SUMMARY: Janice Easterbrook, age 20, died May 18, 1958 after an abortion perpetrated in Arcadia, Nebraska by Dr. Harry Werbin.
Janice Easterbrook, who was 20 years old, lived with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Easterbrook in Arcadia, Nebraska. Two doctors in Nebraska had already told them that Janice was pregnant, and the family traveled to Kansas City, Missouri for a third opinion from Dr. William M. Korth. With lab tests and an exam, he confirmed that Janice was about 3 to 3 1/2 months pregnant. Korth later testified that there had been no signs of either health problems that would prevent Janice from carrying to term, or that anybody had tried to tamper with the pregnancy.
With this confirmation of pregnancy, the Easterbrooks went to 49-year-old Dr. Harry Werbin‘s office to try to arrange an abortion. He was closed for the day so they returned the next morning, May 16, 1958.
The receptionist greeted them and made an appointment for them to meet with Werbin at 11:30 that morning. The Easterbrooks told Werbin that they wanted him to do “whatever was necessary to keep her from having the baby.”
Werbin took Janice into his office to examine her, then consulted with her parents, explaining that he charged $100 per month of pregnancy, so the charge for Janice’s abortion would be $300.
The parents asked Werbin if the abortion would be dangerous, but he assured them that he wasn’t having any “bad luck,” and that a day or two after the abortion Janice would be able to continue on a trip through the Ozarks with her family. Mr. Easterbrook handed $300 to his wife, who handed the $300 to their daughter, who handed it to the doctor.
Werbin asked when they wanted the abortion done, and Janice said, “Now is as good a time as any.” Werbin took her back into his private office. About ten or fifteen minutes later, Janice emerged, not seeming ill, but with some blood drops on her shoes. Werbin took her back into his office, and instructed her mother to go down to the drug store and buy some Kotex.
When Mrs. Easterbrook returned with the Kotex, the parents asked Werbin if Janice should go to the hospital, and he said, “No. Let’s leave the hospitals out of it. I know how to take care of it, and what to do.” He gave Janice some medication, and gave her parents one of his cards, on which he’d written the name of the U-Smile Motel on Highway 40.
Janice returned with her family on Saturday morning, May 17, per Werbin’s instructions. Werbin took her back into his office for about fifteen minutes. When Janice emerged, she was crying and told her parents, “He hurt me.”
That evening at the motel, Janice began to vomit violently. Her mother called Werbin, who demurred at first, but came to check on his patient once her mother insisted. He came back and forth to the motel several times, spending more and more time on each visit, staying there most of Saturday night. Janice was sick and in a lot of pain, and Mrs. Easterbrook again suggested taking Janice to a hospital. Werbin reassured the parents that it was not uncommon for women to be in Janice’s condition after an abortion. He used a curved instrument about ten inches long to remove some tissue from her vagina.
On Sunday morning, Janice got up to use the toilet, where she passed a mutilated fetus about six inches long. Her parents summoned Werbin, who summoned Dr. Richard Mucie to assist him at about 11:00 a.m. Janice’s parents were alarmed that she appeared blue and was breathing rapidly. Werbin and Mucie held a quiet conversation that the parents couldn’t overhear, then Mucie picked Janice up and carried her out to Werbin’s car, telling her parents to caravan with them to Independence Hospital.
After driving about six miles east, Werbin did a U-turn, and the Easterbrooks lost him in traffic. Werbin went to General Hospital, where he met Joseph L. Connors, a non-physician and deputy coroner, at about 3:10 p.m., telling him that the dead woman in his car was a patient he’d been called to treat at the U-Smile for hemorrhage.
Mucie testified that Werbin had called him in to assist in treating a botched self-induced abortion at the motel, and that Werbin had performed a curretage to remove tissue, while Mucie had given her medications to stimulate circulation. Mucie concluded that Janice had died from an embolism, possibly air or a clot lodged in the heart or lungs. He said that the reason they’d not taken Janice to Independence Sanitarium was that Independence wasn’t friendly to osteopaths.
The Jackson County Coroner, Dr. Hugh H. Owens, performed the autopsy that afternoon, May 18, and found ample evidence of a pregnancy and an abortion performed with instruments. Janice’s uterus had been perforated, and Owens concluded that she had bled to death.
During Werbin’s trial, Earnest Easterbrook admitted that he knew he could be charged with a crime for helping to arrange an abortion for his daughter. He said that his lawyer had advised him to place the blame on Werbin in order to avoid prosecution. He did assert, however, that although he was very ashamed of himself, “It was the doctor’s fault. It was certainly no fault of ours.”
Werbin was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to two years. His sentence was upheld on appeal.
- “Osteopath Charged in Abortion Case,” Jefferson City (MO) Post-Tribune, 20 May, 1958
- “Father Heard in Trial,” Kansas City (MO) Times, Oct. 13, 1959
- “K.C. Osteopath Guilty of Death in Abortion,” Lawrence World-Journal, Oct. 14, 1959
- “Doctor Werbin is Found Guilty,” Kansas City (MO) Times, Oct. 14, 1959
- “Osteopath Convicted Of Death by Abortion,” Jefferson City (MO) Daily Capital-News, Oct. 16, 1959
- “Appeals to High Court,” Kansas City (MO) Times, Feb.19, 1960
- State v. Werbin, Supreme Court of Missouri Div. No. 1, Mar. 13, 1961
- “Conviction is Upheld,” Kansas City (MO) Times, Mar. 14, 1961