Article by Marylou Elton
Downloadable documents related to this post can be found at the end of the article.
Morningside Hospital was not a prison. In 1917, Dr. Henry Waldo Coe was proud to note that the new “Parole Home” had “neither bolts, bars or restraining screens”. “Without doubt”, wrote Coe, “the humane phase of our non-restraint at Morningside, aids greatly in the large percentage of recoveries at Morningside, the records showing, as on file in the Department (of Interior), the largest percentage of recoveries of any institution in the United States, the value of the change of climate, of course, being the greatest factor therein.”
But what was to be done with the criminally insane? Those who were repeat violent offenders or committed multiple murders? The law at that time was clear that someone found insane at the time they committed a crime could not be convicted of the offense. The law also stated those found insane in the Territory of Alaska should be sent to an institution designated by the secretary of interior (Morningside Hospital) – where there was a danger of them being discharged upon recovery or eloping.
By 1917 the issue was coming to a head. Several individuals convicted of criminal offenses and sent to Morningside escaped and then went on to commit additional crimes. A discussion of the problem can be found in letters between Dr. Coe, Alaska district judges in Valdez and Juneau, and the departments of Justice and Interior. Dr. Coe’s letters deny any carelessness on the part of Morningside and note that criminals escape everywhere. The judges lobby for a change in the law that would send those found criminally insane to facilities where adequate lock-up could be provided.
The patient that precipitated an interim solution in 1920 was Patrick Shannahan, from Juneau, whose criminal character was so pronounced he was placed in the criminal wards of the State Asylum at Salem, Oregon. Several other individuals from Alaska were eventually housed there.
A number of measures were introduced to remedy the situation but I did not see evidence that any of them completed the legislative process and were signed into law. You will find letters from 1928 between Dan Sutherland, Alaska’s delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, and Interior still discussing the issue. Additional letters from 1937 show the issue had yet to be addressed.
The documents attached to this article include:
1. 1917 letters between Dr. Coe, Judge Brown from Valdez, AK, and the Justice Department regarding the advisability of placing Walter Stoker, who was known to be homicidal, in Morningside Hospital. Letter #1 (164)
2. 1917 letter from Dr. Coe defending Morningside against complaints by Marshall Tanner of Juneau, AK, regarding the escape of Nick Faricelli. Letter #2 (113)
3. 1920-21 letters from Dr. Coe to Interior Department recapping the case of Patrick Shannahan and eventually placing him in the Oregon State Hospital for Insane until Congress makes other provisions. Letter #3 (124)
4. 1921 letters between Dr. Coe and the Interior Department recapping correspondence with Judge Brown, in Valdez, about Peter Carnevera. Carnevera was committed to Morningside Hospital, discharged after seven months, and returned to Alaska and dynamited pipeline carrying water to the Kennecot Mine. Coe notes Carneverga said the pipeline crossed his property and the courts and had provided no relief. Letter #4 (111)
5. 1928 letters by Dan Sutherland, the AK delegate to the US House of Representatives on a complaint the inadequacy of Morningside for holding dangerous criminals; and talk of HB 170 that provided AK insane could be committed to St. Elizabeth’s in DC. Letter #5 (121)
6. 1936 letters discussing the case of Frank Richards and providing he not be released from Morningside except under order of the court after habeas corpus proceedings. Letter #6 (148)
7. 1937 letters leading up to Richard’s release. Letter #7 (122)