Attacks on Dr. Harris Give Defense Good Day

Another in our series of new transcriptions of contemporary articles on the Leo Frank case.

Atlanta Georgian
August 12th, 1913

The defense had what was probably its best day on Monday. Medical experts were on the witness stand the larger part of the day. The purpose of their testimony was to knock down, one after another, the sensational statements of Dr. H. F. Harris, secretary of the State Board of Health. All of the witnesses joined in ridiculing every important theory or conclusion that was reached by the distinguished chemist and physician.

Experts for Defense.

These are the medical experts called by the defense to combat the testimony of Dr. Harris:

Dr. Willis F. Westmoreland, first president of the Georgia State Board of Health, and president of the Atlanta College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Professor George Bachman, demonstrator in physiology at the Atlanta College of Physicians and Surgeons; formerly one of the faculty of the Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia.

Dr. T. H. Hancock, a specialist in surgical practice.

Dr. J. C. Olmstead, a graduate of Columbia University, and a practitioner in Atlanta for 32 years.

Here is a summary of Dr. Harris’ theories on the death of the Mary Phagan and the consensus of the four medical experts’ opinions in regard to the theories:

How Views Clashed.

Mary Phagan came to her death within half or three-quarters of an hour of the time she ate her meal of cabbage and wheat bread at home. The condition of the cabbage shows it had been in her stomach no longer than that when death stopped the digestive processes.

“No man in the world could examine those specimens of cabbage and tell either from their condition or from the conditions found in the stomach of the murdered girl nine days after death within hours of the time that elapsed between her meal and her death.”

The wound on the back of the girl’s head indicates that she was knocked unconscious and later strangled to death.

Called Reckless Conjecture.

“From the data at hand, it is absolutely impossible to tell that the wound on the head caused unconsciousness. It is only a rash and reckless conjecture.”

Mary Phagan was the victim of criminal violence other than that superficially apparent.

“This is the most extraordinary surmise that could be imagined. As a matter of fact, he could not have told from the conditions he says were present that she was a victim of criminal violence, even if he had made the examination within a few hours after death, instead of nine days later.”

Dr. Harris not only was buffeted about on account of his startling theories and conclusions, but because of his conduct in the case. Attorney Reuben Arnold asked Dr. Westmoreland what he would think of a physician or chemist who was called into a case like that of the Phagan murder; who made the examinations admittedly for the reason that he “liked the Solicitor”; who conducted all of his analyses and experiments in absolute secrecy, who had not even a collaborator to check up on him, and who saved none of the material for the use of chemists who might be engaged by the defense.

Solicitor Dorsey at once made objection to the question.

“I don’t know that the question is admissible, but it ought to be,” retorted Arnold. “We wish to show that Dr. Harris has violated all of the ethics of his profession, as well as the principles of honesty and decency and fairness. A man’s life is at stake, your honor. His case should not be affected by one man’s word who deliberately has destroyed all of the material upon which he says he bases his theories.”

Dr. Westmoreland was permitted to answer. He said:

“It is the ethical rule that a chemist or physician either call in another expert or preserve the specimens of his test.”

Solicitor Dorsey endeavored to show that Dr. Westmoreland might be influenced in his testimony by a breach of professional relations with Dr. Harris which occurred some time ago.

Attempts to Show Dislike.

“How is you feeling toward Dr. Harris?” he asked. “Is it kindly or unkindly?”
The witness replied that it was neither one nor the other.

Asked by Attorney Arnold to go into the matter to which the Solicitor referred, Dr. Westmoreland said that he had preferred charges of scientific dishonesty against Dr. Harris and that the charges had been found well grounded, but were not regarded as sufficiently grave to warrant any action. He thereupon resigned from the State Board of Health, he said, leaving Dr. Harris in his position of secretary.

Joel Hunter, an expert public accountant, testified just before adjournment that it would have taken Leo Frank at least three hours to make up the financial sheet and balance his accounts on the day that Mary Phagan was murdered.

“That wouldn’t have given him much time to go to the ball game, would it?” inquired Attorney Hooper.

It is the theory of the State that Frank was planning to go to the ball game Saturday afternoon and that complied practically all of the financial sheet Saturday forenoon. This is in opposition to the contention of the defense that Frank did all of the difficult mathematical work in the afternoon, something he could not have done had he just committed a brutal murder.

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Atlanta Georgian, August 12th 1913, “Attacks on Dr. Harris Give Defense a Good Day,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)