White, Dorothy

White, Dorothy           1920 June 25th

Grave Statements at an Inquest in Salisbury

An inquest held by the City Coroner (Mr A M Wilson) at the Council House on Friday was adjourned for a week in consequence for the need for further evidence after certain statements made by the House Surgeon of Salisbury Infirmary.

The enquiry related to the death of Dorothy White, a young married woman living at West Dean, who was taken into the Infirmary on June 2nd and died on the 16th. The jury appointed Mr James Feltham as their foreman. Mr F H Trethowan represented the husband.

Frank White, of 13, West Dean, stated that his wife was 24 years of age. He was employed on his father’s farm.

The Coroner to the witness : That is all the evidence I propose to ask you to give today.

Dr Olga Love, house surgeon at the Salisbury Infirmary, said Mrs White was admitted to that Institution on June 2nd. She saw her on admission, and was informed that she had been to London to have an abortion brought on. Witness attended her, and as a result of examination an operation was performed on June 3rd. The patient did not improve, and on the morning of June 16th she died. On the instructions of the Coroner a post mortem was carried out, when witness was assisted by Dr Walshe, another house surgeon. It was found that the abdominal organs were normal, but other organs were septic. Septic pericarditis and septic pneumonia were existent in the lungs. The body was emaciated. The woman’s condition was due to the abortion. From information given her on the patient’s admission to the Infirmary, witness was of the opinion some means had been used to secure abortion.

When asked a question by Mr Trethowan in reference to her last statement, witness said she was going by what the patient had said.

The Coroner then announced that the enquiry would be adjourned for one week, in order that further evidence might be called.

Adjourned Inquest 1920 July 2nd

An inquest held by the City Coroner (Mr A M Wilson) at the Council House on Friday occupied two and a half hours and presented some serious features.

On the first occasion Frank White, the husband of Dorothy White, gave evidence of identification. He was now re-called and in reply to the Coroner said his wife’s maiden name was “House.” She lived at the School House in West Dean. The first child was born in September, 1915, and the second in June, 1919. He was in the Army at that time, in Germany, and came home in September, 1919. He came home on leave several times. While he was away his wife lived part of the time in her own house and part of the time with her mother. She was with her mother when he returned. He did not know till the end of March or the beginning of April of this year that she was going to have another child. At Whitsuntide she went to stay in London. About a week before May 21st she told him she had written to his sister, Mrs Willis, asking if she could stay with her at her home in Blyth Road, West Kensington Park, London. Nothing had been discussed between him and her about the visit, but she said that when she was in London she would “take something.”

The Coroner : What did you say to that?

Witness : I did not say anything.

Did you attempt to dissuade her from going? No, sir.

And she actually went on May 21st? Yes.

How long was she there? She returned on the next Wednesday afternoon.

Did she say anything when she returned? She said she was not very well and went to bed. Then she called me up to her and said everything would be all right.

What did you gather that she meant? That the pregnancy was removed.

Did she tell you anything else about it? I asked her what she had taken, and she said, “Some gin.” That was all she said about it.

Answering other questions, witness said his wife stayed in bed on Thursday and got up on Friday. She seemed better until the early hours of the following Monday when she appeared to be worse, and asked him to send for a doctor. He called Dr Vivian, of Whiteparish. Mrs Weeks was with his wife when he returned and was told that the doctor had fetched her, saying that his wife was very very ill and must not be left on any account. The doctor called daily, and on the Wednesday morning left a message that he was to go to him in the evening and tell him exactly how his wife was. He went over and told the doctor that she was worse and had fainted several times. He gave him some medicine and a sleeping draught, and said he would call again the next morning. However, the doctor came the same evening, shortly after witness returned. After examining her he told him that she must go to Salisbury Infirmary. He arranged for an ambulance to take her there on Wednesday, June 2nd.

In reply to further questions, witness said that his wife told him she could not stand giving birth to another child for it would kill her. She sent away for some pills but they had no effect. It was after that that she suggested that she should go to London.

Were all the arrangements for the visit to London made by herself? Yes, sir.

Did you have anything to do with it at all? No, sir.

Had your wife been to stay with your sister before? No, sir.

Did she correspond with her? Yes, sir.

Can you give any reason why your wife suggested staying with your sister? The only thing was that she might be away from her own friends if she should be ill through taking this.

Was your wife a very determined person? She was very self-willed.

If she had made up her mind to do anything would she take much notice of anything that was said? No, sir.

Is that the reason that you said nothing when she said she should go to London? Partly, and partly because she said it would not hurt her.

Answering a juryman, witness said that his wife did not tell him what she was going to do to herself.

Dr Olga Love, house surgeon at the Infirmary. (Here a re-cap of the previous statement).

The witness now described the operation in the Infirmary, and said that there was nothing to show that an illegal operation had previously been performed. She only formed that opinion from the statement that Mrs White made to her.

The Coroner : Would it be possible for this septic condition to be brought about by natural causes? Yes.

Mr Trethowan : Could the condition have been caused by a voluntary abortion or mis-carriage? Yes.

Dr Vivian, of Whiteparish, said he was called to see Mrs White at Dean on May 31st. He found her lying on a sofa and she said she felt very weak and ill. She told him she had been to London and thought the heat had affected her. He examined her the next day when she appeared to be better, but he found her not so well on the following day. When he told her that he suspected typhoid, she started crying and said she would tell him everything. She did so, and said that when in London a woman had used an instrument on her. She said her husband’s sister performed the operation, but she did not give her name or address. He told her he thought he could not attend the case and said she had better go into the Infirmary, but she implored him not to send her there. He saw the husband in the evening and told him he could not be responsible for her any longer. She was taken to the Infirmary the same evening. She volunteered the statement about the operation. He saw the house surgeon and told her what the patient told him, but found that the patient had already told her.

PC Jefferis, of the city police, said on June 17th he saw Mrs Maude Willis at her house in London. He was accompanied by Detective Inspector Squires, of Scotland Yard. He told her who he was, cautioned her, and took a statement from her. In this she said she was the wife of Frederick Willis, a packer. She wrote to Dorothy White, her sister-in-law, and suggested that she and her husband should visit her for a week-end. Her sister-in-law replied that she would come up by herself for the week-end as her husband could not get away. She did not know before Mrs White’s arrival or during her stay of the state of her health, which seemed as usual, and she knew nothing of an illegal operation having been performed at her house. Mrs White went out for walks while staying with her, and on Whit-Monday thought she had a slight attack of sun-stroke. She never mentioned about her condition and there was no other object in the visit but pleasure.

The Constable stated that Mrs Willis paused when she reached this stage of her statement and then said that what she had said was not the truth, and that she would make a correct statement. This was to the effect that her sister-in-law had written asking for information about certain matters, and she had invited her to come up to London for the week-end, and she did so, and used a syringe and also took some pills. She showed her the use of the syringe but strongly advised her not to take any drugs. She could not induce her to stay any longer than Wednesday (although then she appeared rather ill), because she said that then her little girl was due to come out of hospital, and she wanted to get home. Mrs White had taken a bottle of gin. Mrs Willis added that she was sorry she made a wrong statement, but she was worried about the matter and upset at her sister-in-law’s death.

Answering Mr Trethowan, the Constable said that when he warned Mrs Willis as to the statement she was going to make, he told her it was suspected that an illegal operation had been performed at her house on Mrs White.

Mr Trethowan : Did you tell her she was suspected of having performed it? No, I did not, sir.

The Coroner said that was all the evidence he proposed to call.

Mr Trethowan said that Mrs Willis would give evidence and, having been sworn, she said that the statement she signed was the correct one. She was questioned by the Coroner.

How do you account for Mrs White’s statement to Dr Vivian that an instrument had been used on her by a woman in London, and that that woman was her husband’s sister? I can only think that her mind must have been wandering.

You cannot account for her making that statement? No, I cannot.

Were you on good terms with her? Very good.

And on good terms when she left London? Very good.

The first suggestion of her staying with you came from her? No, it came from me.

That was after you had received a letter from her? Yes, sir.

Have you anything to add to the statement you have made that will throw any light on the matter at all? No, I don’t think so; except that she told me she could not go through another confinement, because the doctor told her it would kill her.

The Coroner : I want to give you the opportunity to say anything further as to this statement which has been made about you? I can only say that I know nothing about an illegal operation. I cannot perform one, and I have never seen the instrument that is used for such a thing.

The Foreman : Whose suggestion was it that the syringe should be used? My suggestion.

And the reason of your doing that? Because I knew that it could not do any harm if it did not do any good.

Mr Trethowan : From what she said and did while at your place it was apparently her intention to take something? That was her idea.

While she was with you did she take any drugs or anything? Not to my knowledge.

You advised her against taking anything? Yes.

Was an operation mentioned by you or by her? An operation was never mentioned on either side.

Asked why she made the incorrect statement, she said she was frightened into it by the police coming and saying what her sister-in-law was said to have said. She was upset at her death and thought perhaps that she ought to know nothing about it. Her husband, who was present when the police came, asked if Mrs White was in a right condition of mind to make such a statement.

The Coroner then summed up. He intimated that the evidence was very conflicting, but reminded the jury that the septic condition of Mrs White could have been caused in a great many ways. With regard to her statement to the doctor he said it would not be taken as evidence in a police court, but a Coroner was allowed a certain latitude so as to enable him to get every bit of information which would assist in discovering the cause of death. It was for the jury to decide whether at the time Mrs White made that statement to the doctor she knew what she was saying. Against her statement they had the evidence of Maud Willis. It was for the jury to decide whether she would be so upset as to make a statement which she afterwards admitted was not true. He did not think the husband’s evidence helped them very much. However much they might feel that he should have taken all the steps he could to prevent his wife doing what she intended to do, however much they might condemn him in their own minds, he did not think there was anything in the evidence to show that the husband was an active party to what had happened. He certainly was a passive one. Then there was the evidence of the doctors. If the jury decided that the condition which caused the woman’s death was brought on by the administration of something noxious, with the intent to procure an abortion, and if they found it to have been done by any particular person it would be their duty, without considering what proceedings might be taken hereafter, to bring in a verdict of murder.

After considering the case in private for over a quarter of an hour, the Foreman stated that the jury had agreed that death was due to septic poisoning, but that there was no evidence to show how it had been brought about.

The Coroner : Then you return an open verdict.

The Foreman: Yes.


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