Sunday, December 07, 2014

The Forgotten Victim of "The Angel of Ashland"

On Saturday, December 8, 1956, 26-year-old Mary Davies of New York City arrived in the Ashland, Pennsylvania office of abortionist Dr. Robert Douglas Spencer. As a physician, Spencer (pictured) was typical of criminal abortionists. What was unusual about him was that rather than sneak the woman in through the back alley, Spencer plied his abortion trade openly.

The Fatal Abortion

According to Spencer, Mary was alone, and reported that she'd been bleeding for about two weeks. He didn't examine her, but gave her medication for pain and Ergotrate to stop the bleeding. He told her to return the following day for her abortion. 

Mary returned at about 10 AM on the 9th. He administered 13 ccs. of Evipal in a 10% solution to induce anesthesia. "I injected that solution into the vein of the left arm and in ten seconds she was asleep." Spencer said that the next thing he noticed was that Mary wasn't breathing. Mary did not respond to medications intended to revive her, so Spencer attempted to resuscitate her with oxygen. He called his assistant, Mildred Zettlemoyer, into the room to assist him.

Mary still was not responding, so Spencer had Zettlemoyer call the laboratory assistant, Steve Sekunda, and tell him to come to the office. Spencer put a breathing tube into Mary's throat, but had to work blind because the light on his scope wasn't working. He resumed artificial respiration. By the time Sekunda arrived, at around 11:30, Spencer had concluded that Mary was dead.

Preparing for Trial

William J. Keuch, chief detective of Schuylkill (pronounced "school kill") County detective, said that when he'd asked Spencer what a young woman from New York City was doing in Spencer's office in Ashland, Spencer answered, "I'm well known in the east. I specialize in women's diseases." Women, Spencer told Keuch, came to him from all over.

Spencer wasn't arrested until after 12 weeks of investigation, which included sending Mary's organs to Dr. Milton Helman, a member of the New York Medical Board, for toxicology review..

When the case was finally ready to go to court in May of 1958, the entire trial was derailed when, during jury selection, one woman asked to be excused because, she said, "I served on a jury in which Dr. Spencer was involved before." This statement was considered prejudicial to Spencer, thus tainting the other jurors.


The defense seemed to be based mostly on raising reasonable doubt that Mary had actually been pregnant at the time of the abortion. Different experts testified about how they'd drawn their conclusions. The argument evidently worked. Proceeding with an abortion procedure if the patient wasn't actually pregnant, evidently, regardless of Spencer's intention to abort a viable fetus, would not be considered a crime even if the patient died

Spencer's Response

Spencer's widow, Eleanor, told author Patricia Miller that her husband had been quite stricken by Mary Davies' death. He continued to perform abortions, however, along with his regular medical practice, up until the trial.

Spencer briefly stopped doing abortions after the trial, "for a month or so," his widow said. But he resumed his business and eventually got entangled with a fellow named Harry Mace who set up a business for himself rounding up abortion patients and bringing them to Spencer. Spencer's widow lamented that Mace flooded Spencer with patients, pressuring him to rush through abortions. Spencer's health began to fail. He was arrested again, due to the attention from Mace's activities, but died in 1969 before the case went to trial.

No comments: