Friday, March 16, 2012

This Day in History: Mar 16, 1881: A virtuous woman turns murderous

Francisco "Chico" Forster is shot to death on downtown Los Angeles street by his jilted lover, eighteen-year old Lastania Abarta. The forty-year old Forster was the son of wealthy Los Angeles land developer and considered one of the city's most eligible bachelors despite his reputation for womanizing and poorly treating women.

Abarta worked in her parent's pool hall, where she sang, played the guitar, and met freqent customer Forster. On March 14, she was invited to perform at a party given by Pio Pico, California's last Mexican governor. The former politician had just lost a sizable tract of land near San Diego to Chico Forster's father. During a song, Abarta changed the lyrics to mock Pico and then ran off with Forster to the Moiso Mansion Hotel.

Apparently, the couple made love after Forster promised to marry Abarta. But when Forster disappeared and didn't return with a ring or priest to perform the ceremony, Abarta and her sister Hortensia started to comb the city in search of him. They finally found him at a race track gambling and dragged him to their carriage for a trip to the church.

But Forster got out of the cab on the way, the women closely following behind until Abarta suddenly pulled out a gun and shot him through the eye. Outraged by his son's untimely death, Forster's father hired a special prosecutor to make sure that Abarta was properly punished.

Abarta's lawyers tried a novel defense, they ran with America's 1880s obsession with "female hysteria." Medical theories of the time held that women could be driven crazy because of their reproductive system. Their first step was to introduce in evidence the blood stained sheets from the hotel where Abarta lost her virginity to Forster. The lawyers then trotted out no less than seven medical experts who expounded their hysteria theories. They testified that Abarta was clearly displaying classic "hysterical symptoms" caused "because her brain was undoubtedly congested with blood," when she killed Forster.

However, the most important testimony came from Dr. Joseph Kurtz who received applause from the spectators in the courtroom when he stated that "Any virtuous woman when deprived of her virtue would go mad, undoubtedly." The jury, all men of course, took just twenty minutes to acquit Abarta, who left town and disappeared out of sight.

In South Africa: A warrant of arrest is issued for Dr Rhoodie

A warrant was issued for Dr Rhoodie's arrest on a charge of fraud, with an alternative charge of theft. This emanated from the role he played in the information scandal of 1978, which saw the relinquishing of power by the then Prime Minister, B.J. Vorster. The terms of reference of the Erasmus Commission were extended to investigate and evaluate, by 31 March 1979, the government's political culpability. The Prime Minister, P.W. Botha, also authorised the appointment, from 1 June 1979, of an Advocate-General who would investigate into and report on any allegation to Parliament, supported by a sworn affidavit, of corruption on malpractices by the government.

The Information Scandal that broke out in 1978 is widely regarded as the single event that heralded the end of B. J. Voster's term as State President of South Africa. In an attempt to deflect attention from his role in the scandal, Voster had vowed that those implicated in the maladministration of state resources were going to be punished. The Erasmus Commission was appointed to investigate Minister Connie Mulder's Department of Information and the Bureau of State Security (BOSS), as well as South Africa's Intelligence formation under General Hendrik van den Bergh.

Dr. Eschel Rhoodie, an administrator in the Department of Information committed a large portion of the department's budget towards countering the bad publicity that the country was receiving internationally. He did this with the support of , Mulder, van den Bergh and Voster. Rhoodie believed that South Africa needed to win hearts and minds in South Africa, Africa and internationally to counter the growing popularity of the ANC and other liberation organisations . Condemnation of South Africa escalated following the Soweto Revolt in 1976.

The Department of Information was also particularly concerned about the continued attacks on Apartheid policies by students who had fled the country following the Soweto Revolt. These students were invited to numerous campuses in Europe and the USA to deliver lectures on the NP Government's response to the Soweto Revolt. One of these students was the president of the Soweto Students Representative Council (SSRC), Tsietsi Mashinini. Mashinini was invited to campuses across the USA in 1977 and 1978 where he addressed students on subjects relating to the brutality of the Apartheid State.

In reaction to the growing criticism of South Africa internationally that gained momentum following the Soweto Revolt, Rhoodie persuaded the government to establish a newspaper that would be devoted to promoting South Africa's good image internally. And to counter the condemnation of the country untermnationally, Rhoodie planned to purchase influential newspapers in Europe and the US. These would be used to portray South Africa in a good light. The Washington Post, a British investors' journal and L'Equipe in France were earmarked for a take over.

The Department of Information, using Louis Luyt as a front launched the Citizen newspaper with the aim of using it as a government mouthpiece. PACE Magazine was also launched as part of the strategy to influence perceptions about South Africa in the country. But the attempt to purchase newspapers in the US, France and Britain did not materialise. It appears the Info scandal was exposed before these deals could be concluded.

  • Muller, C.F.J. (ed)(1981). Five Hundred years: a history of South Africa; 3rd  ed. Pretoria: Academica, p. 549.)
  • Giliomee, H, Mbenga, B New History of South Africa
  • Marsh R (2009) Famous South African crimes [online], available at [Accessed 30 November 2010]
  • The Youth Struggle: -Response to the Soweto Riots 16 June 1976 from South African History Online [online], available at: [Accessed 30 November 2010]


South African History Online

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