June 15, 1907: Grieving Widow Cuts Off Hand to ‘Free Husband’s Soul’


Note: This is an encore post from 2006.

June 15, 1907
Los Angeles

Helen Hurley paused at the doors of St. Vibiana’s Cathedral. In pain, she shoved her left wrist inside her dress so that it wouldn’t show as she went in to pray during Mass.

But the pain was too great and she fled the cathedral for her room at the Ramona lodging house on South Spring Street.

While struggling with her at the rooming house, police officers discovered that she had cut off her left hand with a butcher knife. They took her to the Receiving Hospital and after treatment she was taken to County Hospital.

For the last year, Hurley had worked as a cook at several Los Angeles restaurants. Her husband died, leaving her broke and grieving. “It is said that for days at a time she would lie in her room, under the influence of liquor, and brood,” The Times said.

The night before she was taken into custody, lodgers heard her walking around her room, moaning.

The Times said: “In her frenzied condition, the woman became possessed of the idea that her husband’s soul was held in the chains of purgatory and demanded a sacrifice. She was willing to give that sacrifice. The gleam of her wedding ring on one of the fingers of her left hand attracted her attention. She seized a butcher knife and sharpened it. Then she hacked away at the soft flesh. The knife caught in the heavy tissue and she used it in the manner of an ax and beat against the flesh with it until the hand fell from her wrist. Then she tossed it behind a trunk in her room and hurried to church for morning Mass.”

Hospital officials were keeping close watch on Hurley and said that if she didn’t improve she would be sent to an insane asylum.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1907, Religion and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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