Dr. Childs Differs with Harris As to Processes of Digestion

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

Atlanta Constitution
August 8th, 1913

Following Dr. H. F. Harris, the final witness of the state, DR. L. W. Childs also an expert on matters pertaining to the various processes of digestion was placed on the stand by the defense to refute what Dr. Harris had said about the food in Mary Phagan’s stomach showing that she had been killed in about half an hour after she ate.

Dr. Childs took a decidedly opposite stand from that of his brother physician and declared that he would hazard no guess within two hours of the time that death occurred after eating and also after looking at the sample of cabbage taken from the girl’s stomach stated that he had seen cabbage look that way after it had remained in a person’s stomach for 12 hours.

After ascertaining for the benefit of the jury that Dr. Childs graduated in 1906 from the medical college of the University of Michigan and that his occupation was that of surgery and general medicine Mr. Arnold propounded a number of hypothetical questions.

“If a person dies and the body is found at 3 o’clock in the morning when rigor mortis has set in to a certain extent: said the attorney “and the body is then embalmed at 10 o’clock that day and later disinterred nine days after and a physician finds a wound in the back of head say about 2 inches long and cut through to the skull with perhaps a drop of blood on the skull but with no pressure on the brain and injury to the skull could that physician determine whether or not that a would had caused unconsciousness before death?”

“A physician might hazard a guess under those conditions you have out lined but personally I would not like to do it”, replied Dr. Childs

“Would it be anything more than a guess to say that a person had become unconsciousness from that wound?”

“I would call it a guess.”

Wounds Would Be Similar

“Would not a wound, made right after death resemble one made just before death”? urged Mr. Arnold.

“Yes, if it were inflicted in from one to three hours after death.”

“How could you say whether it had been inflicted just before or just after death?”

“It would be a guess to say so.”

“If the would were examined nine days after death wouldn’t that make it harder to determine whether or not it was made before or after death?”

“It would make it decidedly harder.”

“Could as person have remained conscious after receiving such a wound as I have described?”

“Yes, that could easily be so.”

“Doesn’t a person often keep consciousness after having the skull fractured?”

“Yes, that is sometimes the case.”

“Among what is cabbage classed when treated as a food?”

“Among the carbohydrates.”

“State whether or not cabbage is classed among the hardest foods to digest.”

“Cabbage is classed as about the hardest among the carbohydrates and cellulose foods to digest.”

“The digestion of cabbage starts in the mouth when a certain ferment in the si[a]liva begins to mix with it.”

Not Digested in Stomach

“Does that keep up in the stomach?”

“No, the acids of the stomach neutralize the ferment and the process stops and there is no more digestion of the cabbage until it passes into the intestines.”

Mr. Arnold then showed the witness the sample of cabbage taken from the dead girl’s stomach and asked him if it had been well chewed. Dr. Childs stated that from its appearance it had not been well chewed and that had it been chewed much less that it could not have been digested at all. In answering the next question, the physician stated that it usually takes about four and a half hours for cabbage to pass from the stomach to the intestines.

“Are there many things that retard indigestion?”

“Yes, the psychic influences frequently do so [2 words illegible] fear and anger or fright and similar influences, the physician replied.”

“Does exercise retard or not?”

“Yes, I should say it does.”

Do you not find substances in the stomach that have been there quite a while and yet show but a little appearance of being digested?”

“Yes, that is possible.”

Mr. Arnold then read from notes on Dr. Harris testimony the condition of the cabbage on the murdered girl’s stomach and asked if from that Dr. Childs would say how long the cabbage had been there before death, the physician replied that he would not.

“How long have you seen cabbage lie in the stomach and then look no more digested than this?

“At least twelve hours,” Dr. Childs replied.

Court then adjourned for the lunch hour.

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Atlanta Constitution, August 8th 1913, “Dr. Childs Differs With Harris as to Processes of Digestion,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)