Saturday, April 15, 2017

Dr. Thacker's Bad Month and Other Cases

Safe and Legal in Texas, 1997

Sixteen-year-old Maureen Espinoza underwent a safe, legal abortion at a doctor's office in San Antonio on March 28, 1997. During the abortion, the doctor punctured Maureen's uterus, but didn't note this in her medical records or say anything to her about it, indicating that he simply didn't notice. Maureen was sent home. On April 3, she went to the emergency room at Northeast Baptist Hospital. Over the ensuing days, doctors there performed two surgeries to try to save her life, but to no avail. She died on April 15, 1997.

The Case that Sent Thacker to Prison, 1932

Headshot of a middle-aged white man with a high forehead, large nose, and grim facial expression
Dr. Richard Thacker
Dr. Richard E. Thacker maintained an office and operating rooms in the Terminal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. In the early part of April, 1932, 21-year-old Ruth Hall went with her friends, Helen Wright and Margy Brown, to Thacker's practice. 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, Margy, and Helen returned as instructed, bringing Ruth's roommate, Elma Benne, with them. Helen went into the procedure room with Ruth. Helen said she saw Ruth give Thacker money. Ruth then got onto the table as instructed by Thacker, Helen said, then he used a long, slender instrument and packed her with gauze.

Helen 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. 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." Both Helen and Elma observed blood on the bed at the time. 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 Thacker and scolded him into coming to her home to care for Ruth. Once he was there, she also had to scold him into sterilizing his instruments and washing his hands before performing a follow-up procedure.

Mrs. Hall reported that Thacker told her, "This is something I certainly do not approve of; I told the girl this when she came to the office and wanted help, but I could not turn her down. It seems like the more I try to help people lately the most of them get into worse trouble." He also said that if his wife knew he was performing abortions "she would kill me. I feel like sometimes going and jumping in the river, and if I had I would be better off."

Ruth's mother called Thacker again on Friday, April 15, but by the time he arrived, it was too late.

After Ruth's death, Thacker fled to his brother-in-law's ranch near Amarillo, Texas. He then relocated to Springdale, Arkansas, where he was finally apprehended.

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 Lee.

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. He appealed the conviction, but the appeal was denied, and Thacker, age 60, was sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor. He died of a heart attack shortly after midnight on April 1, 1937.

Mystery Abortion in Chicago, 1916

Homemaker Margaret Waldon, age 33, of Burley Avenue, Chicago died in South Chicago Hospital on April 15, 1916. She had been brought there by private ambulance the previous week. Her death was attributed to an illegal abortion.

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