Monday, January 13, 2020

More Information on the 1927 Death of Fern Howe

A recent newspaper search led me to additional information on the abortion death of homemaker Fern Howe. She died at Brownsville Hospital, Fayette County, Pennsylvania, at 3:00 a.m. on January 13, 1927, just 18 days after her 27th birthday. 

That her husband, 30-year-old Joseph C. Howe, was cruel to her was obvious to anybody who observed the goings-on. They had been married only about six months when Fern discovered that she was pregnant. Fern's family members all spoke up against him. The witnesses to his callousness included Fern's brother H.H. Walker and his wife, Fern's sister Mary McCoy, and Fern's mother, Barbara Walker. 

According to her family members, Joe  bought "a red liquid" and forced Fern to drink two doses of it, they said. After the abortifacient had done its work Fern developed sepsis, which triggered heart problems. When Fern took to her bed, Joe called her "too lazy" and harangued her to get up and cook his meals. Fern's sister testified that after Joe had dismissed Fern as "lazy" and refused to let her rest, the family had removed her first to her brother's home and then to the hospital at the urging of the doctor they'd brought in, LeRoy Waggoner.

There, on January 11, Fern gave a deathbed statement to a railroad detective. She told him that Joe had insisted, "We don't want children until we pay for our new house." As she lay in bed at home, Fern said, Joe had refused to even turn her onto her side so that she wouldn't choke on the blood that was flowing from her nose. The deathbed statement was taken in longhand then typed up and read back to Fern for confirmation. The deathbed statement was witnessed by a state trooper and a nurse among others.

After Fern was taken to the hospital, where she lay clearly dying, Joe took out an ad in the local papers announcing that he would not be responsible for any of Fern's debts after her death. 

Joe admitted to a detective that he hadn't wanted children but denied giving Fern the abortifacient. He was charged with manslaughter and abortion due not only to the allegation that he had made her drink the abortifacient but that he had denied her access to the timely medical care that might have saved her life.

Joe's trial, however, went in his favor. The jury found that there was no proof that he had supplied the abortifacient, and found that he had provided adequate care in the form of his mother and Fern's family members and he did eventually obtain professional medical care for his wife.

Fern, divorced from her first husband, William Hasson, left her three-year-old son motherless. Prior to her death, Fern had entrusted little Harry to the care of her sister, Margaret McCoy, and their mother. 


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