A Micro Case Study of Lobotomy: Miss Sarah Simpson

The Booker T. Washington School on Georgetown Street in Lexington, Kentucky. Image from the Lexington Herald-Leader.

It was a dry but chilly morning on Thursday, December 8, 1949, when former schoolteacher, Miss Sarah Simpson, walked onto the property of the Booker T. Washington School on Georgetown Street in Lexington. Schoolteacher Miss Marietta Hunter, age 46, was busy starting the day as her students slowly began to pour inside the warm school. It was a day not unlike the many others she started with her students. At about 8:00 AM, Eight-year-old student Corliss Allen Pollock was just entering the school along with one of her companions when they spotted Miss Simpson. Corliss said of Miss Simpson that she was “not lookin’ like herself and with a mean look in her eye.” Additionally, Corliss reported, “Miss Simpson asked where are the teachers?” Then she and her companion, Ann, took off and ran. Eight-year-old Willis Allen said he was just opening the front door when he saw everybody running; “So I just shut the door and started running too.” Twelve-year-old William James Robinson had a slightly different encounter with Miss Simpson. He noted that he saw Miss Simpson outside of the school shortly before the shooting. Robinson said, “I spoke to her and she smiled and spoke back. There didn’t seem to be nothing wrong.” Other children reported seeing Miss Simpson glancing into several classrooms as if she were looking for someone.

It was 8:10 AM when Miss Hunter became startled at the sudden entrance of Miss Simpson who suddenly shrieked, “I’m going to get all of you for talking about me!” Before Miss Hunter could process what was happening, and her failure to notice what Miss Simpson was holding in her gloved hand, Miss Simpson raised her arm and fired three shots towards Miss Hunter, one bullet finding its way into her right shoulder. Miss  Hunter immediately fled from the classroom with Miss Simpson close behind her. Miss Simpson again fired three more shots, one finding its way into Miss Hunter’s right leg, just above the knee. Miss Simpson fled, initially, trying to enter the kindergarten class, but was refused entry by the schoolteacher. Miss Hunter ran from the school a short distance to the home of Mrs. Mamie Gay on Bright Avenue. Mrs. Gay and a couple of neighbors loaded Miss Hunter into a truck and rushed her to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Lexington.

The police were notified and arrived at the school shortly after. Initial reports were that Miss Simpson had left the school after the shooting then boarded a city bus. An initial sweep of the school, where the shooting happened, resulted in not finding Miss Simpson. Police then swarmed the home of Miss Simpson, believing her to be inside and, perhaps, barricading herself, but to no avail. At just after 10:00 AM, police returned to the school for a second sweep. It was at 10:30 AM when they located her. Lexington Assistant Police Chief Guy W. Maupin and Captain W. C. Clancy discovered Miss Simpson hiding in a small corridor in the basement of the school which housed the plumbing lines behind the girls’ restroom. Miss Simpson was standing sideways in the subterranean cubby-hole, clutching her pocketbook close to her body, though it was hanging open. “They’re persecuting me and the witches are too!” Captain Clancy said Miss Simpson continued to babble about witches and people persecuting her. In Miss Simpson’s pocketbook was the loaded pistol she used to shoot Miss Hunter. Police promptly arrested Miss Simpson and secured her pocketbook. Shortly thereafter, police discovered that Miss Simpson had been holding more than just a loaded pistol; a long knife was also discovered hidden away in the pocketbook.

Upon her arrest, Miss Sarah Simpson was booked at the Lexington Police headquarters on a charge of malicious shooting and wounding with intent to kill. Just 24 hours later, Miss Sarah Simpson was standing before Fayette Circuit Court Judge Chester D. Adams for lunacy proceedings. According to reports, her brother, Herbert Simpson, began the process of the lunacy hearing to have his sister placed into the custody and care of a state hospital. Judge Adams ordered Miss Simpson to be committed “to Eastern State Hospital for observation and treatment pending determination of lunacy proceedings.”

According to school officials, Miss Simpson had resigned from her teaching position a year prior to the shooting because of poor health, though no further details were provided. The principal of the school, Mrs. Lucy Smith said Miss Simpson, prior to her resignation, had been having delusions of “being persecuted by everyone.” Lexington Police posited that Miss Simpson did not single out Miss Hunter but rather she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. In essence, the third-grade teacher happened to be the first unfortunate teacher that Miss Simpson had run into. After her arrest, Miss Simpson was examined by Dr. L. H. Mulligan and Dr. James C. Carrick prior to her lunacy hearing and proceeding committal the following day. Miss Hunter was the daughter of J. E. Hunter and the sister of Dr. Bush A. Hunter, practicing African American physicians in Lexington. Miss Hunter survived the attack and continued back at her job, which she started in 1915.

Little else is known about the case of Miss Sarah Simpson. In December of 1952, it was declared that Miss Sarah Simpson was of sound mind. Miss Simpson had been remanded to the Eastern State Hospital in Lexington in 1949 until her subsequent release in 1952. On April 11, 1952, Dr. Ralph J. Angelucci performed a lobotomy on her; records show Miss Simpson received treatment at both Eastern State Hospital and Central State Hospital and it is unclear which hospital the lobotomy was performed at. Upon her discharge from Eastern State Hospital, Miss Simpson asked the Fayette Circuit Court to order her “restored to sound mind” and to return her civil rights. A jury ruled that she was restored to her proper senses after her recounting of the original incident and upon two unnamed physicians testifying that she was of sound mind.

Psycho Surgery by Dr. R. J. Angelucci
(from the Kentucky Medical Journal)

Contributed by Shawn Logan | contact@kyhi.org

⁘ Works Cited ⁘

  1. The Lexington Leader, 9 December 1949
  2. The Lexington Leader, 12 December 1952

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