Friday, June 24, 2022

June 24, 1882: Incest and Abortion in Michigan

On June 10, 1882, a wealthy 62-year-old farmer named James T. Phillips brought his daughter, 20-year-old Ruth Phillips, from their home to another farm near DeSoto, Wisconsin, where his two older daughters lived.

Ruth took violently ill. On June 13, she delivered stillborn twins. 

A few days later she made a shocking deathbed statement to her sisters: she said that their father was the father of the twins, and that he had used instruments on her to cause the abortion that killed the twins and was soon to take her own life.

Ruth died on June 24, and was buried on the 26th. 

"After the death and burial," says the July 26, 1882 Vernon County Censor, "suspicion of foul play having been around in the neighborhood, Phillips was arrested, the body disinterred, and a post mortem examination had by Dr. Gott."

The autopsy showed that Ruth had died from uterine inflammation, though there were no marks of instrumentation that the doctor could find.

Phillips. a native of Wales, was arrested and jailed pending $1,400 bail (a little over $11,000 in 2022).  "There is much excitement in the community where Phillips lives, and open threats of lynching in case he secures bail."

"The crimes is the most terrible one that can be conceived, and if Phillips is proven guilty, no punishment that the law provides for such offenses can prove adequate."

Phillips had been tried fifteen years earlier for committing incest against another of his daughters, but was acquitted in that case.

Lynching turned out to be unnecessary. Phillips hanged himself in his jail cell on August 5, 1882. This leads me to believe that the abortion had really taken place, since a mere incest case hadn't been enough to lead him to suicide 15 years or so earlier.

Watch "Jailhouse Suicide" on YouTube.


No comments: