Tuesday, January 28, 2020

January 28: From 1867 to 1974

Unable to Hide the Crime in 1867

On January 29, 1867, Dr. Edward Dalton of the New York Metropolitan Board of Health received notice that Civil War widow Elizabeth Kimball  had died at her home the day before. One of the city coroners, Robert Gamble, provided a certificate he had signed indicating that he'd held an inquest in which it had been determined that Elizabeth had died "from injuries received by a fall on the 22nd day of January, 1867." A permit was provided to remove her body to Providence, Rhode Island, for burial. Dr. George Beakley had signed the death certificate as the attending physician.

However, another inquest was held by George Wrightmann after Elizabeth's body had been sent to the cemetery in Providence. This inquest, performed on March 14 in the receiving tomb of the North Burying Ground, revealed that Elizabeth had died from injuries to the uterus caused by an abortion performed with instrument on or about January 24. Wrightmann concluded that Beakley had falsified Mrs. Kimball's death certificate, and that Robert Gambell had falsified documents as well -- that no coroner's inquest had in fact taken place in New York. In fact, the circumstances surrounding Mrs. Kimball's death and the documentation afterward had been so suspicious that the Sanitary Superintendent had refused a New York burial permit, thus necessitating the burial in Rhode Island.

Dr. Beakley, under oath, finally conceded that he had falsified the death certificate -- that he'd known that Mrs. Kimball had died of abortion complications. However, he denied having been the guilty doctor. Eventually Sarah Coggshall, who had lived with Mrs. Kimball, had testified under oath she had accompanied her cousin to Dr. Beakley's office, that she and Mrs. Kimball had awaited the doctor there, and that clearly Beakley knew her on sight, since he greeted her by name when he arrived. Sarah testified that Mrs. Kimball had admitted that the doctor had performed an operation on her, and that she expected to be sick that night as a result.  Beakley was summoned several times to attend to Mrs. Kimball until her death.

Tried to Implicate Estranged Husband in 1911

On January 28, 1911, 18-year-old homemaker Lillie Hirst died in the Chicago residence of Dr. J. L Aldrich. Prior to her death Lillie said that her estranged husband had kicked her down the stairs at her mother's house. When the police arrested him for his wife's death, William Hirst he told them that Lillie's death was not due to a fall but due to an abortion Aldrich had perpetrated.  A postmortem examination and inquest concluded that Lillie had indeed died from septicemia caused by an abortion that had been perpetrated less than a week prior. Dr. Aldrich and Mrs. Treshelling were held by the Coroner's Jury and indicted, but the case never went to trial for reasons I have been unable to determine.

Midwife Implicated in 1912

On January 28, 1912, 28-year-old homemaker Mary Balogh, an immigrant from Hungary, died at the practice of midwife Anna Klickner from an abortion perpetrated there the previous day. Klickner was arrested at the scene but escaped. She was captured on November 26 and indicted on December 15. Klickner was charged with murder but the case never went to trial for reasons I have been unable to determine.

Self-Induced in 1918

On January 28, 1918, 27-year-old Annabella Lewis, a homemaker, died in at West Penn Hospital in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. The autopsy concluded that she had performed a self-induced abortion using slippery elm bark. She had told her husband, Albert, about the abortion, but had denied even being ill to anybody else until her admission to the hospital. She lingered there for about 17 hours until her death.

Doctor Threatens Dead Woman's Family, 1943

Lavern Perez, age 22, died at her home in Chicago on January 28, 1943. Dr. Henry Gross, age 58, was found guilty of manslaughter by abortion. He later won a new trial. The prosecution presented Gross as having a dual personality. Gross had a respectable medical practice. However, after a Dr. Ira Willits died, Gross set up shop in Willits's old office as an abortionist under Willit's name. It was at this office, Lavern's mother-in-law, Olga Perez, testified, that Gross perpetrated the fatal operation. Mrs. Perez said that Lavern had paid an office attendant $60 for the abortion.

The day after Lavern died, Mrs. Perez said, Dr. Gross appeared at her home with a gun, which he used to threaten both her and her son. They wrestled the gun away from him, whereupon he begged for the weapon back so he could kill himself. Gross had insisted that he'd only been treating Lavern for a cold. However, he was also investigated for the February 20, 1943 abortion death of Dorothy Webber, age 20.

Lay Abortionist, 1947

Kerneda Bennett, though living with her husband in Harrisonburg, Virginia, was pregnant as a result of an extramarital affair. She asked her friend, Irene Davis, to help her arrange an abortion. The two of them visited  Iva Rodeffer Davis Coffman at her home at Mt. Crawford early in January of 1947. Coffman took Kerneda into a bedroom. "When they came out," according to legal records, "Mrs. Coffman told Mrs. Bennett to come back if nothing had happened in fourteen days, and if anything was said about why they were there to say they came to have a dress made."

About two weeks later, on January 27, Kerneda "had not had the result expected," asked Irene to contact Coffman again. The two of them took a taxi back to Coffman's home about 7:30 on the evening of January 28. While the taxi was waiting, Coffman took Kerneda back into the bedroom. About fifteen or twenty minutes later Irene thought she heard something fall. A few minutes later, Coffman told her that Kerneda had fainted and asked her to come back to the bedroom. Irene found Kerneda lying, groaning, face-down on the floor beside the bed, dressed except for her shoes and coat.

Coffman said that they needed to get Kerneda to a hospital. Irene summoned the taxi driver, who carried Kerneda out to the cab, with instructions from Coffman to say they had been to Mt. Sidney, not Mt. Crawford. Kerneda, who had been nearly lifeless when loaded into the taxi, was dead on arrival at the hospital.

That night Coffman's home was searched, but nothing of evidential value was found. Coffman told the sheriff that Kerneda had asked to use the bathroom, and was shown to the bedroom, and asked for a glass of water. Coffman said she'd brought Kerneda the water, which she had used to wash down two pills from her purse, joking that they were poison. A few minutes later, Coffman said, Kerneda fell onto the floor.

The Harrisonburg/Rockingham County coroner, Dr. Byers, performed the autopsy assisted by Dr. Hill. They found no evidence of external injuries except for a small genital scratch. A piece of tissue from the placenta was in the cervix, a small blood clot was in the vagina, and the uterus was in place, appearing at first to be a normal pregnant uterus with no signs of injury. Upon removing the uterus, the doctors noted a sensation as if the organ contained air. They opened the uterus and found an intact pregnancy with a fetus of about three to four months of gestation.

Byers concluded that an abortion had been attempted, which had caused a fatal air embolism. After the embolism killed Kerneda, the baby died as well. Coffman was convicted of performing the fatal abortion and incarcerated to serve a five year sentence. Coffman appealed. Since the abortion attempt itself had failed to kill the fetus, Coffman's attorney argued, Kerneda's death was not a result of an abortion. The state argued that the attempted abortion had killed Kerneda, whose death then caused the fetal death, and thus the abortion did in fact cause the death of the fetus. Thus the conviction was upheld.

Safe and Legal in 1974

Evangeline McKenna, a Louisiana native, was 38 years old when she checked into Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Los Angeles for an abortion and tubal ligation. Two days after the procedure, she had a seizure. She stopped breathing and went into cardiac arrest. Doctors told the family that Evanegline was brain dead, but they held out hope and asked that she be put on life support. On January 28, 1974, after twelve days on life support, Evangeline was pronounced dead. She left behind five children. Evangeline's death, in addition to being a tragedy for her family and loved ones, also highlights the disproportionate damage that legal abortion causes among Blacks in the United States.

Though black women are only 13% of the female population in the US, and though they are more likely than white women to oppose abortion, they account for a full 35% of legal abortions reported. Black women, like Evangeline, also account for fully 50% of reported legal abortion deaths.

No comments: