Virginia Watson #30s #1950s #california #infection SUMMARY: Virginia Hopkins Watson, age 32, died on November 29, 1954 after an abortion perpetrated in her California home by lay abortionist Roger Brenon.
Virginia Hopkins Watson, an Illinois native, had been on a record-setting relay swimming team with Esther Williams in 1939, and had herself set the world's fifty-meter record in 1938.
Virginia was 32 years old and pursuing a Hollywood career when she became pregnant in 1954.Deciding that a baby would hurt her career, Virginia arranged to have an abortion on November 18.
Her husband, Arthur, learned of the pregnancy and the abortion a few hours before Virginia's death from peritonitis at General Hospital in Los Angeles, California on November 29.
In an information filed by the district attorney of Los Angeles County, Roger Fred Brenon was charged with the abortion murder of Virginia Watson on November 29, 1954. It was also alleged that defendant suffered a prior conviction of felony, conspiracy to commit abortion on November 12, 1953.
Dr. Frederick Newbarr, chief autopsy surgeon for the coroner of Los Angeles County, testified that he was in association with Dr. Cefalu when the latter performed an autopsy upon the body of Virginia Watson on November 30, 1954. That the cause of death was as follows: "local peritonitis, bronchopneumonia, purulent pericarditis; due to: septic penetration of uterine wall; due to: procedures to produce abortion.
Hemorrhage was noted in the uterine area and there was an opening through the uterine wall. A pregnancy was present."
In Dr. Newbarr's opinion the penetration of the wall indicated that some instrument had been introduced and had caused a perforation. The deceased's medical history disclosed that there was an induced abortion November 18th, followed by bleeding and vomiting; that a fetus was possibly passed the following day; that on November 26th the deceased had difficulty in breathing and was removed to the California Hospital; that on November 29th she was transferred to the General Hospital.
Arthur Watson, husband of the victim, testified that he lived with his wife and the latter's mother. The witness and his wife had been married some 10 years. She was 32 years of age at the time of her death.
Prior to her fatal illness his wife's health had always been good. She was a swimming teacher. Until defendant's visit to the premises on November 18, 1954, Mrs. Watson had never consulted a doctor. Mr. Watson had seen defendant a number of times before November, 1954. Mr Watson further testified that on November 18, 1954, he returned home at about 5:30 p. m. His wife was there. She told him defendant was coming over. The latter arrived at around 8 or 8:30 p. m. Mr. Watson admitted him to the living room where Mrs. Watson was. The latter requested her husband to leave the room.
Feeling that the occasion "concerned a personal matter" on the part of his wife, Mr. Watson complied.
When defendant arrived, he was carrying a small bag, perhaps a foot or a foot and a half long. Before leaving the room, Mr. Watson had no conversation with defendant. His wife said that she wanted to be alone and that everything was all right. In referring to defendant, Mrs. Watson used the name Dr. Rogers.
Mr. Watson went to the kitchen and also to the bedroom where his mother- in-law was resting. She had been ill. At one time that evening when Mr. Watson was in the kitchen he saw defendant there. They had no conversation. Mr. Watson saw defendant sterilizing some instruments, that is defendant was boiling them in a pan on the stove. Mr. Watson saw an instrument which looked something like a vaginal speculum (an instrument normally used by the medical profession for insertion into the private parts of a woman to bring the cervix into view).
Mr. Watson saw defendant in the kitchen at a later time. The latter was washing his hands in the sink. Mr. Watson also heard a "clinking noise" on the sink. He had not yet gone back into the living room.
Mr. Watson next saw defendant in the living room on the occasion when the latter was leaving. Defendant had been at the premises approximately one-half an hour or three-quarters of an hour.
Mr. Watson observed that his wife was sitting on the sofa and was wearing a dressing gown. She asked Mr. Watson to write a check for $150. He did so, writing it to "cash," and handed the check to defendant, who took it and left, opening the door himself. Mr. Watson had had no conversation with defendant concerning money.
In the summer of 1952, Mr. and Mrs. Watson had been living at 1535 North Las Palmas, just down the street from where they were in November, 1954. Mr. Watson had a similar transaction with defendant at that place. The latter came to the house and Mr. Watson paid him a similar amount as on November 18, 1954. Mr. Watson was out of the room during the time anything was done to his wife on that occasion in 1952. "... [M]y wife wouldn't allow me around. This is entirely her own doing. She wouldn't have me around at all. She asked me to leave the room." On that occasion, Mrs. Watson referred to defendant as Dr. Rogers. She told Mr. Watson that defendant was a doctor and had studied medicine, and this was all that Mr. Watson knew about it.
Subsequent to the occasion of November 18, 1954, Mrs. Watson became ill. She was very much upset due to her mother's illness. As Mr. Watson recalled, his wife commenced to vomit the following night. Mr. Watson attributed it to the upset in connection with his wife's mother. His wife said she was fine and did not want a doctor. She did not return to work.
It was perhaps the following night after defendant's visit that Mrs. Watson asked her husband to get her some sanitary pads. It was about November 27th that Mr. Watson took his wife to a doctor, because she had trouble getting her breath. Following the doctor's examination, Mr. Watson took his wife to the California Hospital. Because of his wife's particular condition, it was suggested that she go to the General Hospital. She was hospitalized at the latter place, where she passed away.
In connection with the testimony of Mr. Watson it might be noted that when called as a witness for the prosecution he, through his attorney, claimed the privilege of not testifying on the ground of self- incrimination and asked that he be permitted to avail himself of the benefits of section 1325 of the Penal Code. The court issued its order directing him to testify, thereby granting him immunity from prosecution for the offense charged against defendant.
Police Officer Herman Zander was one of the investigating officers in the case at bar. He testified that about 11 p. m., on December 2, 1954, he had a conversation with defendant in a room at the Los Angeles city hall. That the conversation was free and voluntary and without any threats or promises. Officer Zander asked defendant if he knew Virginia Watson (the victim, who had been a swimming instructor at a club). Defendant stated that he might have known her, that he had been to the club many times when his father was a member but had not been there the past two or three years, since his father had dropped his membership.
Defendant said further that he might have met Mrs. Watson in the bar or one of the clubrooms but that he had no clear recollection of having known her and that he did not recall her at the time. The officer then asked defendant if it was not a fact that Virginia Watson contacted him sometime before the evening of November 18, 1954, that Mrs. Watson told defendant she believed herself pregnant and wished to terminate the pregnancy, that defendant agreed to do so, and went to Mrs. Watson's home on Las Palmas at about 8 p. m., November 18, 1954, that while he was there defendant inserted a catheter into Mrs. Watson's uterus, through which he introduced a solution containing tincture of green soap for the purpose of causing a miscarriage, that such miscarriage was not necessary to save Mrs. Watson's life, and that for all of this defendant received $150.
Following these statements of Officer Zander in the form of a question, defendant said, "I never used ... a catheter before; I always used a small glass syringe."
Officer Zander also testified that during the conversation and when reference was made to Mrs. Watson's death, defendant said, "Is that what you want to talk to me about? Do you think I had something to do with her death?" to which the officer replied, "Well, I think you might have some information on it or might know something about it," whereupon defendant stated, "I don't know anything about it."
Defendant further stated to Officer Zander that he was not at Virginia Watson's home on November 18, 1954. Defendant did not testify at the trial or offer any testimony in his own behalf.
The sole ground advanced by appellant for a reversal of the judgment and order is that the judgment of conviction is contrary to the law and the evidence in that the only evidence incriminating appellant is that furnished by the victim's husband and that there is a total absence of any legal evidence in the record corroborative of the testimony of the husband who allegedly was an accomplice.
On the date in question, Mr. Watson arrived home about 5:30 p. m. His wife informed him that appellant was coming. He admitted the latter and observed he was carrying a bag. He acceded to his wife's request that he leave the room because he felt "this was a personal thing on the part of my wife." The witness observed appellant sterilizing some instruments in the kitchen and later washing his hands. At the request of his wife, the husband wrote a check for $150, payable to "cash," and which he delivered to appellant. That following his wife's death, and when he received the cancelled check from the bank, he destroyed it.
When the witness was later interrogated by police officers he did not tell them that appellant was at his home on November 18, 1954, and several times he disclaimed knowledge of his wife's condition. When called as a witness at the trial of appellant, Mr. Watson availed himself of the constitutional protection against self-incrimination.
We are satisfied that the evidence in the case at bar does not establish that the husband, Mr. Watson, played an active part in the transaction and was, therefore, subject to prosecution for the offense charged against appellant and accordingly was, as a matter of law, an accomplice within the purview of section 1111 of the Penal Code. Since the evidence did not conclusively establish the relation of Mr. Watson to appellant as that of an accomplice, the trial judge was free to determine that question, and to conclude, as he did, that section 1111 of the Penal Code was not applicable.
During the 1940s, while abortion was still illegal, there was a massive drop in maternal mortality from abortion. The death toll fell from 1,407 in 1940, to 744 in 1945, to 263 in 1950. Most researches attribute this plunge to the development of blood transfusion techniques and the introduction of antibiotics. Learn more here.
For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion
|Virginia Hopkins Watson|
- New York Times 12-1-54
- People v. Brenon, Crim. No. 5485. Second Dist., Div. One. Jan. 30, 1956
- "Ex-Swimming Champ Dies Following Illegal Operation," Arizona Republic, Dec. 1, 1954
- "Feared Child Would Hurt Career," Lubbock Evening Journal, Dec. 1, 1954
- "Under Arrest For Abortion," Centralia (WA) Daily Chronicle, Dec. 18, 1954
- "Abortion Victim's Mate Forced to Talk," Long Beach Independent, Dec. 18, 1954
- "Convicted in Watson Death," Des Moines Register, 11 May, 1955
- "Man Is Found Guilty of Abortion," Blytheville (AR) Courier News, 12 May, 1955
- Death certificate
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