Today, I’ll share with you the unusual story of Francisco Forster and Lastania Abarta.
Forster, affectionately known as “Chico”, was quite the Casanova in the Los Angeles area in the 1870s and 1880s. The son of Southern California’s wealthiest land baron, Chico was known to be a womanizer who’d already fathered two children out of wedlock. Forster liked to frequent a Los Angeles pool hall and tavern owned by the Abarta family, where beautiful Lastania played the guitar and sang for the customers. It was there that Lastania caught Forster’s eye, and he took great interest in her.
On March 15, 1881, Lastania sang at a party thrown by Pio Pico, California’s last Mexican governor. Pico had recently lost a sizeable tract of land to Forster’s land baron father, a point that irritated Pico to the core, I’m sure. Being in love with the son of the man he’d lost that land to, Lastania opted to add a bit of insult to his injury. She changed one line in the lyrics of the final song she sang that night—changed the words in such a way that it took a sizeable dig at the party’s host. No sooner did she sing the changed lyric than she ended the song, ran off the stage, and straight into the arms of her beloved Chico. The crowd never had a chance to react before she was gone.
Lastania and Chico ran to the Moiso Mansion Hotel where Chico had reserved a room. There, he made love to Lastania, taking her virginity but promising to marry her in the process. By the following morning, Lastania was grieved by her choice to give herself to this man before they’d been wed, so Chico promised to leave immediate to find a priest and rectify the situation. Ashamed, Lastania hid herself away in the hotel waiting. But too much time passed, and Chico never returned. So calling for her sister, Hortensia, the Abarta sisters searched the city and found Chico…gambling his money away on horse racing.
Irate, the pair of sisters dragged Chico into their carriage to get to the Plaza Church and be married. Only Chico didn’t want to go, so he jumped out of the conveyance halfway to their destination. Both young women followed, calling after him. When he finally stopped and turned to face them, Lastania withdrew a pistol from her skirt pocket and shot Chico through the eye, killing him instantly. It was broad daylight, and there were several witnesses to her crime, so she was arrested and put on trial.
I’m sure you’d expect it was a “slam-dunk” case. This jilted lover made no attempt to hide herself before shooting Chico, nor did she deny having shot him. Yet Lastania Abarta was acquitted of the murder of Chico Forster in a most unusual means.
|G. Wiley Wells|
Former consul in Shanghai, G. Wiley Wells, and former city attorney, John F. Godfrey, were hired as Lastania’s defense team, and they made the case—with forensic evidence and expert witnesses—that she’d suffered from “female hysteria” at the time of the murder. In other words, an insanity defense, but not based on insanity due to shame and humiliation over her actions—but insanity due to her female biology.
John F. Godfrey
If you were to read the medical journals and texts of the era, you would find that doctors and scientists thought women were so fragile that being deprived of sex…or being oversexed…would lead a woman into “hysteria.” (I suppose they thought there was a “happy medium target range” the men must hit to keep their women in “proper balance.” LOL) They also thought that the rigors of a college education could stunt the growth of the female reproductive organs. (Oh, the ridiculousness! Hahaha) Yet, it was such ideas on which the defense team based their case.
They presented the stained sheets from the bed on which Lastania and Chico first made love—to prove that she’d lost her virginity to the man. They also brought in no less than seven expert medical witnesses to discuss the delicate matter of female hysteria before the twelve male jurors. In these testimonies, the all-male panel of jurors heard how irregular menstrual cycles could disease the mind and bring on the dreaded hysteria. But it was the final witness, Dr. Joseph Kurtz, who finally nailed this coffin closed once and for all. In his weighty testimony, he stated that “Any virtuous woman, when deprived of her virtue, would go mad.” At that, the spectators in the gallery applauded. The jury took only 20 minutes to weigh the three weeks of testimony in the case and find that Lastania Abarta could have been nothing other than insane to have killed her lover as she did.
After the trial’s end, Abarta left Los Angeles never to be heard from again.
It’s Your Turn: Do you find learning the facts of true crimes from the past interesting? Why or why not? What are your thoughts on the case of Chico Forster’s murder?
Jennifer Uhlarik discovered the western genre as a pre-teen when she swiped the only “horse” book she found on her older brother’s bookshelf. A new love was born. Across the next ten years, she devoured Louis L’Amour westerns and fell in love with the genre. In college at the University of Tampa, she began penning her own story of the Old West. Armed with a B.A. in writing, she has finaled and won in numerous writing competitions, and been on the ECPA best-seller list several times. In addition to writing, she has held jobs as a private business owner, a schoolteacher, a marketing director, and her favorite—a full-time homemaker. Jennifer is active in American Christian Fiction Writers, Women Writing the West, and is a lifetime member of the Florida Writers Association. She lives near Tampa, Florida, with her husband, college-aged son, and four fur children.
COMING JULY 1, 2021—THE SCARLET PEN
Enjoy a tale of true but forgotten history of a 19th century serial killer whose silver-tongued ways almost trap a young woman into a nightmarish marriage.
In 1876, Emma Draycott is charmed into a quick engagement with childhood friend Stephen Dee Richards after reconnecting with him at a church event in Mount Pleasant, Ohio. But within the week, Stephen leaves to “make his fame and fortune.” The heartbroken Emma gives him a special pen to write to her, and he does with tales of grand adventures. Secret Service agent Clay Timmons arrives in Mount Pleasant to track purchases made with fake currency. Every trail leads back to Stephen—and therefore, Emma. Can he convince the naive woman she is engaged to a charlatan who is being linked a string of deaths in Nebraska?