Dangerous Doctors

Physicians and Surgeons Building, West Washington Street. Photo courtesy of Mary Rose Carter.

“In about 1934 there was a famous murder trial in Greenwood which made all the newspaper and tabloids as well as the detective magazines. A woman pediatrician, Dr. Ruth Dean, was charged with poisoning a prominent physician, Dr. Preston Kennedy, after he had jilted her. She was supposed to have lured him down to the Physicians and Surgeons Building which he had built a few years before. They charged her with giving him a drink into which she had put bichloride of mercury. The event took place around midnight. He and his wife were separated, and he had been having an affair with Dr. Dean.

Dr. Preston Kennedy.

“He took her home on Carrollton Avenue near the intersection of Avenue I, and witnesses reported he got out of his car and vomited. The next day while operating on a local boy, Leslie Rogers, he fainted and was rushed to Jackson, where he died several days later. Before he died he told his brother, Dr. Henry Kennedy, a Greenwood dentist, that she [Dr. Dean] had poisoned him.

Dr. Ruth Dean

“The trial went on for days, and women would go early every morning to the Court House, taking their lunch and their knitting so that they would not have to miss a word of the testimony. Mama took us one morning so that we could see what a trial was like. Dr. Dickens was testifying that day, and I am sure we were just an excuse. Dr. Dean was sentenced to life in prison but shortly afterwards was pardoned by the governor and came back to Greenwood.”

Sara was a sucker for juicy gossip and true scandal, and she remained fascinated by this tragedy all her days. She would drag the sordid details out again whenever we went to the Physicians and Surgeons Building to visit our pediatrician, Dr. Carl Bernet. Imagine for us the prospect of Dr. Bernet’s ubiquitous shot needles overlaid with images of a Mad Poisoner loose in that very building. It’s a wonder we ever admitted to feeling bad.

For the complete Greenwood Commonwealth coverage of the Kennedy-Dean episode, go to Donny Whitehead’s page at http://www.aboutgreenwoodms.com/postcards/dean-kennedy.html.

About sec040121

Hello....I'm in possession of a priceless collection of memoirs and memorabilia left by my mother, Sara Evans Criss. She was a native and lifelong (88 years!) devotee of our small town, who covered this peculiar and volatile corner of the world for 30 years as the Memphis Commercial Appeal's Greenwood bureau chief, a job that started out with debutantes and high school football and wound up spang in the midst of one of the twentieth century's most enduring social upheavals. This blog is dedicated to her memory and the legacy she left behind, both for her family and her community.
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