The Inez Burns Story, Part XVIIII: Conclusion!


Inez Burns soon learned that she had been framed double-crossed by Walter and Gloria Shannon–the people Inez had given shelter to in her Fillmore Street flat.

Testifying before the new grand jury, the Shannons were to be the “star” witnesses against Mrs. Burns. Inez’s charges that the Shannons wanted to “shake her down” for $35,000 fell on deaf ears.

But Inez Burns did not go down easily.

Defended by former police commissioner Walter McGovern during three sensational trials, resulting in two hung juries, the 62-year-old Burns was finally found guilty at the third trial.

A devastating witness against Burns was the “chic brunette” who jumped over her backyard fence wearing a fur coat over her nightgown.

Mrs. Lavina Queen, who had been a year-long fugitive, appeared in court to testify in detail about her role not as a patient but as an anesthetist at the Burns’ establishment.

Inez Burns was sentenced to three years at Tehapachi Women’s Prison in 1948.

She pleaded guilty in a second case in 1952 and was sentenced to a term of two to five years at the California Institution for Women at Corona.

She also served eight months for income tax evasion , resulting in the loss of all of her property, including the Atherton where granddaughter Caroline Carlisle and her parents lived.

The good times were over for Inez L. Burns but she often reminded her granddaughter, “I was the best humanitarian for womankind. You don’t know how many homes I’ve saved.”

Both Joe and Inez Burns died on the Coastside at a hospital in Moss Beach; Joe in 1975 and Inez six months later in Janaury 1976.

Special Note: Inez Burns had a daughter who was sheltered and carefully kept away from her mother’s professional life. This daughter attended the best private schools on the Peninsula and went on to live a privileged life elsewhere.

The Inez Burns Story, Part XVIII

When police searched Inez Burns’ house on Guerrero Street in San Francisco, they found the safe holding more than $300,000.

Later one officer testified that Inez told him to take as much as he wanted “to forget the whole thing,” but he refused–or so he said at the trial, according to newspaper accounts.

That same evening, police pounded on the door of a home near San Francisco’s fashionable Forest Hills’ district.

While police interrogated the man at the door, his wife, wearing only a nightgown with a fur coat hastily pulled over her shoulders, jumped over the backyard fence and vanished.

A warrant was issued for her arrest and reporters believed the woman to be a socialite patient of Mrs. Burns, too mortified to talk to authorities.

…To Be Continued…

The Inez Burns Story, Part XVII


While Inez worked long hours in the hospital-like environment upstairs, she was unaware that Gloria Shannon was compiling material for a book about Burns’ abortion business.

Inez may have known that on the street outside the Fillmore Street flat, state medical investigators followed women leaving the clinic, attempting to persuade them to testify in court against Burns; at this they never succeeded.

At the same time “Pat” Brown, San Francisco’s new district attorney, targeted Inez Burns, slowly building a case against the “queen of abortionists.”

Brown represented a reformist movement.

The police chief announced a new crime prevention detail called the “Flying Squadron,” heavily armed at all times in light robbery, rape and murder. Stool pigeons, double-crossers and informers came forward.

The noose was beginning to tighten.

Sensing trouble in the air, patients’ appointments were canceled in the days leading up to the morning of September 26, 1945, when Inez learned just minutes in advance that her establishment was about to be raided.

After a quick getaway she and husband Joe returned home to their Guerrero Street home where the police also appeared. Based on a complaint by a young patient, Inez Burns was arrested for performing abortions and practicing without a medical license.

The notebooks containing the names of patients were taken as evidence and the district attorney’s office offered to share Burns’ accounting methods with the internal revenue service.

…To Be Continued…

The Inez Burns Story, Part XVI

Inez Burns’ staff of four women and one man grew accustomed to the sound of her loud voice barking a series of orders–to be followed without argument.

When at home Inez often expected family guests to help with chores, including washing the windows.

Even if relatives arrived well dressed and reluctant to do dirty work, she reminded them that her “million dollar hands” were paying all of their bills.

“Take off your fur coat and get busy; you can clean that living room rug,” Caroline Carlisle remembers her grandmother’s harsh command.

But Burns’ impoverished childhood was never far from her mind. “Inez was a sucker for hard luck cases,” Carlisle said.

When, for example, then 64-year-old, gray-haired Warren Shannon, a trusted friend, fell on hard times, Inez invited the former San Francisco supervisor and his wife, Gloria, to move into the first floor apartment of the Fillmore Street flat, rent-free.

This was the first time Inez met Glorria Shannon, a beautifully attired, overweight woman, the daughter of political cartoonist Homer Davenport.

During the four months the Shannons resided at the flat they discovered that their apartment was connected to Inez’s clinic above a “secret stairway”, accessed through a sliding door in the rear wall of a closet. Police later dubbed it the “getaway apartment.”

…To Be Continued…

The Inez Burns Story, Part XV

At the Fillmore Street flat in San Francisco, a full day of appointments awaited Inez Burns as well as deliveries of surgical equipment and “anaesthetic gases.”

“She was so much into her business–she was a workaholic who didn’t trust anyone else to perform the abortions,” said granddaughter Caroline Carlisle. “People say she would have been a wonderful physician.”

Always cautious in running her business, Inez developed a secret language, shared with intimates, including her granddaughter. The secret code included the odd phrase, “nee-dash,” which meant “shut up” when the police were nearby.

In Inez L. Burns’ language, the made-up word, “glanthon,” substituted for money, used to protect the location of cash hidden in the Guerrero Street home, especially the large, black safe kept in Inez’s room filled with her custom-made, large-brimmed hats.

Over a 30-year period, thousands of women visited Burns at her Fillmore Street flat.

She also arranged special “appointments,” necessitating travel to New York, Seattle and Los Angeles.

In her careful handwriting, Inez penciled in the names of patients in dime store notebooks colored red, black, green and yellow, keeping track of their case histories and the amount of fees paid. The figures she entered in the colorful notebooks did not tally with the much smaller amounts she deposited in an account at a nearby bank.

…To Be Continued…

The Inez Burns Story, Part XIV

Edmund G. “Pat” Brown–a future two-term California governor–moved into the office of former San Francisco D.A. Matthew Brady, whose 24-year career paralleled the success of Inez Burns.

She “considered Brady a fine fellow,” remembers Pacifica resident Caroline Carlisle, Inez Burns’ granddaughter. To others, the rise of “Pat” Brown, a Republican-turned-Democrat, signaled the end of an era and he would prove to be no friend to Inez Burns.

Perhaps Inez should have been more wary, but she continued her old routine.

It was business as usual: Rising at dawn, Inez Burns stepped into the all-glass shower stall, enjoying a hot water massage from the multiple spigots.

She brushed her teeth in one immaculately clean sink, rinsing her hands in yet another basin. Toweling off, Inez put on lingerie adorned with a “lacy lover’s knot” and a crisp white nurse’s uniform. Leaving her beloved pair of jewel-collared Pomeranians, Foxy and Theda Bara at home, Inez was driven to work at her three-story Fillmore Street flat by her husband, Mission Street politician Joe F. Burns.

Joe was Inez’s fourth husband but their relationship was a solid one although every now and then he would pack up his clothes and leave for two weeks at a time.

…To Be Continued…

The Inez Burns Story, Part XIII


But the political hierarchy she had relied on for three decades was changing. Still, the saavy abortionist believed she could survive even in the new environment.

Inez Burns recalled that in the past when she had faced trouble, she found many important people who could be “bought.”

Seven years earlier, police arrested Inez for performing an illegal abortion without a medical license, a charge dismissed in court when witnesses refused to testify against her.

As a result of that case, the IRS became interested in her, imposing a heavy penalty on her federal income tax return, but mostly Burns practiced her craft without interference from the authorities.

Initially Inez didn’t expect any differences from the changed political climate, including the selection of a new grand jury. The gravest threat to her well being was the emergence of 39-year-old Edmund G. “Pat” Brown in the San Francisco district attorney’s office.

…To Be Continued…

The Inez Burns Story, Part XII

Clutching a package containing colorful dime store notebooks, Inez Burns rushed out of her San Francisco Fillmore Street flat on September 26, 1945. The time was 9:30 a.m.

Walking briskly to keep up with his wife was ex-San Francisco Assemblyman Joe Burns.

The pair headed for a nearby garage where Burns’ shiny black limousine was parked. They hurriedly slammed the doors of the automobile and almost ran down the attendant as they sped away.

Moments later, police and officials from the district attorney’s office arrivied to “knock the place over” but were disappointed to find the premises quiet with no one to arrest.

Known for her excellent reputation as an efficient and safe abortionist, Inez had become a San Francisco institution by 1945.

When shopping at Ransohoffs, the Emporium and other fine San Francisco stores, the saleswomen rushed to her side. She was often recognized on the street and the famous San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen often greeted her warmly at Gallaghers, the popular 5th and Mission Street bar.

…To Be Continued…

The Inez Burns Story, Part XI


Between Prohibition and World War II, Inez L. Burns earned millions of dollars as the “queen of abortionists.”

During her amazing career, Burns’ clients ranged from housewives to Hollywood movie stars.

Her San Francisco facilities were antiseptic and she was said to be a “perfect abortionist” (with no fatalities). She also practiced her illegal activities with little interference from the authorities.

Burns, who resided on Guerrero Street in San Francisco, wisely invested her illicit funds in real estate, including a lovely Spanish-style home in Atherton and a 1,000-acre horse ranch located in the magical redwoods of La Honda. At both homes, she installed family members as “caretakers.”

She began to face tough times in the mid-1940s as the lawlessness that grew out of Prohibition ended, blunting her 30-year streak of good, trouble-free luck.

But after receiving a telephone tip advising her that police were about to raid her San Francisco abortion mill, the 59-year-old Burns set her emergency plan into action.

…To Be Continued….

The Inez Burns Story, Part X


As they drove through the magical redwood forest on the narrow road, Joe Burns often blurted out, “Oh, heck, let’s take a chance,” before negotiating a hairpin turn without knowing for certain if another car was coming in their direction–an action Caroline Carlisle attributes to his gambling nature.

After stoppping at Apple Jack’s, a bar and local hot spot, “We drove and drove and finally across the road from the “Log Cabin School for Boys” was grandmother’s ranch, the farmhouse, stables and the barns,” remembers Caroline.

Residing at the working ranch was Joe Burns’ brother, his wife and children, including a future mayor of Half Moon Bay.

The ranch hands knew the boss lady had high expectations and they were prepared for her ritual inspection. But the surprise trips to the La Honda ranch and the Atherton house were soon to end.

…To Be Continued…