June 29, 1907: Horribly Beaten, Wife Begs Police Not to Charge Husband, Refuses to Testify

Note: This is an encore post from 2006.

June 29, 1907
Los Angeles

Through the jail cell’s bars, the officer asked, “Where did you get that blood on your shirt?”

E.H. Phelan, a barber at the Hotel Alexandria, said: “No, I did not beat my wife.” He whispered: “She was drunk and fell down.”

And the blood?


“Why—why-er, you see, she fell down in the backyard and I had to cart her into the house.

“Say, where’s my bail? This ain’t no place for a gentleman.”

The beating of Mary Phelan shocked even the veteran police officers and court officials; it was the worst many of them had ever seen.

“While Mrs. Phelan was visiting with a neighbor about 4:30 o’clock yesterday afternoon, Phelan appeared at the home of J.H. Bradley, 1560 E. 51st St.,” The Times said. “He walked into the room where she was seated and leaped toward her. Grasping his wife’s hair, Phelan began to drag her from the room.

“Screaming for mercy, Mrs. Phelan pleaded to her husband to desist, but he paid no heed to her cries. Twice, he turned upon her, raising a club which he carried as though to strike her. Mrs. Bradley was too much terrified to interfere but when Phelan had dragged his wife down the steps, she ran to a telephone to call for assistance.

“Once out of the house, Phelan began to drag his wife along. Suddenly he struck her a brutal blow in the face and she sank down. Two men saw Phelan knock his wife down when he had dragged her halfway up the steps and as she arose, extending her arms to him in humble supplication, he kicked her in the face. Then he kicked his wife up the steps, across the porch and into the little house.

“Neighbors ran to their homes seeking arms and formed a rescuing party. In the meantime Patrolmen Hickock and Hickock had been detailed from the University Station on motorcycles and arrived soon after the little mob of enraged neighbors had formed.

“Looking through a window leading into a front room of the Phelan house, one of the officers saw Phelan on top of his wife with both hands grappling her throat. He seemed to be prompted by a fiendish delight and was working his hands as he choked the breath out of his half-conscious wife. At this sight, the patrolmen dashed for the front door.

“Phelan heard them coming and ran to open the door. As they showed their stars, the officers forced their way past him. One of them arrested Phelan, who coolly informed the police that his wife was drunk and had fallen and injured herself.

“In a pool of blood, Mrs. Phelan lay on a couch. Streams of blood were trickling from more than a dozen lacerations. When she faintly opened her eyes and saw her husband a prisoner, she vainly sought to rise, but fell back with a low gurgle—blood was choking her. When her mouth had been washed out, she gasped:

“ ‘Oh, thank God, thank God! You have saved my life. In another minute he would have killed me!’ Then she fainted.”

And then the work truly began. Officers had to restrain the neighbors from lynching Phelan as investigators examined the trail of blood from the Bradleys’ home. Someone looked for the broomstick that had finally broken in half as Phelan used it to beat his wife, whose bloody clothes were mostly ripped from her body by the beating.

The Times said: “Her lips were cut and bruised. Both eyes were bruised and blackened so that she could scarcely see. Her nose had been broken and her head was smeared with blood. On the woman’s back were nearly a score of bruises and lacerations. Her breast was bruised and cut and from a wound in her abdomen blood was flowing freely. On her arms and limbs, great welts as large as a man’s wrist stood out plainly.”

And at the hospital, barely able to speak because of the beating, her body nearly shattered, Mrs. Phelan pleaded with officers: Don’t prosecute my husband, he’s my only means of support.

Phelan drew a minimal sentence because his wife refused to testify against him and had it not been for the neighbors’ accounts, he wouldn’t have been prosecuted at all.

“It is a pity that we have no felony charge to prefer against this man,” the prosecutor said. “He has been in the Police Court before on the same charge and the woman at that time tried to shield him. If we could secure the woman’s promise to testify against the husband we might file a felony complaint, charging assault with intent to commit murder.”

Phelan sentenced to six months on the chain gang, but instead became a trusty at the University Station, where he served as a gardener. After public disgust over his light treatment, he was given one of the worst jobs at the jail: cleaning the hobos’ bedding. And Mayor Harper personally ordered that Phelan be put on the chain gang.

Upon his release, The Times said: “Phelan has lost considerable weight since going on the gang. He does not look as prosperous as he did three months ago. Incidentally, he will be accorded no farewell reception by his fellow prisoners, who hate him because of his bullying ways.”

It’s impossible to tell what happened to the Phelans once he was released. In one of those quirks of history, we find a Mary and Edward H. Phelan in Whittier. But they are apparently unrelated to the battling Phelans who moved to Los Angeles from Boston two years earlier.

Note that Google Earth shows the Phelan home still standing and that it’s near the site of the S.L.A. shootout on the other side of Compton Avenue.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1907, Crime and Courts, Homicide, LAPD, Streetcars and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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