Friday, December 02, 2022

December 2, 1945: Lifesaving or Criminal? Fatal Either Way

Osteopath James Unosawa, 50, of Seattle was successfully convicted of second degree murder, manslaughter, and abortion in the 1945 death of 18-year-old Beulah LeClair. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison but was released on $5,000 bond pending appeal.

He got the manslaughter conviction overturned on the grounds that the prosecution had not disproved his defense that he had been trying to save Beulah’s life.

Unosawa's Background

Mug shots of James Maceto Unosawa
Born in Japan in 1891, osteopathic surgeon Maceto Unosawa evidently assumed the Western name James upon arrival in the United States as an adult. His wife and children likewise used both Japanese and Western names. 

Even though he was registered for the draft, Unosawa had been forcibly relocated to Idaho on August 19, 1942, when Japanese Americans were placed in camps, along with his wife, May Kimiyo, and daughters, Marion Shizu, Phyllis Kiyo, and Jeanette Kazuko. For some reason Dr. Unosawa was released to live in Idaho on June 28, 1944, and permitted to work. He returned to Washington in May of 1945, but his family members were not released until July 24, 1945. 

The unfortunate racism of the time is evident in many of the headlines related to the case.

Beulah Connects with Unosawa

According to court documents, Beulah Elmira LaClair was a bi-racial white/Native American woman 18 years old from Shelton, Washington. Beulah had been healthy and able to help her sister, 33-year-old Mrs. Louise Adams, to care for her children and keep house.

On November 13, 1945, Beulah contacted a Filipino man named Leo Mayo, who was related by marriage to her sister. She told him that she was five months pregnant and “wanted to get rid of the baby.” Mayo took Beulah, along with Louise, to Seattle, where they set about arranging an abortion.

Mayo contacted a Filipino nurse, Francisca Gaudia, who worked at Providence Hospital. She in turn contacted Unosawa, whom she had known for about 15 years, and scheduled the abortion.

On November 29th, Gaudia went to pick up Beulah and her sister. Mayo gave Gaudia the $250 abortion fee (around $3,870 in 2022), and she took the two women to Unosawa, paying him $150. She later returned the remaining $100 to Mayo.

The First Visit

Gaudia took Beulah into the exam room while Louise remained in the waiting room. She and Unosawa examined Beulah and were able to detect the fetal heart beat with a stethoscope. Unosawa packed Beulah’s vagina with something supposedly intending to prevent a miscarriage.

The women returned to Unosawa’s office on Saturday, December 1, at about 9:30 in the morning. Again, Louise waited while Gaudia took Beulah into the exam room to see Unosawa.

The Second Visit

Louise later testified that prior to the second visit, Beulah had remained in good health. they had gone to shows together in the evening, and Louise had shared a bed with Beulah and been present when she was bathing. At no time did she notice any vaginal packing. Gaudia and Unosawa, on the other hand, said that at the time of the second visit Beulah was pale, nervous, and reporting that she had deliberately fallen in order to try to cause a miscarriage.

Unosawa said that he removed the packing and found extensive hemorrhage. He said he was unable to detect a fetal heartbeat so he concluded that the baby had died and again packed Beulah’s vagina, intending to stop the hemorrhage. This did not stop the bleeding, Unosawa said, she he concluded that the placenta had detached and he had to remove the dead fetus and the placenta to save Beulah’s life.

Unosawa said that he dismembered the fetus in-utero and removed as much of it and the placenta as he could, assisted by Gaudia. At around 2:30 p.m. Gaudia left to go to work and Unosawa continued unassisted. When he was finished, he put Beulah to bed in an adjoining room.

To the Hospital

At around 6:30 that evening, Unosawa, his wife, and Louise helped Beulah down the back steps and into Unosawa’s car. He drove Buelah and Louise to their hotel. At around 11:00 that night, he drove Gaudia to the hotel. She went inside to take Beulah’s temperature, which was 99 degrees. About 12 hours later, Gaudia and Unosawa returned to the hotel and checked on Beulah together. They found her ill, with a 103 degree fever. Somebody called an ambulance to take Beulah to Providence Hospital. She was admitted at 1:20 p.m. and died half an hour later.

The Autopsy

On December 3, 1945, Dr. Gale Wilson performed an autopsy. He testified that part of the fetus had been left in Beulah’s body and that her cervix was ruptured. He concluded that an incomplete abortion had been performed using sponge forceps or an antiquated obstetric hook. The autopsy report showed far more damage than that. What was left of the fetus had been pushed through a large tear, about two inches by three inches, torn in Beulah’s uterus. Her colon was severed and torn. Her abdomen was full of blood.

A few days after Beulah’s death, police questioned Unosawa at the station. He gave a statement to Officer Shorett and Captain Mahoney but did not at that time say that Beulah had done anything to try to bring on an abortion.

Something Fishy

On Christmas Eve, a messenger delivered an azalea plant to Captain Mahoney, along with an envelope containing $200 in 20-dollar bills and a note saying,

Dear Mr. Mahoney:

I would be very much thankful to you if kindly fix up my case helping my attorney Mr. Schermer.

I’ll see you again when the case is over.

Thanking you in advance for your favor.

Most respectfully yours-

Dr. James M. Unosawa

Mahoney immediately called the prosecutor and the chief of detectives. Unosawa and his attorney were called to the prosecutor’s office a few days later, whereupon Unosawa said that he had merely been sending Mahoney a Christmas gift, not a bribe. The money was given back to Unosawa.

Unosawa’s Story

Unosawa was arrested for manslaughter, 2nd degree murder, and abortion on December 11, 1945.

In March, shortly before the case was set to go to trial, Gaudia went to Leo Mayo, the man who had referred Beulah to Guadia, with $75 (slightly less than $1,200 in 2022) from Unosawa and a typed dialog reading:

“Why the girl came over to see you?

“(A) She took medicine all the time. Fell down many times. Tried to get rid of the baby inside. Lately she started to bleed more and getting weaker. This made her scare and worry, so she-came over to me to help her to take over to a doctor.

“Why did you go to Mrs. Gaudia?

“(A) She is my friend and a good nurse. So she might help me getting a doctor. About the money The girl asked me, so I gave to her. Her physical conditions. Very thin, pale, weak. Anemic. Can not do any hard work. Always complain sick. After she became familyway, she got weaker and weaker.”

Unosawa later testified that the money and the typed Q&A were a good faith expression of his understanding of the situation and his belief that Mayo saw the incident the same way.

The End

Unosawa was found guilty of all three charges and sentenced to up to 20 years in prison. Authorities promptly charged Gaudia with those same charges, for the deaths of both mother and unborn baby.

It is difficult to understand how Unosawa could have asserted that he had been trying to save Beulah’s life. If indeed she had suffered an in-utero fetal death, a responsible physician would have admitted her to the hospital for care rather than attempt a risky procedure in his office. 

Nevertheless, Unosawa won his freedom and went on to perpetrate a fatal abortion on Martha Alit in 1954.

Watch Lifesaving or Criminal? on YouTube.

Sources (my apologies for the racism of many of these headlines):

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