Saturday, August 01, 2020

Cases For August 1: 1922, 1929, and 1991

A Muddled Case in Colorado, 1922

On August 1, 1922, 27-year-old divorcee Carrie McDonald died at the county hospital in Denver, Colorado from the effects of an abortion. She had been taken there after her friends realized that the care they were providing to her would not be enough to help her. When she was admitted, Carrie insisted that she'd been suffering from ptomaine poisoning, but an inquest was ordered over the protests of Carrie's parents.

Carrie had been living in a rooming house as Carrie Healy with a chauffeur called Ed Healy, whose real name was Ed Hanley. He reportedly had been planning to marry Carrie as soon as his divorce was finalized. He left the boarding house several weeks before Carrie's death and hadn't been seen since.

Six women were held during the investigation because police believed that they might have information about the abortion. They insisted that Carrie had told them about the abortion, perpetrated on July 7, but had been sworn to secrecy as to the identity of the midwife who had perpetrated it.

Sadie Hines, a beautician who had known Carrie for about a year, said that Carrie had spoken for weeks about arranging an abortion and had asked Sadie to give her the money, but Sadie said she'd refused.

After the abortion, Sadie said, she'd gone for a car ride with Carrie, who then told her that the baby had been born alive and that she'd heard it crying. "They" had asked if she wanted to see it, and she'd said no. After that, Carrie said, she'd known nothing of the baby's whereabouts. Sadie, however, got the impression that the baby had been killed shortly after birth.

Fort Collins police helped Denver police in the search for Mrs. Alma Dittman, age 52, suspected to have something to do with Carrie's death, though Alma denied any knowledge of the fatal abortion. She had been implicated, along with Mrs. Ida Cathcart, by Carrie's friend Margaret Lynch, who later recanted her story and insisted she'd known nothing about an abortion.

Dittman was located at Fort Morgan and brought back for questioning. Dittman said that she'd been called in to care for Carrie after a self-induced abortion. She denied any knowledge of what had happened to Carrie's baby. A search of her home had revealed surgical instruments.

I have been unable to determine the outcome of the case.

A Notorious Abortionist in Montana, 1929

B&W portrait of a white woman in her 50s or 60s, with short curly black hair, round black eyeglasses.
Gertrude Pitkanen
On August 1, 1929, 22-year-old schoolteacher Violet Morse, of Anaconda, Montana, died at 638 Montana Avenue in Butte, Montana. She was found dead in a room that she had been renting for several days from Mrs. Grace Ybarra, the owner of the house.

Her death certificate, attributing her death to myocarditis (a heart condition) was signed by Gertrude Pitkanen, who was listed as the attending doctor even though Pitkanen was actually a surgical nurse and a chiropractor.

Violet's father requested a coroner's inquest, which revealed that Violet had actually died of complications of an induced abortion. With abortion illegal, this meant that Violet's death was a homicide, and a new death certificate was issued.

Pitkanen insisted that she had only been called to Violet's bedside after her death. She said that she just forgot to notify the coroner. Interestingly, it had been Pitkanen -- who admitted to knowing that Violet was pregnant -- who sent Violet to the Ybarra house to rent a room. One of the Morse family friends said that Pitkanen had told him as well as Violet's family that she had given Violet "tablets."

Undertaker Sam White, who would have a responsibility to report a suspicious death, indicated that he didn't think there was anything suspicious about being asked to take Violet's body out the back door of the house, since this, he said, wasn't unusual.

With no way to verify that Pitkanen had performed the abortion, she was simple censured for failing to notify proper officials about the death, as well as for falsifying the death certificate.

Pitkanen had begun her career as an abortionist by serving as an assistant to her husband, Dr. Gustavus Pitkanen. When he  was jailed for sedition in 1917, his wife took up the curette.

Pitkanen was also charged with the abortion deaths of Margie Fraser and Hilja Johnson.  Violet's abortion was unusual in that it was likely performed by a nurse, rather than by a doctor, as was the case with perhaps 90% of criminal abortions.

Safe and Legal in Michigan, 1991

Documents regarding the death of Ingrid Thomas, age 28, indicate that her uterus was perforated during a safe, legal abortion. Ingrid developed acute peritonitis, and died at Botsford General Hospital August 1, 1991, several days after the abortion.

Other prolife activists in Michigan indicate that it was not Kanu Virani, as has been usually reported, but rather Roger Kusner, who perpetrated the fatal abortion. Since Dr. Virani was a medical examiner it is possible that his name on a document confused a researcher at some point.

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