Friday, May 26, 2023

May 26, 1915: Bullet in the Head Fails to Distract From Abortion

A Shot Fired in the Night

Anna Johnson
Shortly after midnight on May 27, 1915, a man named Willis Harvey contacted Chicago police to report a dead woman in the home where he lived with Dr. Eva Shaver and her son, Clarence.

The dead woman was Anna Johnson, a 25-year-old hairdresser from Ludington, Michigan. She lay in Clarence's bedroom, with his revolver clutched in her left hand and a bullet wound in the right side of her head.

Two bullet holes marred the walls of the room.

Dr. Shaver told police, "Miss Johnson came to my home eight days ago. She said she was from Ludington, Michigan. She wanted work and I employed her as a maid for $5 a week. She spoke to me only a few times and never mentioned her relatives or anything about being despondent."

Shaver continued, "I sent her to a drug store for cotton late yesterday afternoon, and when I returned I went out to make a professional call. When I got back at 6 o'clock in the evening Harvey told me that he had found her dead body in my son's room." 

Another witness, nurse Anna Bratzenberg, would later corroborate part of Shaver's story at the inquest. She said that she had gone to Shaver's house for an appointment at 5:30 the evening in question. Bratzenberg waited about fifteen minutes until Shaver arrived home. "Harvey whispered something to her. She looked scared. I asked her what was the trouble and she said, 'A girl roomer has just blown her brains out.' I didn't want to get mixed up in something like that, so I left."

Not a Suicide

Dr. Eva Shaver

At first, Coroner's Physician Reinhart issued a statement that Anna, about six weeks into pregnancy, had died from the results of an abortion perpetrated two days earlier. He noted that there was very little blood from the bullet wound, indicating that it was inflicted after death. Later he changed his mind, and decided that there was enough blood from the head wound to indicate that Anna had been alive when the bullet was fired into her brain. Anna was already moribund when the shot was fired.

Whether the shot was fired before of after Anna's heart had stopped beating, the fact that the gun was in Anna's left hand but the bullet wound on the right side, it was clear that she had not shot herself. The coroner's jury concluded that the shooting had been an attempt to hide the fact that an abortion was the true cause of death.

The coroner's jury was unable to determine which of their three suspects fired the shots: Clarence, Dr. Shaver, or Willis Harvey.

Investigators tore up the floorboards in the house, searching for the remains of aborted babies.

The Motive for the Abortion

Anna Johnson
and Marshall Hostetler
Anna's "sweetheart," Marshall Hostetler, collapsed three times when telling his story to the coroner's jury. He was a salesman who had met Anna at the Columbia Dance Hall. After they'd kept company for a year, they got engaged to be married. Eight months into the engagement,  Anna discovered that she was pregnant.

Hostetler testified that he had offered to marry her right away, but Anna didn't want anybody to think they had only married because of the pregnancy. A letter from a woman named Helen, found in Anna's room after her death, indicated another motive for an abortion. It read, in part:
Don't do anything rash, and when you get married, get married right. You have oceans of time for this married bliss stuff. Don't get married too soon; it will mean good night to all your times.
Regardless of her motive, Hostetler described how Anna wanted to proceed. "She asked me if she couldn't take some drugs or something to relieve her condition. I said, 'No, don't take any drugs. You are nervous now, and drugs may have a bad effect on you.'"

The Family Concoction Fails

Clarence Shaver
A few days later, Hostetler encountered Clarence Shaver on the elevated train. The two were already acquainted. 

"I confided in him about Anna's condition," Hostetler testified. "He told me he had a medicine he was about to put on the market that would fix Anna fine." That night, Marshall Hostetler went to Clarence's office at the First National Bank building and bought two boxes of Dr. Eva Shaver's Specific Relief for Ladies, also known as "Dr. Shaver's little red and white pills." 

      Shaver's "Little Red and  White Pills"      
"There were twelve pills in each box -- nine red pills and three white pills. The red pills were to be taken one every two hours and the white once a day."

Hostetler delivered the pills to Anna, who went through two regimens of over the course of about eight days with no effect.

Hostetler reported this failure to Clarence, who showed him letters purportedly from satisfied customers. He told Hostetler that the pills could take a long time to work, as long as 14 weeks -- a claim that leads me to believe that the pills were a placebo and that the Shavers hoped that any miscarriage that occurred when the woman was taking the pills would be attributed to their product. Whatever the case, Clarence provided Hostetler with two more boxes of the pills.

When this new round of pills likewise failed to dislodge the fetus, Hostetler went back to Clarence, who told Hostetler to bring Anna to his office so he could "look her over." Clarence told Hostetler, "My mother is a doctor. She has a midwife and a nurse at her home, and we will take Anna to the the house and give her good care."

The Abortion

"I met Anna at 1 o'clock the afternoon of May 23 and took her to Clarence's office," Hostetler told the coroner's jury. He and Anna had to wait an hour because Clarence was seeing "another patient." The couple met with Clarence, who told them that it would cost $25, cash in advance. "I said, 'Clarence, you know me, you know I'm good,' and he consented to wait for the money."

                          Dr. Eva Shaver's home                         
"Clarence telephoned to his mother that night and arranged to have Anna go to her house as a patient. I took Anna to the house that same night. Dr. Shaver met me at the door," Hostetler said. "Clarence's mother said to me, 'Yes, I can take Anna in, as another patient has been cured and has left a room that Anna can have."

Hostetler left Anna in Dr. Shaver's care. "The following Monday I saw Anna at the doctor's house, and she seemed all right. Last Tuesday night I saw Anna there again. At that time I paid Clarence $10 on the bill. He was disappointed and said he expected all the $25. I talked to Anna and she told me she had taken two treatments."

"About 8:30 o'clock last Tuesday night, while I was talking to Clarence and Anna, Anna fainted and fell to the floor."

Anna's Collapse

Evidently Anna recovered from her faint and Hostetler went home. "Dr. Shaver called me up about 6 o'clock Wednesday evening and told me Anna was dead, that she had shot herself and taken her life. I hurried over there. It was 6:30 o'clock when I reached the house. I wanted to see poor Anna, but Dr. Shaver and her son would not let me. Dr. Shaver said, 'No, you can't see the body. If you want a remembrance of her you must remember her face from the last time you saw her.'"

Hostetler described the aftermath of Anna's death. "Dr. Shaver and her sons wanted me to go to Canada. They asked me to go there and stay until the whole thing 'blew over,' as they said. I was willing to go, but they didn't have the money to send me there. Dr. Shaver said to me, 'This is a serious affair. We may all go to the penitentiary if you stay here.'"

"I spoke of Anna's rings and necklace and asked if I should take them. The doctor said yes so quickly that I stopped and thought it over and said I guessed I would not. I thought it might look suspicious."

Hostetler Told to Hide

Clarence, his mother, and Hostetler pondered how to stash the bereaved young man so that police wouldn't be able to find him. "Finally it was decided I should go to a hospital, and we went to the Fort Dearborn Hospital on the south side, but they refused to take me because I was not sick and also because they wanted $25, which the doctor said she didn't have. So then we went to the Transfer Hotel at Clark and Division Streets." Hostetler went on, "The doctor said, 'You'll be just as safe here as if you were out of town. Nobody will know where you are.'" Clarence spent the night there, but was gone when Hostetler work the next morning.

Coverage of the case does not say why Marshall Hostetler decided not to hide, but instead to go to the police. 

Nurse Helen Johnson, Anna's sister, received a telegram telling of her the death from the Chicago police. Neither Helen, nor any other relatives, could shed any light on the young woman's death. Helen travelled to Chicago to bring back the body so that her widowed father, a laborer named Alexander, could arrange burial. 

Dr. Shaver on Trial

Shaver was tried for Johnson's death and the 1914 abortion death of another patient, Lillie Giovenco. As the date for the Johnson trial approached, witnesses reported death threats. Hostetler found the threats so frightening that he refused to leave police custody, even though re was free to do so, He told police at the inquest that Clarence Shaver had offered him a large sum of money with which he could flee to Canada. Hostetler said that he had truly loved Anna and was not going to leave. The threats had followed. When appearing at court, Marshall was "on the verge of nervous collapse and a physician was called to give him southing medicines." He was placed in a secret location under police guard.

Dr. Shaver was tried twice for Anna's death. The first case ended with a hung jury. 

A Strange Crackdown

Interestingly enough, Anna Johnson's death sparked a crackdown on midwife-abortionists rather than physician-abortionists, even though the corner's records showed both professions to be responsible for a roughly equal number of deaths in Chicago during that era. Part of this, Leslie Reagan believed, was due to the public perception that female practitioners were all midwives, and part was due to the political clout that physicians had but midwives lacked.

Coroner Hoffman said that 174 abortion deaths were reported to his office in two years. "These wildcat maternity homes must be driven out of Chicago, and the Chief of Police and the health department will cooperate with me to this end. I believe there are scores of midwives in Chicago who use their residences as maternity homes, despite the fact that they have no licenses to conduct such places. This is the class of criminal practitioners which must be put out of business. The patients are taken in as roomers, maids or domestics as a blind."

Police Chief Healey said that he would send two detectives with a patrol wagon to investigate possible abortion deaths in the future.


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