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Francisco "Chico" Forster
On March 16, 1881, Francisco "Chico" Forster is shot to death on a downtown Los Angeles street by his jilted lover, eighteen-year old Lastania Abarta. The forty-year old Forster was the son of a 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 frequent customer Forster.
On March 14th, 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 along the way and the women closely following behind until Abarta suddenly pulled out a gun and shot him. 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 used the "female hysteria" defense. 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 questioned seven medical experts who explained the hysteria theories. They testified that Abarta was clearly displaying classic hysterical when she shot and killed Foster. 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.
Michael Thomas Barry is the author of Murder & Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California 1849-1949. The book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link: