Joy Joy1950, kansas, 1950s, hemorrhagedeathSUMMARY: On May 26, 1950, 25-year-old Joy Malee Joy died in the Hutchinson, Kansas home of lay abortionist Annas Whitlow Brown from complications of a botched abortion.
The Dead Woman | At The Brown Residence | What the Nurse Had to Say | Other Witnesses | Court Testimony About the Death | The Verdict | Right Back in the Saddle | The Appeal | Joy’s Little Daughter | Buying Her Way Out | Context
The Dead Woman
On May 26, 1950, Phil Johnson of Johnson and Sons Funeral Home in Hutchinson, Kansas got an emergency ambulance call for a sick woman at the home of Annas Whitlow Brown. He arrived at 7:30 p.m. and was directed through the garage into a large basement bedroom. There, lying on the bed atop a stained bedspread, he found an apparently lifeless young woman clad in blue jeans and a blouse. Brown explained the dead woman’s presence by saying that she had come from the liquor store next door and had asked to use the rest room. Johnson quickly took the lifeless woman to Grace Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
The young woman was 25-year-old Joy Malee Joy, a divorced woman living in the tiny town of Cunningham, Kansas, about 45 miles southwest of Hutchinson.
An autopsy found a four or five month normal, uninjured fetus. The placenta showed injuries, raggedness and tearing, evidence that somebody had used instruments of some kind to try to cause an abortion. The placenta had been partially detached, causing severe hemorrhaging. Though the bleeding alone would have been enough to kill Joy, it also seemed that she might have started to vomit, then inhaled some of the vomit during a coughing spell caused by the severe cold that Joy had at the time of the abortion.
In court, one of the doctors who had performed the autopsy indicated that it was “possible but not probable” that the abortion had been perpetrated someplace other than where the ambulance driver had found her.
Interestingly, though Joy had been found lying on a bloody bedspread, her jeans were not particularly bloody. She evidently had been re-dressed after her death.At The Brown Residence
Annas Whitlow Brown
A deputy sheriff and police captain went to the Brown house at about 9:00 p.m. Brown showed the a bedroom on the first floor as the place where Joy had died. Police, having heard differently from the ambulance driver, told her that they knew better. It was then that she took them to the basement. There they found a recently washed bedspread hanging in the utility room. Her explanation to the police about the dead woman was that Joy had started coughing, so she’d given her a peppermint candy and a glass of water and let her lie down for a while.
In Joy’s purse, police found a business card that listed Brown and her phone number. On the back, in pencil, was the name “Margaret Dowdy” and a phone number. Mrs. Dowdy turned out to be a registered nurse who didn’t have a regular job but instead cared for Brown’s abortion patients in her home. She had been a nurse for 33 years.What the Nurse Had to Say
When questioned, Dowdy said she never knew names because Brown only identified patients by their home towns. She had known the dead woman as “the girl from Pratt,” the town where Joy worked. Brown had told her that “a girl from Pratt was going to stay with me a few days.” The only other information Dowdy had about Joy was that she lived with her young daughter and mother in Cunningham. Dowdy had been notified on May 18 to be expecting “the girl from Pratt” soon.
The day of the abortion, Dowdy said, Brown had called her and said that “the girl from Pratt” would be staying with her that evening. “She called again in a few minutes, about 15 minutes, and said the girl was sick and had turned blue and would I come right out.”
Arriving at the Brown house, Dowdy went to the basement rec room, where she found Brown. “Mrs. Brown told me the girl asked to use the bathroom, h ad a severe coughing spell and then asked to lie down on the bed again. She gasped a few times and she was gone. There was a large red spot on the bed.”
Dowdy was upfront with the police about her involvement in Brown’s abortion practice. She’d never seen Brown use instruments, though she knew doctors used them to perform abortions. She herself wasn’t an abortionist, she said. “I’ve never done an abortion. I just do the cleaning up, the after care.” The women would sty at her home for three or four days. “I keep them in bed and feed them. I determine when they are ready to go.” The women, she said, paid her ten dollars a day. The only medicines she would give were aspirin and laxatives.
“In case they get sick do you call a doctor?” the police asked.
“I’ve never had that happen,” Dowdy replied.
Dowdy was far more reticent once Brown’s trial started, to the point where she was treated as a hostile witness. Under cross examination by one of Brown’s lawyers, Dowdy ended up admitting that she had previously worked for a doctor who had been arrested for perpetrating abortions.Other Witnesses
Frank Annett from Pratt, Kansas, said that Joy had approached him about a month before her death, hinting that she might be pregnant. About a week later she asked to borrow money.
Joy’s mother, Mrs. Lewis, wept as she said that Joy had called her on Friday, saying that she was going to a shower for a friend and would be late getting home. She had known that Joy had a cold but hadn’t known that she was pregnant.
R. T. Davis, a gas station attendant, testified that a woman he later identifies as Joy walked into the station at 6:30 p.m. on May 26, asking to use the phone. He had overheard the woman ask about coming over for an appointment and telling the person she was speaking to, “I’ll be right over.” he then saw Joy get into her car, drive over and park across the street at Brown’s house, and go inside. “She looked hale and hearty to me,” he said.Court Testimony About the Death
The trial featured dueling testimony about exactly how Joy had died.
Neither the prosecution nor the defense noted any evidence of any possibly abortifacient poison in Joy’s stomach, ruling out abortifacients as a cause of the young woman’s death.
The defense asked Dr. L. C. Murphy, who had assisted in the autopsy, to draw a diagram on a chalkboard of how an abortion was performed. This wasn’t the smartest move on the defense’s behalf, since it allowed Murphy to clearly illustrate how the fatal damage to the placenta had happened. Murphy asserted that it was this damage, and the catastrophic bleeding it triggered, that had caused Joy’s death.
Dr. G. A. Chickering, the county coroner, didn’t think that the bleeding itself was the direct cause of death. He postulated that because of the bleeding, Joy had gone into shock and asphyxiated on mucous in her throat.The Verdict
The information from the ambulance driver, the nurse, and the police sargeant was presented at a funeral home over a 2 1/2 hour period. The coroner’s jury of six men took only 13 minutes to conclude that Joy had died from an abortion perpetrated by Annas Whitlow Brown. She was charged with first-degree manslaughter.
Additional and more detailed testimony presented at trial. The jury had three possible verdicts:
- Guilty of first degree manslaughter, with a penalty of five to 21 years in prison
- Guilty of abortion, with a penalty of a fine and/or jail sentence
- Not guilty
The judge instructed that to find Brown, they had to find:
- That Joy had been pregnant with a living embryo
- That Brown had used instruments to perform an abortion
- That the abortion resulted in Joy’s death
- That Joy had not yet felt the baby move prior to the abortion
The defense took three simultaneous approaches which, since they pretty much contradict each other, probably did as more harm than good:
- Joy had not bled to death from an abortion; she had coughed up and choked to death on some mucous.
- Brown was being persecuted for acting in kindness. “It is unfortunate that Mrs. Joy placed herself in a situation in which she needed help. Mrs. Brown is being tried for attempting to help an unfortunate out of her troubles.”
- Dowdy, not Brown, had been the one “helping” Joy by perpetrating the abortion.
The jury found Brown guilty of first-degree manslaughter. She was given an indefinite sentence at a women’s prison farm.Right Back in the Saddle
While out on bail pending appeal of her conviction for the death of Joy Joy, Brown was arrested for perpetrating another abortion which left a girl from Great Bend in critical condition. Because the girl survived, the charge would be only a misdemeanor, so authorities waited until finding out if Brown’s sentence would be upheld before pursuing charges on the non-fatal abortion. The Appeal
Brown appealed, arguing, among 16 other claims, that she was not charged properly. Kansas law at the time made it first degree manslaughter to perpetrate a fatal abortion prior to quickening, and second degree manslaughter if the fetus has passed quickening. She argued that the prosecution had not proved that Joy had not yet felt the baby move.
Brown’s attorney presented a witness, Lena Gilmore, who claimed that the day after her daughter had died, Joy’s mother had said to her that she’d known that Joy was pregnant and that Joy had felt the baby move. She added that Joy’s mother had said to her, “I feel like I’m to blame for sending Joy to Hutchinson to see some nurse.” Joy’s mother had also, the witness claimed of Brown, “When I get through with that old lady, I won’t have any more worries, because she’ll pay plenty.”
The only thing that Gilmore’s testimony accomplished was bringing a perjury charge down on her head; one of her claims about why she had called Brown about the “new evidence” turned out to be demonstrably false. Brown’s appeal was rejected.Joy’s Little Daughter
Joy’s daughter, Vicky Lee, five years old at the time of her mother’s death, was brought to all of the proceedings. She’d been brought to the inquest, the hearings, and the trial. During all of those proceedings, she turned six.
After Joy’s death, a custody battle ensued to see who would raise Vicky Lee.. Vicky Lee had been living with her mother in her grandmother’s home at the time of Joy’s death, and her grandmother wanted custody. Vicky Lee’s father sued for custody but eventually lost.
Joy’s mother filed suit against brown for $15,000 on behalf of Vicky Lee for the loss of her mother. Since Brown had transferred almost all of her property to her daughters, there was probably not much chance of the courts granting that money to Joy’s daughter. The county attorney parrying Brown’s appeals didn’t expect those cases to have any impact on the suit on Vicky Lee’s behalf.Buying Her Way Out
Brown was paroled on August 20, 1955 after making a $15,000 payment under a law I can’t decipher. She boasted that she was “buying her way out.” Authorities denied that she was given an early release, nothing that she had gotten released six months after serving the possible minimum sentence.
Brown went back to perpetrating abortions. She was convicted in July of 1968 for perpetrating an abortion on a 19-year-old woman. The conviction was thrown out because the original complaint was signed by a judge’s clerk and not by the judge himself.Context
During the 1950s, we see an anomaly: Though maternal mortality had been falling during the first half of the 20th Century, and abortion mortality in particular had been plummeting, the downward trend slowed, then reversed itself briefly. I have yet to figure out why. For more, see Abortion Deaths in the 1950’s.
For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion
- 171 Kan. 557, 236 P.2d 59 Supreme Court of Kansas. State v. Brown No. 38342.Oct. 6, 1951
- “Charge Manslaughter,” Hutchinson (KS) News-Herald, May 28, 1950
- “State Moves Swiftly In Brown Trial,” Hutchinson (KS) News, Nov. 16, 1950
- “Nurse Tells Of Patient Care,” Hutchinson (KS) News, Nov. 17, 1950
- “Technicalities In Death Case,” Hutchinson (KS) News, Nov. 18, 1950
- “Claim Abortion Was Not Cause Of Death,” Hutchinson (KS) News, Nov. 20, 1950
- “Manslaughter Case Is Handed to Jury,” Hutchinson (KS) News, Nov. 21, 1950
- “Claims Jury Was Guilty Of Misconduct,” Hutchinson (KS) News, Nov. 24, 1950
- “Mrs. Brown’s Plea For New Trial Denied,” Hutchinson (KS) News, Dec. 1, 1950
- “Annas Brown In Strong Bid For New Trial,” Hutchinson (KS) News, Dec. 18, 1950
- “Preliminary Waived By Lena Gilmore,” Hutchinson (KS) News, Feb. 14, 1951
- “$15,000 Suit Against Annas Brown,” Hutchinson (KS) News, Sept. 8, 1951
- “Conviction of Annas Brown is Approved,” Hutchinson (KS) News, Oct. 7, 1951
- “Room for Changes in Parole Laws,” Garden City (KS) Telegram, Sept.24, 1956
- “Abortion Charge Out,” Kansas City (MO) Times, Oct. 29, 1968
- 19th century
- abortion mill
- abortion mortality
- abortionists — female
- abortionists — male
- black women
- botched abortion
- delay in transport
- delay in treatment
- district of columbia
- dumped body
- falsifying forms
- fetal indications
- former criminal abortionist
- george tiller
- hemorrhage death
- illegal – doctor
- illegal – midwife
- illegal – nurse
- illegal – paramedical
- illegal – post roe
- illegal – unknown
- illegal – untrained
- illegal abortion
- inadequate documents
- inadequate equipment
- inadequate resuscitation
- incomplete abortion
- legal abortion
- maternal indications
- maternal mortality
- national abortion federation
- new jersey
- new mexico
- new york
- north carolina
- planned parenthood
- pre-roe legal
- previous misconduct
- questionable stories
- secret abortion