Saturday, December 11, 2021

December 11: When Abortion Deaths Were Taken Seriously

Dr. Amante Rongetti

   Rongetti had been born in Sepino,
Italy, in 1882. He came to the US in 
1896. He graduated from Bennett 
Medical College in Chicago in 1904 
and from Loyola University in 1915. 
He passed the examination to 
become a licensed physician on 
his third try in 1918.
   He had been investigated in 1916 
for running a diploma mill and was 
involved in a case involving the 
selling of disease germs to a Dr. 
Shepard, who had been tried and 
acquitted of using the germs to kill 
William McClintock.
   Rongetti established the 100-bed 
Ashland Boulevard Hospital in 1922.
It was a legitimate general hospital,
not merely a front for an abortion
   During the inquest into Loretta's 
death, the mayor pondered 
revoking the hospital's license.
The first man sentenced to die in Illinois's electric chair was not a typical death row inmate: he was a physician whose patient died from complications of an illegal abortion. Reporters covering the case in Chicago contended that Dr. Amante Rongetti was the first doctor in the United States ever sentenced to die over a patient's abortion death.

Rongetti had been convicted of murder in the December 11, 1927 abortion death of 19-year-old Loretta Enders and manslaughter in the death of her baby.

Loretta Enders

Loretta was the second of thirteen children born to Angeline Schulz. Loretta and four older siblings were the children of Angeline's marriage to Otto Enders, who died when Loretta was a baby. The remaining children were born to Angeline after her marriage to Thomas Kemp.

Loretta worked at Cuneo Printing Company in Chicago and lived with her mother and younger siblings.

Loretta's sweetheart, 20-year-old William Cozzi, had been studying dentistry for a year at Loyola University when he met Loretta at a Halloween party in October of 1926. They were in love but became frightened when she got pregnant in the summer of 1927. They didn't want to marry and have children until after William graduated and started his dental practice. 

He went to consult with Dr. Amante Rongetti, who owned and operated the 100-bed Ashland Boulevard Hospital at 800 South Ashland Boulevard. 

"Dr. Rongetti told me that the case was pretty well along and would be difficult. He asked $500 at first (nearly $7,500 in 2020), but I said all I had was $100. He asked me what school I attended, and when I told him he said he was a graduate of the same school, so he would do the operation for $250. He said she'd be all well in ten days. I gave him five twenty dollar bills in cash and $75 later."

When Angeline Schulz left for work on the morning of November November 14, 1927, she looked in on Loretta and found her sleeping. When she returned home that evening, Loretta was gone. Unbeknownst to her, Loretta had been admitted to Rongetti's hospital

Her mother didn't see her again until she went to Rongetti's hospital on November 28. Rongetti told her that her daughter and son-in-law were being treated for syphilis. 

Angeline was at Loretta's bedside when the young woman died on December 11. Rongetti and a nurse were there as well, along with a priest, but Rongetti refused to allow the priest to be in the room alone with Loretta to hear her final confession and perform last rites.

Rongetti signed a death certificate attributing Loretta's death to rheumatic endocarditis with nephritis, made no note of any operation performed on her, and did not mention the baby.

I've been unable to determine who alerted the authorities to the real cause of Loretta's death.

The Inquest

Drama surrounding the case began with the inquest. Police guarded the homes of witnesses, one of whom reported being threatened if she testified against Rongetti. As for Rongetti, he pleaded the 5th. He was not given bail. 

After hearing testimony, the coroner's jury reached the following verdict:

We find that Loretta Enders, 19 years old, came to her death Dec. 11 from septicemia due to an abortion induced by instruments held in the hands of Dr. Amante Rongetti in the operation room of the Ashland Boulevard hospital. From the evidence presented, we, the jury, do not believe that said abortion was necessary to preserve the life of the deceased, and we recommend that Dr. Rongetti be held to the grand jury on a charge of murder until released by due process of law. We further find that the said Loretta Enders gave birth to a premature white child on or about Nov. 16, that the said child survived about 25 or 30 minutes, and that Dr. Rongetti did nothing to preserve the life of the child, and later caused it to be cremated. We, therefore, recommend that he be held to the grand jury on a charge of murder in this case also.

Harassment and Intimidation

Rongetti's first trial was a circus. Spectators milled about in the halls, trying to force their way into the crowded courtroom. Extra guards were called to clear the corridors of about 400 unruly people. 

Even before a jury had been selected, Judge Comerford sentenced Louis Painter, a former state investigator, to 60 days in jail and had the state's principal witness, Lorraine Irwin, held in a hotel by a police matron. It's hard to tell if this was to protect her from reported death threats or to keep her from skipping town. 
William Scott Stewart, Rongetti's attorney, was accused of attempting to intimidate Irwin. A threatening letter to Irwin was read into the records: "If I don't get you, somebody else will put you out of your misery."

Nurse Loraine Irwin had cared for Loretta Enders at Rongetti's Ashland Boulevard Hospital. She was the first witness called by the prosecution. She refused to answer questions at first, so the jury was excused and prosecutor Harry S. Ditchburne told the judge, "Miss Irwin gave me some remarkable information last night. She told me that she had been threatened by the defense attorney, William Scott Stewart, and that untrue accusations would be made against her to ruin her career, and that her life would be endangered if she testified against Dr. Rongetti. She said that Mr. Steward told her that he would bring two colored men in to testify against her reputation. She then was promised that if she would not testify she would be guaranteed protection and that if she were sent to jail Mr. Stewart would see that she was released."

Irwin also had qualms about giving testimony that would endanger her former boss. She said, "I'd rather serve a jail sentence than be responsible for Dr. Rongetti or anyone else going to the electric chair."

When questioned by the judge, Irwin reiterated what Ditchburne said that she'd told him. The judge reassured Nurse Irwin that she'd be protected and kept in a hotel under the supervision of a police matron. Eventually she decided that she would indeed testify against Rongetti.

Other nurses at Rongettis' hospital were also put under guard following death threats. A woman who was a friend of one of the nurses reported being attacked by somebody wanting to extract her friend's whereabouts from her. Hazel Reed, another hospital employee, reportedly had been harassed and intimidated prior to her testimony.

Loretta's brother-in-law, Frank Mesce, also reported an intense attempt at intimidation. "I was driving in my car last Saturday night and at Taylor and Paulina streets another car forced me to the curb. A man was pointing a revolver at me and, of course, I stopped. I was blindfolded and taken to an attic, were I was told to keep away from court and not to testify against Dr. Rongetti. I said I already had testified. Then I was told to drop the $10,000 suit against Rongetti and I said I knew nothing about any such suit. I finally convinced them that if my mother-in-law had brought such a suit I knew nothing about it. They released me this morning on my promise never to tell anything about the incident." 

The Testimony (Testimony from both trials combined for clarity and brevity)

Lorraine Irwin testified that she'd been in the room when Rongetti had performed the fatal abortion on Loretta, but she'd turned her head away and hadn't watched. Later, when Loretta was back in her bed, she gave birth to a living premature child. Nurse Irwin said that Rongetti put the baby in a basin under a bath tub. A few days later, after the baby had died, Rongetti told Irwin to throw the baby's body in the furnace, she said, but she had refused. 

She said that when Loretta developed a fever a few days after the abortion, she'd suggested to Rongetti that he perform an operation to treat her complications, but he refused on the ground that Loretta hadn't paid her bill. 

Lorraine also testified that Rongetti asked all of his nurses to resign the day before Loretta died.  

Frances Hausner
 testified that while working at Rongetti's hospital she had seen him perpetrate two abortions. She also testified that after leaving Rongetti's employ, she brought a friend named Mrs. Hewitt to Rongetti for an abortion. She identified a form that she said abortion patients signed when admitted that stated they were not pregnant.

Ellen Smith, Rongetti's secretary, testified that she'd seen many of those forms, at least one a day signed by female patients. She said she didn't pay a lot of attention to them but just had patients sign them when Rongetti told her to. She said that Loretta was one of those women.

Hazel Reed testified that she had seen Rongetti perform three or four other abortions, but she couldn't remember the names of the patients. When asked if the abortions were "justified" -- necessary for medical reasons -- she said, "It made no difference to me whether they were or not. That was not my business." She said that Rongetti had the women sign forms exonerating him when they were admitted, but couldn't testify as to what the statements said. "I suppose they were all the same. I didn't bother to read any of them."Reed wept often on the stand under cross-examination by Rongetti's attorney. Her final statement was that the baby had been born alive. She stood up to get off the witness stand and pitched forward, falling face down into the jury box. The judge himself picked Hazel up and carried her into his chambers. Her husband, Earl, shouted at Stewart, "You're responsible for this!" Spectators put themselves between the men and restrained Mr. Stewart. After Hazel revived, the judge returned to the courtroom and adjourned for the day after warning the jurors not to discuss the event or talk about the case. The quality of the care in Rongetti's hospital was evidently questionable. Jean Balley, a supervisor at Rongetti's hospital, said that she'd started her nursing studies at age 12 and "was graduated" at age 14. She admitted that she was only "a practical nurse." After her testimony she was taken into custody but released pending investigation into irregularities in her statements.Undertaker Simon Gildo identified the death certificate filled out by Rongetti, giving the cause of death as "rheumatic eondocarditis and chronic nephritis." He corroborated the testimony of Loretta's relatives that Rongetti promised verbally to pay $400 towards the funeral and "throw in $25 worth of flowers."Dr. William D. McNally and Dr. E. R. Le County both testified that they had gone to Holy Sepulcher Cemetery, where Loretta's body had been exhumed, and performed a postmortem examination on February 21, 1928. They found no evidence of either a heart problem or nerve problem as Rongetti had noted on the death certificate. Both declared that an incision Rongetti made in Loretta's body had started the infection that eventually killed her. Dr. Samuel S. Epstein, the coroner's physician, also described the autopsy and said that Loretta had died of "septic peritonitis following an abortion." Others who testified included Julia Marcdante, Loretta's half sister; Catherine Mesce, Loretta's sister; George Maloney, Loretta's half-brother, and his wife, Clara; Marie Lullo, Loretta's sister; and Thomas Kemp, Loretta's step-father.The DefenseIn spite of all the drama, Rongetti himself remained calm. "The mouselike little defendant appeared at his trial yesterday in garden party attire consisting of a light oxford gray suit, a handsome tie to match, and an ornamental handkerchief displayed from his coat pocket. At times he glanced among the courtroom crowd, which took with evident relish the recital of anatomical details, recognizing an acquaintance with the lifting of an eyebrow. Most of the day he followed the procedure with his head resting against one of his hands," noted the February 28, 1928 Chicago TribuneRongetti's attorney only made a brief defense. He said that Loretta had suffered from a disease prior to the abortion. He also offered into evidence a statement Loretta had signed when admitted to Rongetti's hospital absolving him from blame for anything that might happen to her, but the judge would not allow it to be read to the jury.He also asserted that Loretta's death had been caused by a sexually transmitted infection she'd caught from William Cozzi. However, a physician from the public health department testified that Cozzi had not been infected and thus could not have given an infection to Loretta.The State Closes

Charles Bellows
Assistant State's Attorney Charles Bellows reviewed the testimony regarding Loretta's death and told the jury, "Mete out punishment commensurate with the horror of the crime." He was asking for the death penalty. Mr. Bellows, in his closing statement, said of Loretta, "She was a young girl, blossoming into womanhood and she loved and was loved in return. Her life was sacred to her and to her family and to the community. She was engaged to marry William Cozzi, a dental student, but the wedding couldn't take place until he had finished his studies and they couldn't afford to have the baby." He said that Rongetti acted "not as a kind hearted physician doing a favor for an unmarried girl to shield her from discovery but as a man doing a deed for a price, believing the girl to be married. The child was prematurely born and later Rongetti refused to get out of bed to attend to Loretta Enders, allowing her to develop a fever. 'Throw it in the furnace,' Rongetti said to Miss Lorraine Irwin, the nurse, referring to the baby's body. She wouldn't and then he told Mrs. Hazel Reed, another nurse, but she wouldn't do that inhuman thing, either. But Rongetti got rid of the dead child. Hide, hide, hide everything -- that was Rongetti's way. Miss Irwin asked him about doing something when possibly another operation would have saved the young girl's life. 'She hadn't any money,' Rongetti replied. That characterizes him as nothing else I could say. Loretta died. This kind hearted man offered first $100 and finally $400 to the family. The man who finishes the work of this abortionist [the undertaker] tells you himself in this courtroom of the terms agreed upon. Why?"

On March 2, 1928, after 3 1/2 hours of deliberation, the jury convicted Rongetti of murder and sentenced him to death. He was found guilty on the first ballot and the other ballots were made to decide the sentence.

Upon hearing the sentence Rongetti looked stunned and said nothing even as he was returned to his cell. His wife became hysterical and began screaming. As a crowd gathered she pushed through them shouting, "Let me out!"  

Rongetti's scheduled execution date was to be April 13, 1928. His 
lawyer immediately filed a motion for a new trial. It was granted, primarily on grounds that Rongetti had not been given access to witnesses and records that he needed to prepare his defense.
Second Trial Again, drama ensued. One of Rongetti's defense witnesses was charged with perjury while the court tried to even figure out who she was. She said that she was Ebba Lou Lindquist and had been superintendent of nurses at Rongetti's hospital. The state asserted that she was Martha Lindquist, Ebba Lou's younger sister. Ebba Lou, the state said, was married to E. C. Carter Jr. and living in Pittsburgh. A dentist was to be brought in to verify Martha's identity through her teeth. Two women who had lived with Martha would be brought in to identify her. They were going to bring her and her husband to Chicago to testify at the trial. I've been unable to determine if they actually testified.Rongetti took the stand in his own defense this time. He said that Dr. Samuel Epstein, former coroner's physician, had demanded a $1,500 bribe for testimony that would enable Rongetti to avoid the murder charge, then increased the amount of the bribe to $5,000. He said that Epstein said he'd found a punctured uterus and that he himself had insisted that since he hadn't performed an operation he couldn't have punctured Loretta's uterus. He testified that several of Loretta's relatives had come to him wanting money to pay for the funeral. He told them that he'd provide $150. They told him that the coroner wanted to speak to him and accompanied him to the coroner's office, where they met Dr. Samuel Epstein, one of the coroner's physicians. Rongetti said that one of Loretta's brothers-in-law told Epstein, "Dr. Rongetti doesn't want to pay any more money." Epstein, Rongetti said, had assured Loretta's relatives, "Oh, now, Dr. Rongetti's a good fellow. He's all right," and sent the family out of the room, Rongetti said, and told him that he'd found a punctured uterus during the autopsy and that this could cause Rongetti "a lot of trouble." He offered to head off any prosecution and get Loretta's family off his back for $1,500. Rongetti said he refused to pay the bribe.Rongetti said that he told then-coroner Wolf about the exchange at the inquest but that Wolf had shouted, "I won't believe you!" Epstein called a week later, Rongetti said, and bumped the bribe up to $5,000. "[Epstein] said, 'Ain't you business man enough to know what this means to you? I want to give you a chance.' He gave me several days to think it over, then I was arrested.Rongetti's story makes little sense, since evidence of the abortion had already been brought up at the inquest and there would have been no point in trying to get a bribe from him after that.Rongetti admitted to falsifying Loretta's death certificate but did that at the request of Loretta's relatives in order to protect her name.Hazel Reed, former superintendent of nurses at Rongetti's hospital, testified that she and Lorraine Irwin assisted in performing the abortion. Several days later she was called to Loretta's room and saw the living premature baby. A juror, James H. Malone, was investigated due to his connection with a road house where a murder   had taken place two years earlier. His brother, John, was a Chicago police sergeant and he defended his brother's reputation. Several of the state's witnesses went missing and were being sought. One was nurse Lorraine Irwin and the other was Frank Mesca, one of Loretta's brothers-in-law. They had said they'd been threatened with death if they testified. A prosecution witness testified that Rongetti performed at least one abortion a day at a cost of up to $50 each. Mabel Moon, a former Rongetti nurse, testified that Rongetti had not perpetrated an abortion on Loretta.Frances Hausner testified that after leaving Rongetti's employ, she brought a friend named Mrs. Hewitt to Rongetti for an abortion. She identified a form that she said abortion patients signed when admitted that stated they were not pregnant.Ellen Smith, Rongetti's secretary, testified that she'd seen many of those forms, at least one a day signed by female patients. She said she didn't pay a lot of attention to them but just had patients sign them when Rontetti told her to. She said that Loretta was one of those women.Miss Moon testified that she was the only night nurse on duty when Loretta rang for her. She had no previous nursing experience when Rongetti hired her as a nurse. Her first duty was to clean the operating room. Then she started washing dishes. They she was trained in "floor duty" and after nine days she was assigned duty as the night nurse. Her first night alone was the first night that Loretta was in the hospital. 

Rongetti's attorney, Scott Stewart, immediately filed motion for a new trial. The legal wrangling took a while. Rongetti spent a year on death row before being released -- whereupon he was promptly implicated in the criminal abortion death of Elizabeth Palumbo, who died May 23, 1929 after an abortion performed May on 10.

Rongetti was tried again for Loretta's death in December of 1929. He was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to 14 years in Joliet. This conviction was also overturned. 
The Conviction That StuckRongetti's third trial was a fiasco as well. Nurse Irwin was expected to counter the testimony of Loretta's boyfriend, William Cozzi, who had changed his story to say that he'd taken Loretta to a midwife for an abortion two weeks before he took her to Rongetti. But instead of the expected testimony, Irwin said that the day after admitting Loretta to the hospital, Rongetti told her the midwife story.The prosecutor, Owen West, read back the testimony Irwin had given at the inquest and at Rongetti's first trial. Both times she had testified that Rongetti had perpetrated the abortion, allowed Loretta's live-born infant to die, then ordered Irwin to burn the baby's body. But for some reason at the third trial she testified that she'd brought Loretta to Rongetti in the operating room but "he didn't do anything." She said that her previous testimony – at the inquest and the two prior trials – had been perjury and that Rongetti had been framed. She also denied that William Scott Stewart had threatened her.Hazel Reed, another Rongetti nurse, did not change her testimony at the third trial. She still said that she had seen Rongetti perform the fatal abortion.
Clearly the jury believed Hazel Reed and the other witnesses pointing the finger at Rongetti. For the third time, he was found guilty. For the third time, he challenged his conviction. 

While free on bail he was charged with the May 10, 1929 abortion death of Elizabeth Palombo and was tried and acquitted. 

The state started measures to take his medical license in November of 1930 because he was still practicing in spite of his manslaughter conviction. Rongetti's attorney, Lawrence Shenders, defended his license. Dr. E. R. Le Count, Dr. William D. McNally, Dr. Samuel Epstein, Lorraine Irwin, and Loretta's mother testified before the board. 
Rongetti's challenge to his third conviction was turned down in December of 1930 and he was sentenced to 1 to 14 years in state prison. He clearly didn't serve the full 14 years, since he was back out and living with his wife when he filled out his draft registration card in 1942.Everything Rongetti did has its continuation in legal abortion practice. Rongetti was a legitimate physician who performed abortions in his hospital, assisted by licensed nurses. Babies are born alive in abortions every year in the US, and are typically sent to the incinerator with the medical waste. (Even Planned Parenthood has admitted to live births.) Abortion doctors such as National Abortion Federation member Abu Hayat have been caught refusing to provide necessary additional care if women didn't have more money to pay for it. Abortion doctors have kept patients in their facilities, keeping them from getting care elsewhere. They have kept dangerously injured patients away from their desired companions for fear of getting caught committing quackery. YouTube: Death Sentence for Criminal Abortionist

  Additional Sources:

No comments: