A Sordid Subterranean Story: That Dusky Hospital on De Villiers St (Part 5)

The new year came upon the Tart-Edwards case without any indication if there was going to be a trial.  During the first case, the trial was rather swift- not this time.  In fact the January 5, 1928 Pensacola News Journal  headline relating to the case stated the following:  Manslaughter Case May Enter Unsolved Annals.

“Whereabouts of Viola Edwards, Pensacola negress and former hospital operator, wanted here on a manslaughter charge, may go down in the record as another unsolved mystery.”

“Although several months have passed since the negress was branded a fugitive from justice, with a reward on her head, she has yet to be found.”

Apparently the Florida Supreme Court didn’t agree with the writ of error  and on June 28, 1928, the Pensacola News Journal report that TART GOES TO TRIAL IN FALL.  Manslaughter Charge will be Pressed Here

E. E. Tart,  Pensacola business man, will stand trial in court record at the September term on a charge a manslaughter in connection with the death of and unborn infant Aug 5, 1927, William Fisher county solicitor announced yesterday.”

“His announcement followed word that Tarts appeal to the supreme court to quash an indictment on the grounds that he had already stood trial and been acquitted had been dismissed.”  The supreme court had ruled that the writ of error was not in order.

Also reported on this date was the fact that, although the reward for information regarding the warrant for arrest of Viola Edwards had been increase to $250 ($4,488.68 in 2023 dollars), no trace of her had been found.

October 7, 1928, The Pensacola New Journal front page headline read: 

Long Search Ends With The Capture of Woman In Detroit
Negress Disappeared While Jury Considered Indictment

“The long search for Viola Edwards has ended.  The negress, wanted in a sensational case which stirred Pensacola to the depths, has been captured in Detroit through the persevering and relentless efforts of Chief William O’Connell.”

“Viola was formerly the head of the Viola Edwards negro hospital where Dorothy Friedrichsen, young white girl died following a criminal operation.  The discovery loosened an investigation into the practice at the hospital which indicated nearly a dozen similar operations had been performed on white women of Pensacola.”  Interestingly, solicitor Fisher found three other women who stated they will testify against Mrs. Edwards for performing the same “criminal operation” on them.

Upon notification that Mrs Edwards had been captured on a fugitive justice warrant, Chief O’connell set out to bring her back to Pensacola.    Although a description of Mrs. Edwards was broadcast across the country, Chief O’Connell learned that Viola had friends in Detroit. So the search was concentrated there.

Having made friends with Edward H. Fox, chief of Detectives in Detroit, O’Connell convinced the chief to make an all out effort to discover if Mrs. Edwards was in the area.  Word had reached Mrs. Edwards that she had been discovered. So once again she disappeared.  But on September 31, 1928  Detective Fox again located Mrs. Edwards and wired Chief O’Connell.

“Arrest her, and hold at any cost.  I’ll be responsible.  When you get her, I will send fugitive warrant,” was O’Connell’s reply.

Meanwhile, the trial of Tart was to have started in September but it was postponed when Chief O’Connell stated “…that the negress would be captured shortly.”  The original plain of solicitor Fisher was to try  Tart and Edwards jointly but since Edwards could not be found, Fisher had decided to try Tart alone on the manslaughter charges.  That changed when Mrs Edwards was captured. However, Mrs. Edwards would have none of that and prepared to fight the extradition.

NURSE WILL BE HEARD OCT. 16. Viola Edwards Freed under $10,000 bond in North began the Oct 10, 1928 Pensacola News Journal column head line:

“A hearing there October 16, authorities here were advised word yesterday.”

“For now, Sheriff Mose Penton has obtain the necessary papers with which to demand the nurse’s extradition and will attend the hearing in Detroit he announced yesterday.”

Apparently Mrs. Edwards being able to post a $10,000 bond ($179,547.37 in 2023 dollars), incensed the Pensacola “crowd..”  In fact the October 11, 1928 Pensacola News Journal page 1 column headline read VIOLA EDWARDS BOND A PUZZLE

“Police have been unable to learn who furnished the $10,00 bond under which Viola Edwards, negress, former operator of a hospital here, was released after her arrest last week in Detroit.”

“She was sought all over the country until her arrest in Detroit.  She is schedule to appear for a hearing Oct. 16 at which time she will oppose extradition.”  Police were concerned that even with the outrageous bond she might not appear.

The October 16, 1928 (NEGRESS CASE IS READY TODAY: Hearing for Viola Edwards At Lansing, Mich– October 17, 1928,) Pensacola News Journal) extradition hearing was transferred to Lansing, Michigan to be heard by the Governor on the extradition.

“Viola Edwards’ fight to avoid return to Pensacola to face trial for performing a criminal operation will be heard before the governor of Michigan at Lansing this morning.”

“When the negress who formally operated the negro hospital in Pensacola, opposes the extradition she will face a requisition from Governor John W. Martin of Florida asking she be turnover to Sheriff Mose Penton who is there to bring her back.”

Well, the best laid plans don’t always work out the way one would expect them to.  And, the extradition plans of Sheriff Mose Penton was no exception.  Gov. Green was concerned about the lynchings of Black people in the south.

On October 18, 1928 The Pensacola News Journal front page headline read

Viola Edwards Fears Lynching if Ordered to Florida, Attorney Pleads at Hearing
Attorney’s Plea Brings Quick Reply From Prominent Officials
Telegram Assure Governor Edwards W0man Will Get Fair Trial

“Vola Edwards is fighting extradition from Michigan on the ground that she will be lynched as soon as she crosses the Florida line.”

“Denials that this could possibly be the case were wired to Gov. Fred. Green of Michigan last night by U.S. Sen. Duncan U. Fletcher and William Fisher, County solicitor.”

“Other official denials including one from the city commission are expected to follow up today”

“An  Associated Press dispatch last night said that a negro nurse’s attorney was using the lynching idea as a basis of his plea at a extradition hearing in Lansing.”

Senator Fletcher call this a voluntary and unwarranted reflection upon this community and utterly unfounded in fact.

The Oct 19, 1928 Pensacola News Journal flashed the following headline: 

Governor Won’t Let Viola Edwards Go Until He Investigates.

“Gov. Fred W. Green of Michigan isn’t going to grant extradition for the return of Viola Edwards until he is convinced there is no danger of mob violence against her when she arrives.”

“The governor ordered Harry H. Metcalf, assistant attorney general of Michigan to get in touch with persons in Pensacola to determine the situation here. Gov. Green indicated he would not decide before next week.”  Telegrams from prominent Pensacolians did not convince the governor that no violence would be perpetrated against Viola Edwards.  While the governor decided the case, Mrs Edwards remained free on bond.

Well, well, well !!! The October 21, 1928 Pensacola News Journal read a headline that no one expected; SHERIFF BACK, TELLS ABOUT NEGRESS’ CASE. Prejucided Ideas Delaying Return of Viola Edwards.

“Prejudiced ideas that Negroes are often lynched in Florida are causing the delay in returning Viola Edwards to Pensacola, Sheriff Mose Penton declared last night in his return from Lansing, Mich.  No decision in the matter will be made until a through investigation of the burning of the hospital formerly operated by the negress, and the present attitude of the citizens here are made,  governor indicated.”

Viola Edwards’ attorney, W. Hays MckKnney of Detroit introduce NAACP records “…showing Florida citizens have lynched 196 persons between the years of 1989 and 1916.  The same records show five negroes have been lynched in Escambia county (including Leander Shaw) during the same period.

Also entered into evidence was a letter from J. Walter Kehoe, the attorney for E. E. Tart during the first trial that in part stated:  “After the trial in which she (Viola Edwards and my client (Tart) were acquitted, the churches took turn about for two or three weeks preaching about the uncertainties of the law, and the miscarriage , as they put it, of justice in this particular case.

Sheriff Penton testified that the “…negress was at liberty in Pensacola, and walked about freely on the streets of the city for several days after her acquittal”.   The sheriff also testified that no lynchings had taken place under his watch which began in 1923, “…and offered to guarantee full protection.”

Governor Green denied the extradition request as stated in  OFFICIALS FREE VIOLA EDWARDS Michigan Washes Hands Of Pensacola Prisoner reported headline in the December 4, 1928 Pensacola News Journal.  And with that decision Viola Edwards was released from custody.  The reason for the decision for release by the governor  was “… she already had been acquitted of a charge of manslaughter and evidence in a second case with practically the same facts involved did not warrant sending her back.”

With the current drama concerning Viola Edwards, what happened to E. E. Tart?

Come January 25, 1979 saw the case against E. E. Tart dropped.  The Jan 25, 1929 Pensacola News Journal Column headline stated the following:

State’s Right To Press Case Expires Jan. 31

“The  charge of manslaughter against Eugene E. Tart will be nolle prossed (Latin: “to be unwilling to prosecute) at the January term court a record which opens Monday.”

“William Fisher, county solicitor,  who made the announcement said dropping of the action ‘was the only thing to do.’ “

“State have no right to continue the case after January 31 asked several continuances have already been granted it, the solicitor said.  He said it was impossible to get viola Edwards, negro co-defendant and principal back in the state.”

Although this aspect of Viola Edwards travails came to an end, it was not the end of Mrs. Edwards legal troubles.  Why?  On Sunday November 17, 1929, she is back in Pensacola and a new Pensacola News Journal column reports the following:

Embezzlement Indictment Is Faulty, Defense Claimed
But this is a story for another time and place.  But suffice it to say Viola Edwards spent 16 months in a Federal prison in Cincinnati upon conviction of the embezzlement charge.

Mrs Viola Edwards passed away in Detroit in 1943 at the age of 67.

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