Mary Wheat, aged about 30, died in City Hospital in Waco, Texas on October 8, 1899 from a botched abortion. Dr. S. M. Jenkins had admitted her there under the name of Mrs. White.
Jenkins was put on trial in her death. Witnesses stepped forward to say that he had perpetrated the abortion and tried to keep her family from finding out by having her buried without notifying her family, who lived in Holland, Texas. However, the woman to whom Jenkins had entrusted Mary’s body telegrammed Mary’s parents.
At 9:00 on the morning of December 18, Mary’s brother, 28-year-old Hugh, was the first witness called by the prosecution. He strode up the aisle of the courtroom, whipped out a pistol, and shot Jenkins in the back. Hugh dropped the gun and fled. Dr. Jenkins’ brother-in-law, John Halligan, picked up the revolver and shot at the fleeing man, striking a door frame. Jenkins attempted to return fire as well, with a revolver that had been smuggled into the courtroom for him, but he was so stunned by the bullet that he was unable to get off a shot before he was disarmed.
The judge ordered the courtroom sealed and all of the persons present searched for weapons. Several pistols were confiscated from friends of both the dead girl and the accused abortionist. Jenkin’s elderly mother ran to him and held him, stroking his hands and face, until he was removed to a hospital.
Halligan was arrested on the spot, and Hugh Wheat quickly apprehended. Halligan was released on $500 bail. Impromptu gatherings arose throughout the Waco area of people willing to chip in for Wheat’s bail.
Jenkins was immediately left paralyzed by the bullet in his lower spine, and was at first expected to die from his injuries. His defense was to be that he had performed the abortion to try to save Mary’s life and had tried to hide her death in order to preserve her reputation. A later news report said that he was expected to recover, but I have not found any more information.
- “Prisoner Shot in Court,” New York World, Dec. 19, 1899
- “Tragedy in a Court,” Des Moines Leader, Dec. 21, 1899
- “A Texas Tragedy,” Sedalia (MO) Weekly Democrat, Dec. 21, 1899
- 1880 United States Federal Census