Thursday, December 23, 2021

December 23: The Body in the Woods

Gruesome Discovery

On Christmas day of 1934, the nude body of a young woman was found "[s]tretched beneath of coverlet of Autumn leaves on an ash-strewn dumping ground" in a thicket near a highway near Patchogue, Long Island, south of New York City. The area was strewn with junk and trash. 

Somehow the young woman's body had been spotted by two truck drivers.

The young woman was estimated to have been dead between 12 and 24 hours. According to the New York Daily News, "State troopers and county authorities investigating the death believe[d] the young woman was the victim of a medical quack or a moral degenerate."

Eventually the date of death was determined to have been December 23.


Laura and Joseph Devine, whose 19-year-old daughter, Loretta Wilson, had been missing since December 19, contacted authorities. Along with Loretta's 23-year-old sister, who accompanied them to the morgue, they were able to positively identify the body. 

An autopsy revealed that she had bled to death from complications of "the performance of a homicidal criminal operation." Loretta had been about three months pregnant.

The Husband Confesses
William Wilson 
Loretta's husband, William Wilson, eventually confessed to police. Loretta had left home at noon on the 19th, telling the landlady that she was going to see a doctor. Though initially he'd denied even knowing that Loretta had been pregnant, he later said he'd paid Dr. John Henry Becker Jr. of Queens, NY, age 52, $55 for the abortion. That's a little over $1,000 in 2020 dollars and was quite a windfall to Becker, whose weekly income was typically about $45. 

He added that his wife's friend, Kay Dinger, had been present when the transaction took place.

William, whose profession is alternatively given as a chauffeur and a truck driver, had come home from work on December 19 to find Loretta not home. He assumed that she had gone to Becker for the abortion since he'd made the appointment for the 19th. He went to Becker's office and learned that she wasn't there, and the next day he reported her missing.

Oil Contractor Identifies Becker

Harold Gibson, an oil contractor from Bay Shore, Suffolk, told police that he had seen a man trying to hide behind a parked car near the dump site. He picked Becker out of a police line-up.

Becker's Denial Fails

Becker asserted that Loretta had come to his office on December 17 at 8:00 in the evening, accompanied by her husband and a young woman named Mrs. Adeline Royall. "Mrs. Wilson told me she was going to have a baby and was afraid she was suffering with kidney trouble and should not have it. I examined her, found her condition to be as she described and told her to return December 19 for treatment." He had charged $2 for the examination.

The trio then left together, Becker said. Becker said that Loretta never showed up for her follow-up appointment. 

Police searched Becker's home but found no evidence of abortion instruments. 

During a three-day trial, Becker steadfastly maintained his innocence and never changed his story even under intense cross-examination. In the end he was found guilty. On June 21, 1935 he was sentenced to between 18 months and three years in Sing-Sing.

One more note: Loretta's abortion was typical of pre-Roe abortions in that it was performed by a physician


Watch The Body in the Woods on YouTube. 

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