Ruth Hall #oklahoma #illegaldoctor #1930s

SUMMARY: On April 15, 1932, 21-year-old Ruth Hall died after an abortion perpetrated in the Oklahoma City practice of Dr. Richard Thacker.


The Arrangements | The Abortion | The Aftermath | The Fallout | The Appeal \


The Arrangements


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Dr. Richard Thacker
Dr. Richard E. Thacker (pictured) maintained an office and operating rooms in the Terminal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. In the early part of April, 1932, Ruth Hall of Bethany, Oklahoma, who was unmarried, went with her friends, Helen Wright and Margy Brown, to Thacker's practice.


Ruth was in good health at the time, but had discovered that she was pregnant. Helen reported that Ruth was on vacation from her job at Southwest Bell Telephone Company. Ruth's friends stayed in the waiting room while Thacker took Ruth back into his exam room for five or ten minutes. Thacker told Ruth to return at noon the following day, April 6, a Wednesday.

Ruth borrowed money to pay for the abortion. She, Margy, and Helen returned as instructed, bringing Ruth's roommate, Elma Benne, with them. The four young women awaited Thacker's arrival in his waiting room. After he arrived, Helen went into the procedure room with Ruth, while Elma and Margy waited.

Helen said she saw Ruth give Thacker money, but she didn't know how much. Ruth then got onto the table as instructed by Thacker.

The Abortion

Here is Helen's testimony regarding what happened next:
Helen testified that there were some other women in Thacker's office when she and Ruth collected their friends and went back to the boarding house where Ruth lived. Helen remained with her friend for four hours, leaving her in the care of her roommate.

The Aftermath

Helen returned to the boarding house on Thursday, and spent the night with Ruth and Elma. Ruth took ill in the night. Elma said that her friend "suffered quite a bit", and got up to use the bathroom, where Ruth passed something. Elma thought that Ruth seemed to feel a bit better after that. Both Helen and Elma observed blood on the bed at the time. Elma described it as "a spot the size of two hands".

Helen said goodbye to Ruth at 10:00 Friday morning. She never saw her friend again.

On Saturday, Ruth's brother came to bring his sister to their parents' house, as was their routine. Mrs. Hall wept on the witness stand as she told the story of her daughter's death. She reported that Ruth was sick when she arrived at about 4 or 5 p.m. It wasn't until roughly 11:00 that Ruth finally told her mother why she was ill. Mrs. Hall called Dr. Vaughn, their family doctor. He didn't provide any care for Ruth, but did consult with her mother over the phone.

Mrs. Hall then called Thacker. Here is her testimony regarding that phone call:

The Fallout

After Ruth's death, Thacker said, Ruth's sister tied to shake him down for funeral expenses. Thacker refused, on the grounds that he felt he had done everything he could for Ruth. Her sister threatened to turn him in to the police. Thacker fled to his brother-in-law's ranch near Amarillo, Texas, where he changed his name to Miller. He then relocated to Springdale, Arkansas, where he was finally appreheded. He was arrested in the afternoon, and claimed at the time of his arrest that he had been planning to return to Oklahoma City that evening.

Over Thacker's understandable, albeit unsustainable, objections, the court permitted a number of witnesses to testify that after Ruth's visit to his practice, Thacker had performed fatal abortions on Robbie Lou Thompson, Lennis May Roach, and Nancy Joe Seay Lee. The witnesses went into detail about the events, up to and including the death of each of them.

Thacker testified that Ruth had indeed come to his office, but he denied performing an abortion on her. He said that she was seeking aftercare for an abortion she had obtained elsewhere from another doctor. He did admit that he had been summoned to the Hall home by Ruth's mother, but he denied any of the statements he made to Mrs. Hall regarding having an abortion practice. He also admitted to having treated Robbie Lou Thompson, Lennis May Roach, and Nancy Joe Lee, but denied that he performed any abortions.

And for some strange reason, every member of Ruth's family who testified was grilled by the defense about why they hadn't tried to get Ruth to tell the name of her baby's father as she lay dying.

It took the jury of twelve men, eight of them fathers, only a little more than one hour and only four ballots to find Thacker guilty of murder.

The Appeal

Thacker was convicted of murder, but appealed the conviction, claiming seventeen errors in the prosecution of his case, mostly focusing on the presentation of evidence that he had performed abortions on other women. Thacker's attorneys held that this evidence was prejudicial. But the state countered that the evidence of numerous other abortions demonstrated that Thacker was a practicing abortionist and that the crime against Ruth was performed as a part of that business.

The appeal also challenged other aspects of the state's case, and boiled down to, "You didn't prove she was pregnant. And even if she was, you didn't prove that I used any instruments on her. And even if I did, you didn't prove that I used them to cause an abortion. And even if I did, you didn't prove that the abortion wasn't necessary to save her life. Not to mention you didn't prove that the abortion caused her death." The state noted that circumstantial evidence was sufficient. Thacker's appeal clearly illustrates why so many doctors who clearly were performing abortions were nevertheless not convicted, since one weak link in the chain of proof could destroy the state's entire case.

The appeal was denied, and Thacker, age 60, was sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor. He was incarcerated at McAlester Penitentiary on December 1, 1932. Despite the sentence, he did not do hard labor but instead worked providing medical care to prisoners. He died of a heart attack shortly after midnight on April 1, 1937, while at his work in the trusty building.

New York Times;


Keep in mind that things that things we take for granted, like antibiotics and blood banks, were still in the future. For more about abortion in this era, see Abortion in the 1930s.

For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion


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