructions for nearly two weeks, with no effect.
Hostetler reported this failure to Clarence, who showed him letters purportedly from satisfied customers. He told Hostetler that the pills could take a long time to work, as long as 14 weeks -- a claim that leads me to believe that the pills were a placebo and that the Shavers hoped that any miscarriage that occurred when the woman was taking the pills would be attributed to their product. Whatever the case, Clarence provided Hostleter with two more boxes of the pills.

Clarence Shaver
When this new round of pills likewise failed to dislodge the fetus, Hostleter went back to Clarence, who told Hostleter to bring Anna to see his mother, Dr. Shaver, who employed a midwife and a nurse in her home. It was there, of course, that the fatal abortion was perpetrated.

Shaver was tried for Johnson's death and the abortion death of another patient, Lillie Giovenco, in 1914. As the date for the Johnson trial approached, witnesses reported death threats. Hostetler found the threats so frightening that he refused to leave police custody, even though re was free to do so,

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. Part of this, Leslie Reagan believed, was due to the public perception that female practitioners were all midwives, and part was due to the political clout that physicians had but midwives lacked.

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