Marital disputes are common grounds for stories about human intrigue. The longer two people are together, and the closer they stay, the more eruptive the drama between them can become.

And that’s always interesting to look at from the outside. Spats can range from mundane to comical to rough and gruesome.

But some marital disputes tread that careful line between being upsettingly grotesque and just a little bit goofy.

Everything from the reason for the conflict to the resolution of it comes off like a bad joke.

Bertha Boronda was one of those bad jokes. She was a woman who had a shaky marriage with a dangerous man and then shook a little too hard for both of them to handle

All it took was one night to change a silent but respectful home into the sight of a San Francisco surprise and led to a turn of the century case that would make most modern feminists go wild before feminism, as a movement, even existed.

10 /10 Bertha Zettle

Bertha was born Bertha Zettle to two German immigrants in Minnesota, and that’s all that’s known about her before she moved out west.

She was born in 1877, worked as a washer in Seattle, then moved down south to San Francisco right at the turn of the 20th century, which is when she met the man of her future.


9 /10 Fireman Frank

Frank Boronda, also known by Mario Narcisso Boronda, was a local fire chief and somewhat of a legacy family member to the area. His great great grandfather was one of San Fran’s first teachers in the 1700s.

He was also a bit of a lout, having gone through a shaky marriage before and wasn’t known for his exact honesty.

He was a hard-working man but also a hard-living man. But Bertha liked him, and they married. Maybe he thought she would last, but they were both proved wrong soon after.

8 /10 Marital Misdirection

Frank’s previous wife, Serena, tried to kill herself by drinking chloroform – which was readily available as a standard sleep aid – and claimed it was because Frank was abusive.

They filed for divorce after just three years. Nothing was ever proven, only alleged.

He hoped for something more peaceful for Bertha, but it is evident that things weren’t going well. His alleged infidelity may have played a part in the later breakdown of events.

7 /10 Mayhem

On May 29th, he and Bertha went to the theater to take in a play. It was the first time they’d spoken in nearly two weeks, which just seemed normal for their household at that point.

Later that night, she allegedly came onto him and invited him to bed, which he accepted. It was the first time they’d reconciled in months after either one of them would spend long periods ignoring the other.

Their relationship was finally looking up. And then she took a straight razor and tried to cut off his penis.

6 /10 Suited For Divorce

Once the deed was done, Bertha proceeded to flee casually. She told her nephew, who was living there at the time that Frank cut himself shaving and never elaborated.

Then she walked out and went on the run. Frank, meanwhile, didn’t feel like bleeding out from his crotch in his own home, so he went next door to the fire station and summoned a Red Cross hospital doctor to his aide.

He was rushed to the hospital, where he claimed assault while Bertha got away on a bike, dressed as a man.

She stayed on the lam for over 24 hours until she was caught in her brother’s suit, which she’d worn previously to stalk Frank incognito to prove his cheating ways.

5 /10 Tasteless Defense

In court, Bertha initially denied any involvement, citing temporary amnesia. She didn’t recall the whole evening. Later interviews and interrogations led her to change her story to one of retribution in jealousy.

She knew Frank was cheating and would soon skip out on her to go to Mexico, and that on that evening, she only defended herself from Frank’s “vile request” of what he wanted to do to her.

She even claimed to find letters from previous flings – one being his daughter from Serena, which she asserted had romantic implications. None of this helped her case.

She was tried and convicted of Mayhem, which by definition was the assault and severance of an appendage to render useless or remove.


4 /10 Style In Profile

Bertha remained remorseless over what she did. She never avoided it, except for initially, and once the arguments were established, she owned up to it and just went along with the facts that she did, indeed, try to cut off Frank’s little Frank in a jealous rage.

Her ambivalent smugness could be seen in her mugshots, where she had a similar resting face of unconcerned detachment. She was also posed wearing her huge, ruffled hat.



3 /10 Penal Parole

Bertha was sentenced to five years in a women’s prison. Frank filed for divorce.

The papers ran with her story as it went on. Some took particular care to avoid the scrutinous details while others, like the modern papers of today, threw the most offensive private part of the story in the reader’s face.

After two years, Bertha was released and moved out of San Fran to LA to have better luck.

2 /10 Maybe It’s You?

The lousy marriage didn’t leave a lasting bitterness in either mouth, as they were quick to remarry to other people.

Frank married a much, much younger woman than himself named Josie Warburton and eventually died in 1940 at the age of 77.

Bertha married, then divorced, Alexander Patterson in LA. Perhaps he sensed the tension rising and didn’t want to risk a similar disastrous mayhem-filled marriage. She died in 1950 at 72.

dpa picture alliance / Alamy Stock Photo

1 /10 Twisted Inspiration

As far as penile punishment goes, Bertha was somewhat of an innovator. She may have been the first woman of the 20th century to go for the crotch shot with a blade, but she wasn’t the last – or the most famous.

That title goes to Lorena Bobbit, who infamously cut off her husband’s penis and then threw it in an open field over his claims of abuse.

They say never sleep next to an angry woman—especially not one with access to a blade.

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