Laura Burton

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Dr Laura Evelyn Compton Bartee/Burton (born January 12, 1876; died April 9, 1906) was a medical doctor who practiced in Birmingham from October 1904 until her murder at the hands of her ex-husband two years later.

Early life

Laura Compton was born in 1876 to Mr and Mrs R. J. Compton of Marengo County. Mrs Compton was the daughter of Confederate Brigadier General William L. Lewis. At the age of 16 she met Tombigbee River steamboat captain Chesley Thomas Bartee, whom she married in Nanafalia on November 25, 1893. Over the next several years she bore him four children (Lucy Evelyn, born January 31, 1895; Thomas, born June 1897; and two others).

Medical school

After the birth of her fourth child, Laura Bartee determined to pursue the medical profession. Captain Bartee arranged to pay her expenses at the Homeopathic College in Louisville, though that left him alone with the care of the family. During a visit to Louisville, he discovered Laura to be romantically linked with another student, Allen W. Burton. Determining her intent to be estranged from him, he used his influence to keep the "scandal" from being publicized and arranged for a quiet divorce.

The former Mrs Bartee was quickly wedded to Burton and graduated the Louisville Medical College of the University of Kentucky as Mrs Allen Burton on March 31, 1903. For six months she practiced in the Indian Territory, in the town of Wapanucka, before returning to Mobile. In September 1904 she was examined before the Mobile County Medical Society and granted her certificate to practice medicine on October 1. The couple then moved to Birmingham.

Practice

Upon arriving in Birmingham, Laura Burton founded a successful practice in partnership with another female doctor, Irene Bullard, with their offices in room 14 of the first Watts Building on 20th Street North at 3rd Avenue. By all reports her practice was successful and she was an active member of the YWCA and the Jefferson County Medical Society. Her husband, by contrast, was not a successful physician and worked as a traveling salesman for a pharmaceutical wholesaler. His apparent lack of ambition led to tension in the marriage and she sued for, and was granted, a divorce on March 7, 1905.

In the summer of 1904 she and Bullard purchased a house at 45 Woodlands Avenue in North Haven, near the North Highlands streetcar line which they intended to use as an infirmary. It was there that her former husband asked to meet her on the night of her death.

Last days

The divorce ruling seemed to light a fire under Mr Burton, who actively pursued reconciliation. At length he founded his own practice and she responded positively to his entreaties. A remarriage ceremony was planned for May 9. At the same time his fledgling practice failed and he unsuccessfully sought employment with other companies -- a frustrating endeavor. His relentless appeals for her to rejoin his household fell on less receptive ears and soon became interlaced with physical threats. She let her friends know that she feared what he might do. On Sunday, April 8, she broke off the re-engagement and forbid him to call on her.

He did call on her the very next day. She slipped away and hid at a neighbor's house for a few hours, then decided to confront him. She borrowed a hat and cloak so she could maintain the pretense of having just come home from her downtown office. Mrs V. S. Andrews, a patient recovering from surgery, and Dr T. T. Thaxton, a dentist from Pratt City and friend of Andrews, were in the house and kept pleasant company with the unwelcome visitor until Laura Burton arrived.

Allen Burton spoke in her chamber for 15 or 20 minutes in private, and then returned to the sitting room. Mr Burton requested she retire again with him to talk further, but she refused, fearing the look in his eyes. At that point, in view of all present, he walked into another room and pocketed his ex-wife's 32-calibre double-action Smith and Wesson revolver. Mrs Andrews fled and Dr Thaxton moved to intervene. Burton fired twice into Thaxton and then shot his wife in the breast on her way out the door. He caught up to her and shot her at close range in the neck, killing her. He then pulled out a pearl-handled pocketknife she had given him and slit his own throat, falling over her in the lawn.

J. C. Richards, a neighbor, hearing the shots, and knowing of Burton's state, knew what must have happened and rushed to the scene, helping the wounded Thaxton into a bed and summoning the police. Richards complained in his report that he had asked the police to interfere in the mounting threat, but they had declined to respond on account of the distance from town.

Thaxton was transported to Hillman Hospital with two bullets in the intestine. He succumbed to his wounds two days after the shooting. The Burtons were taken to Lige Loy's undertaking establishment where the Coroner Paris performed an inquest and Loy prepared them for burial. During the day, thousands of people came to view the bodies.

Mrs Burton's remains were transported to her parents home in Nafalia for burial. Allen Burton's remains were claimed by his father. Thaxton was laid to rest at the Pratt City Cemetery.

References

  • "Doctor Kills Wife and Self; Dentist Shot." (April 10, 1906) "Birmingham Age-Herald", republished by A. J. Wright, Early Female Physicians of Alabama - accessed June 1, 2006