In 1908, Bertha Boronda was charged with "mayhem" — for slicing off her husband’s penis with a straight razor.
Early in the morning on May 30th, 1907, Bertha, believing her husband was planning on leaving her, took a razor and sliced off his penis. While her husband ran to get help, she fled their San Jose home. Police scoured the city, but Boronda eluded them for more than 24 hours.
Once caught, Bertha was charged with “Mayhem,” defined by state law as any “person who unlawfully and maliciously deprives a human being of a member of his body or renders it useless, or cuts or disables the tongue, or puts out an eye, or slits the tongue, nose, ear or lip.” Her trial began January 13, 1908. Several witnesses testified Bertha made repeated threats of violence against her husband if she caught him cheating again. One said Bertha declared she would “blow his head off.”
Frank Boronda, her husband, was the chief prosecution witness. He testified that the only thing that happened the night of the crime that even approached a quarrel occurred when Bertha asked him about a recent trip he made to Oakland, California. Bertha’s defense was that she didn’t remember that night.
It took the jury only two hours to return a guilty verdict. Bertha was sentenced to five years in San Quentin, which at that time still housed female inmates. (California wouldn’t have a dedicated women’s prison until the 1930s.)