Thursday, January 07, 2021

January 7: A Desperate Leap

Summary: Irene Michaelson died on January 7, 1922, after an abortion perpetrated by Dr. William H. Bricker, Jr. in Atlantic City, NJ.

A Wild Story

On January 5, 1922, Dr. William Mason heard a woman's voice outside the door of his house in an exclusive, upscale area of Atlantic City, New Jersey. He opened to door to find an injured young woman on his porch, clad only in a light bathrobe and stockings, trying to tell something to a passing milkman. She looked wild-eyed and drugged.

"For God's sake, let me in," he said the woman pleaded as soon as he opened the door. "I just jumped off the roof," she told him.

"You've been taking dope, haven't you?" Mason said he asked.

"They gave me a glass of black stuff to drink," she responded.

Mason said that he told her that she should have a policeman take her home. "No, no!" she reportedly shouted. "I'm afraid!"

"Afraid of what?" Mason asked.

"Dr. Bricker. I'm afraid of what he'd do to me."

She explained that she had gone to a Philadelphia address, where she was put into a car and brought to the Bricker Sanitarium, a cottage just half a block from Dr. Mason's door. The sanitarium was run by Dr. William H. Bricker Jr. "I did not know where I was going," she said.

The Police Investigate

Dr. Mason called the police. The woman, identified as Irene Michaelson, was taken to City Hospital, where she was able to tell doctors that Bricker had perpetrated an abortion. She had jumped from the building, she said, because Bricker had threatened to abandon her without care and just let her die.

Police went to investigate the sanitarium. They found a basement room fitted up with a hospital bed and normal equipment for a hospital operating room. The second floor contained beds that looked as if they had recently been occupied. 

Neighbors told the police that as the authorities had knocked on the front door, two women had slipped out the rear door. 

The woman who had opened the door to let the police in was Cassie Mitchel. She said that she worked as a housekeeper. Police arrested her.

Another woman, Mabel Frazier, was arrested, along with Bricker's wife, Etta, who had arrived during the search and given a false name to police. She was held on $1,000 bail as a material witness.

Irene's Story Corroborated

One of women arrested at the sanitarium corroborated Irene's abortion story. This woman, Carrie Riley, formerly of Philadelphia, said that she had previously worked for Bricker's father.

Mrs. Riley said that Irene had been brought to the sanitarium by car on December 30. The next day, Bricker had taken Irene to the basement operating room. After Bricker was finished with Irene in the basement, Mrs. Riley had put her to bed.

Bricker, Mrs. Riley told police, had indeed threatened to allow Irene to languish and die without medical care.

Irene's Death

Irene's desperate leap was unable to get her to the care she needed to survive. She died at 12:43 the morning of January 7 -- not from injuries sustained during the fall, but from peritonitis due to the botched abortion.

Bricker Captured and Tried

When Irene Michaelson made her desperate leap for help, Bricker was already awaiting sentencing for an abortion case in which the woman had survived. He fled Atlantic City, but was captured attempting to hide on the fire escape of his residence in Philadelphia. Authorities had concerns that Bricker might elude them by fleeing the country, as his father had done after a similar case.  

While awaiting trial for Irene's death, Bricker received a sentence of two to seven years of hard labor for the non-fatal abortion case. He made bail on that case pending appeal. He also had to pay an additional $20,000 bail for the Michaelson abortion.

The end Bricker was finally apprehended and sentenced to a term in Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary.

During his trial for Irene's death, Bricker admitted that his chauffer had driven him from Philadelphia to Atlantic City on December 30, but he denied that there was another person in the car. He offered as a corroborating witness Richard Black, a former Philadelphia city detective who were serving time for conspiracy and larceny. Black said that he'd seen Bricker in the car without a young woman.

The jury deliberated for only twenty minutes before finding Bricker guilty of performing the abortion that killed Irene and was sentenced to 10 to 15 years in prison, and fined $5,000. News coverage says, "Bricker collapsed when sentence was pronounced." He appealed, but his conviction was upheld.

Watch A Desperate Leap on YouTube.


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