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, has been received by the James Preservation Trust.
Final Image of Jesse James Jr.
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.
Caregiver of Jesse James Jr.
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.
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 The old hospital has been replaced by a modern facility.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.
Hospital 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 are not even available to living or 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.
Patient Testimony of Conditions
Original Photo & Inscription
Electro Convulsion Therapy
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.
Did Jesse James Jr. Suffer a Procedural Lobotomy at Norwalk?
However, the lingering question is, was Jesse Jr. ever subjected to a procedural lobotomy during his confinement at Norwalk? The procedure was a popular application in the period, as evidenced by the tragic experience of Rosemary Kennedy, sister of President John F. Kennedy.
Jesse James Jr. was institutionalized more than one time. Like Rosemary Kennedy, Jesse Jr. disappeared entirely from public view. Also like Kennedy, the family of Jesse Edwards James Jr. spoke little of Jesse Jr. after confinement, if they spoke anything of him at all even among themselves. Jesse’s wife, Stella McGowan on occasion would admit that Jesse Jr. was in the hospital, or more simply that he was ill. That was all that was said.
Despite speculation and family secrecy, no documentation exists to show evidence of whether or not Jesse Edwards James Jr. was subject to a procedural lobotomy. Nor is anything mentioned in his death certificate to suggest it.
Final Residence of Jesse Edwards James Jr.
According to his death certificate, on March 26, 1951 when Jesse Jr. died, his official residence is listed as 1590 W. 54th St., Los Angeles, California. The building consists of three small apartments. The widow of Jesse Jr., Stella McGowan, continued to occupy the small apartment following Jesse’s passing, until her removal to Seal Beach, California.
Book Review: The Trial of Jesse James Jr.