The James Preservation Trust has received the contribution of what is believed to be the last photo taken of Jesse Edwards James Jr., son of America’s iconic outlaw Jesse Woodson James.
The photo was taken in 1949 during Jesse Jr.’s confinement in the Norwalk State Hospital in Norwalk, California. Months later, Jesse Edwards James Jr. died on March 26, 1951 at the age of seventy-five.
In the same image also is pictured Jesse Jr.’s caregiver at Norwalk. He is Luther Garlin Henderson. The contribution of this historic photographic was made by Henderson’s son, Bruce Henderson, a retired attorney.
“My father suffered a heart attack in 1947, and was forced to cease employment in his industry. To support his wife, and infant son (me), he found less physically demanding work at Norwalk State Hospital, Norwalk, California.” – BRUCE HENDERSON ESQ.
NORWALK HOSPITAL – THEN and NOW
In the beginning, Norwalk Hospital was called Norwalk State Mental Hospital. Often it was referred to as a sanitarium.
Opened in 1916, the facility housed 105 patients with 21 employees, all administered by one physician. The 305 acre property included a farm, worked by the patients, most all of whom were unemployable men. The hospital had its own cemetery.
Shortly after Jesse’s Jr.’s passing, the name of the facility was changed in 1953 to the Metropolitan State Hospital, housing 1,900 patients. Marilyn Monroe’s mother Gladys was a patient there. In 1955, actor Bela Lugosi was admitted for ninety days for treatment of his morphine addiction.
Today the facility is dramatically changed. Gone is the farm. Much of the land surrounding the Norwalk Hospital where Jesse Jr. was committed now is an industrial park. The old hospital has been replaced by a modern facility. Inside, treatment is administered to conservator patients with psychiatric disabilities, felony defendants found incompetent, parolees treated for mental disorders, and patients judged not guilty by virtue of insanity. A long history of abuse and negligence continues to be alleged.
CONDITIONS IN JESSE JR.’S TIME
Little, if any, documentation exists that records the experience of Jesse Jr. at Norwalk. Hospital records remain sealed. They even are unavailable to surviving family.
An insight into what Jesse Jr. may have experienced at Norwalk can be found in the book Life Writing and Schizophrenia: Encounters at the Edge of Meaning by Mary Elene Wood. On page 290, the author records the memory of one of Norwalk’s patients.
“I lay in bed a lot. It was horrible. There weren’t enough beds for everyone so women were lined up in the hallway. We were all so scared but they didn’t do anything to reassure or comfort us. We would all talk about what would happen to our kids, we were all worried about that. Some of the women lost their kids altogether. Some of the patients got electroshock therapy. I didn’t have to have that, I was lucky. They were scared about it. The whole time I kept thinking those horrible thoughts.”
Electro shock therapy, sometimes more aptly called electro-convulsion, was one of two therapies commonly applied to Norwalk patients. The second was hydrotherapy ice bath immersion.
Given his history of nervous disorder, Jesse Jr. very likely was administered electro shock therapy while at Norwalk.
However, the lingering question is, was Jesse Jr. ever subjected to a procedural lobotomy? The procedure was a popular application in the period, as evidenced by the tragic experience of Rosemary Kennedy, sister of President John F. Kennedy.
Book Review: The Trial of Jesse James Jr.