In 1908 Bertha Boronda was condemned to 5 years of prison for “mayhem”. In the case of Bertha the injury was so severe to result in the cut of the penis of her husband with a barber razor, followed by her escape on a bike dressed up as a man. Bertha and her man had been married for approximately 6 years when the woman assaulted him. To better understand this odd case happened in the America of the beginning of the 20th century, it is necessary to start off from the very beginning.

Frank Mario Narcisso Boronda was born in 1863 from a huge family with Mexican heritage in California. At the time of the attack he was 43 years old, he was captain in the firefighter department of San Jose, in North California.

Bertha Zettle was born in 1877 from German immigrants in Minnesota. She moved to California around the beginning of the new century and the following year in 1901 she married Frank.

Shortly after midnight of Friday 30th of May 1907, Bertha cut Frank’s penis off with a razor, episode which occurred in their property  in San José. Frank managed to get to the fire station where he worked, near their house, and from there he was taken to the hospital.

The cut was so serious to make everyone fears for his own life

Despite the pain, he managed to declare that his wife had assaulted him out of the blue. Him and Bertha were having a conversation and she had attacked him, amputating his own genitals.

In the meantime Bertha was disappeared by the crime scene, and she was not found until the first hours of the following night. She was around the train station of San José, dressed with male’s clothes. Arrested by the police, she admitted her attack towards Frank but she declared that the man had threatened to leave her and move to Mexico.

What follows it the article of Santa Cruz Sentinel of the 2nd June 1907, a few days after the event

“Interviewed on his bed of the hospital around midday, the Captain of the firefighters Frank Boronda promised to press charge before the judge Brown would have accused his wife Bertha Boronda of personal injury. Even though the wounded man was still weak for his aggression, the doctors reassured about his survival. The only risk he was supposed to face was infection and sepsis”.

The crime she had been charged with was defined by the penal code as: “the act of maliciously an illegally depriving person of a member of his body; disabling, or rendering useless a member of his body; disabling or cutting his tongue; putting out his eye; slitting his nose, ear or lip”.

The section 204 of the code affirms that “Mayhem is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison not exceeding fourteen years.”

“Around midnight on Thursday, Mrs Boronda attacked without notice her husband in the darkness with a razor, cause of terrible mutilation. The man ran to the fire station of San José, close to his own house, while the wife was running away to the street with her night gown until North End, where she had obtained a male outfit”.

“Mr Boronda was taken to the hospital where he has been treated. For several hours the police looked for the woman, eventually finding her around the depot of Broadgauge on top of a bicycle with which she was trying to escape. Mrs Boronda admitted to the police that she mutilated her husband but she did not express regrets on her terrible gesture. Her only excuse was that she wanted to get revenge, thinking that the man wanted to leave her and go to Mexico. Mrs Boronda does not have any lawyer yet. Probably she will be put before the Judge Brown on monday”.

Once Frank Boronda recovered from the injury, Bertha was accused of mayhem, found guilty and condemned to 5 years of prison in San Quintino in 1908.

what made Bertha assault her husband in such a brutal way though?

The reconstruction of the events is interesting, even though 110 years have passed since that episode. Frank had been imprisoned a few months before the assault along with another firefighter captain. The accusation was electoral fraud so probably further detentions would have followed. It is therefore plausible believing that Frank was hypothesising to leave the country and go to his relatives in Mexico, at least until things would have cooled down.

Furthermore the rumours wanted Frank as an unfaithful husband, and that the woman had reacted that way hit by a fit of jealousy. The man had behind himself some marital issues: his previous wife Belle Doane had left her husband to marry Frank, trying to commit suicide without success, a few years later.

Belle declared to have attempted suicide because Frank had abandoned her

The couple divorced in 1895 and some years later he remarried with Bertha.

Did Bertha manage to get rid of her husband’s genitals?

Frank’s penis became a legendary object in the Californian tribunal area. The rumours states that it was kept dipped in formaldehyde, hidden in a storage of the tribunal. Despite the cut of the organ was detail certified during the hearing, it is unlikely that it had been severed entirely as that would have caused infections or made him bleed to death.

Bertha was eventually released on the 20th of December 1909 after having served less than 2 years. The couple did not reconcile but instead they both remarried. Frank took as his wife a woman 33 younger than him named Josie Warburton, while Bertha worked as a waitress in a hotel of San Francisco. She married an old widower, Alexander Patterson in 1921 in Los Angeles, but that marriage ended up in a divorce too.

Frank lived until his 77 years old in 1940. Bertha died in 1950 at the age of 72.

Matteo Rubboli

I am a publisher specialised in the digital distribution of culture and founder of the portal Vanilla Magazine. I don't wear a tie or branded clothes, I keep my hair short so I don't have to comb it. That's not my fault but just the way I've been drawn as...

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