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Death and the abortion doctor: Final chapter

In this edition of Remember This, the third instalment of the Dr. Dudley case, we learn the doctor's fate, and we learn about Mrs. Doyle's dealings with the 'red element'
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Dr. William Howard Dudley. Sault Ste. Marie Public Library archive

This is the final instalment of a three-part series recounting this history of Dr. W.H. Dudley. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here

From the archives of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library:

The day of the sentencing was a heavy one, with the judge saying it was “the most unsavory assize list ever encountered by him in the North,” according to the Globe. 

Amongst the cases that day were two men sentenced to fifteen years in prison and 20 lashes for an offense against a teenage girl. Another man collapsed in tears when he was sentenced to a decade in prison for an offense against a married woman.

Still another man was given six months in prison for bigamy.

And then, of course, there was the abortion case, which the judge referred to as “the most painful case [he had] ever tried.”

The courtroom was packed with spectators, looking to experience “what promised to be the most sensational trial the Soo had ever seen.” However, due to the confessions and corroborating statements, the proceedings were quick and efficient, leaving the crowds disappointed.

The boyfriend of the deceased girl pleaded guilty and received one year imprisonment, in part due to his lawyer’s argument that he was of “good character and reputation.” His lawyer further argued that the boyfriend “wanted to do the manly thing and marry her,” but she refused.

Dudley pleaded guilty to his charges – although when a charge implied the use of instruments, he added, “There was no instrument used.”

He received 15 years in prison, made up of two sentences running concurrently. The Globe described him as being “a broken man, unrepresented by counsel, friendless and alone.” He mumbled an incoherent reply when asked for comment; something about his military service.

The judge was hardly sympathetic, with the Sault Star reporting that he called Dudley's conduct “a disgrace to” the medical profession.

And what of Mrs. Doyle? She also pleaded guilty – initially saying “I’m guilty of having [the dead woman] in my house,” prompting her lawyer to swiftly consult with her.

She wept and begged for mercy in court. Her lawyer described how she was raising children alone, with her husband in a mental institution. Doyle had been willing to rent her house out for the abortion – but only because she desperately needed money. She was sentenced to one year imprisonment.

In 1933, Doyle was in the news again, this time for “demanding money by menace” and “writing threatening letters.” She had been pulled into an apparent communist plot, writing out letters that were dictated to her, threatening local figures with violence. In one notable case, Mayor James Lyons received a threat that his house would be bombed if he didn’t turn over $5,000.

The defense argued that she was in a fragile state of mind at the time, “greatly disturbed and beside herself with worry” over her six children.  Her children had been placed in the care of “a local institution,” presumably the Children’s Shelter, which had cared for them during the initial abortion trial.

“The red element in the city” took advantage of her desperate state, according to her lawyer.  She was hardly the mastermind behind the letters, merely a “red tool.” She received five years, to be served at the Portsmouth Penitentiary in Kingston.

In the decades following these cases, abortion has become legal, performed in a medical setting as opposed to a secretive procedure at someone’s private residence and shows how medical care has changed over the past 90 years.

Each week, the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and its Archives provides SooToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past.

Find out more of what the Public Library has to offer at and look for more Remember This? columns here