When you hear the word mayhem what do you think about, general chaos, the Allstate guy, Tommy Lee’s tattoo – all of the above? The American legal system defines mayhem as the criminal act of disabling, disfiguring or cutting off or making useless one of the members (leg, arm, hand, penis, foot, eye) of another either intentionally or in a fight, called maiming. The serious nature of the injury makes mayhem a felony, which is called “aggravated assault” in most states. So why all this talk of mayhem? I came across some articles from the Santa Cruz Evening Sentinel dated early June  1907, titled “Husband Charges Wife With Mayhem” and thought it was a perfect story for Valentine’s Day! These time capsules tell the story of one bad night at the Boronda residence where husband Frank has his member razored off by wife Bertha. Not-so-good wife Bertha Boronda was a predecessor to my generation’s Lorena Bobbitt. although the circumstances and outcomes differ. According to the newspaper articles, it all began a little after midnight on a Thursday morning when Mrs. Boronda attacked her husband, Fire Captain Narciso “Frank” Baronda, with a razor – “maiming him fearfully.” In an attempt to get help, he ran screaming into the firehouse, on San Pedro Street which adjoined their home. Meanwhile, Bertha eluded authorities by donning a suit of men’s clothes to make her escape. Frank was taken to the Red Cross Hospital, where his injuries were treated. Throughout the overnight hours, police searched for Bertha and finally captured her near the depot as she was mounting a bicycle on which she had hoped to make her escape. 

Once his wife was in custody, Frank, propped up in his cot, swore to a complaint before Justice Brown charging his wife, Bertha Boronda, with the crime of mayhem. Though the maimed man was still weak from his injuries his physician stated that he would undoubtedly live. She was formally charged with a felony defined by Section 204 of the criminal code that states Mayhem is punishable by imprisonment in the California State prison not exceeding a term of fourteen years.” After she was charged, Mrs. Boronda admitted to the police that she maimed her husband, but expressed no regret for having done the deed. She admitted to wanting revenge as she believed her husband intended to desert her and leave for Mexico. Mrs. Boronda was eventually sentenced to serve 5 years in San Quentin as evidenced by this photo from 1908, featuring the lovely ladies of San Quentin all dressed in their Sunday best, straight from the courtroom one would presume. The woman at the bottom left is Bertha, The Lorena Bobbitt of her time.


Husband Charges Wife With Mayhem, Santa Cruz Evening Sentinel, June 2, 1907. June 3, 1907, June 8, 1907.

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