Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Bad Typing Brings Another Case to Light

While looking for new material on the 1909 death of a girl who'd been misidentified as Lillian Swing, I made several discoveries about the case, which will debut on August 15, the anniversary of Lillian's death. I also discovered an abortion death I hadn't known about.

I usually do an annual search on Newspapers.com for a five-year period in older deaths because that's usually long enough for trials and appeals to run their course. But instead of typing in 1909-1914, I accidentally typed in 1909-1924 and stumbled across the death of 18-year-old Frances Guest. Lillian's name was in the news coverage because the prosecutor hoped to have her mother testify about Dr. Robert J. C. Hamilton's history as an abortionist.

Frances was a clerk in the shipping department at Evanston Women's Christian Temperance Union. Sie died on November 19, 1922.

Frances' sister, Mary Kramer, testified that she had brought Frances to Hamilton's office and dickered over the cost of the abortion. Hamilton wanted $35 ($533 in 2020 dollars), but Mary only had $25 so they left. Mary apparently had availed herself of Hamilton's services, since she declined to answer if she had done so.

Frances' sister-in-law, Elizabeth Guest, said that on the day of the abortion she'd waited in Hamilton's waiting room for about half an hour. She also said that she'd seen the baby.

"When [Frances] came out," Elizabeth said, "she was jubilant and joked a lot on the way home. That was on a Tuesday in October. The following Sunday she was very sick. I came into her room while she lay on a couch ill."

Dr. John D. Brix testified that Frances's mother, Myra, had called him and asked him to come to the home and care for Frances on several occasions between the abortion and her hospitalization. Brix said that Myra told him that the abortion had been performed by "Dr. Hamilton, with offices on Belmont avenue near Halsted street." Brix said that he knew which doctor Myra meant. Dr. I. H. Chilcott, who had cared for Frances at St. Francis Hospital in Evanston, testified about her death. Dr. J. N. Goltra, the coroner's physician, testified that Francis had died from blood poisoning. Hamilton's defense argued that the blood poisoning might have been caused by a pre-existing condition.

Frances reportedly made a deathbed statement implicating Hamilton.

Hamilton perjured himself on the stand by contradicting sworn statements he had made during the inquest. As he was leaving the stand, Frances's mother came forward and testified that she and other relatives withheld or modified their testimony in return for $450 in cash ($6,800 in 2020 dollars) and a promise of $450 more if the verdict was for acquittal. W. C. Dannenberg, an investigator for the defense team, dickered with Myra over the amount of the bribe. Myra's confession was substantiated by banking records and other relatives. This testimony caused an outburst in the courtroom.

Jury deliberations were contentious, nearly devolving into a fistfight before finally voting for acquittal as the original five jurors voting for conviction were swayed. "We agreed in our arguments before we balloted that Dr. Hamilton probably committed an abortion on Frances Guest," said the jury foreman. "We did not try him for abortion, but for murder. There were too many doctors who treated the girl; there was too much time between the operation and the death; and there were jurors who were influenced by the fact that a penitentiary sentence for Hamilton really was a life sentence. There was too much reasonable doubt as to whether he caused the death."

I've found no evidence that any of the involve parties -- including George Alf, believed to be the baby's father -- were charged with any crimes.


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