Harris Sticks to Testimony As to Time of Girl’s Death

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

Atlanta Constitution
August 8th, 1913

Dr. H.F. Harris, the state’s final witness against Leo M. Frank, was put on the stand for cross examination shortly after 10 o’clock Thursday morning, and through a series of questions Attorney Reuben Arnold, for the defense, sought to make him less definite in regard to the time of Mary Phagan’s death after eating the meal of cabbage and bread about 11:30 on the day she was killed.

Dr. Harris was asked a number of questions about digestion, and while he admitted it to be a subject that is not thoroughly understood by scientists, he clung to the main portion of his original testimony that the girl must have been killed within a hour after she ate her meal.

“Tell of some things that might retard indigestion, Dr. Harris,” Mr. Arnold started out.

“Well, it is hard to tell about that,” replied the physician, “there are some nervous troubles which have that effect and then certain things put into the stomach have that same effect. The subject is not too well known and it’s necessarily rather vague.”

“As a general proposition, any sort of physical or mental activity would retard digestion, wouldn’t it?”

“Well, yes, but on the other hand some will tell you that you ought to take a walk after eating, and others that you ought to take a nap after eating. It’s hard to say.”

“The stomach is like the mind, isn’t it, a sort of law unto itself?”

“Not entirely; the average man with a normal stomach digests food as any other similar man.”

“Do you think, I mean from your personal viewpoint, that a person ought to take a walk or a nap after eating?”

“I can’t say,” replied Dr. Harris. “I never studied the subject enough.”

Vague and Uncertain

“Well, what effect does mental activity have on digestion?”

“Well, as a general rule, I don’t think that mental activity would retard digestion to any great extent in a person of good health.”

“It’s a vague and uncertain field, then?”

“Yes, rather.”

“How long does the stomach act on food before it begins to pass out?’

“Well, generally speaking portions of the food begin to pass out in about half an hour.”

“How long, Dr. Harris, does the average meal stay in a person’s stomach?”

“Ordinarily, three or four hours, but when a person eats meats and certain other things, it is assumed to take from seven to eight hours. It varies with the individual.”

“Does the stomach emulsify the substances which it does not digest?”

“Yes, most things, but peas and grains of corn and things of that nature would not be emulsified.”

“Where are most vegetables digested?”

“I can’t say because parts are digested in the stomach and parts in other places, we believe, and that could only be made sure by cutting a man open.”

Mr. Arnold then took up and went through in detail with the witness the various experiments that have been performed upon cats, dogs, guinea pigs and rabbits, and asked him if much could be told about the digestive processes in human beings from a study of that in animals. Dr. Harris replied that it could not, at least to any great extent.

“Well, cats are flesh-eating animal, aren’t they?” Mr. Arnold asked next.

“No, I’ve seen cats eat bread and vegetables.”

“Well, I mean that wild cats eat only meat, don’t they?”

Reply Brings Laughter

“Well, I’ve never associated with wild cats, and don’t know,” the pathologist replied dryly, and in the general laughter that followed deputies could be heard in earnest voices telling certain spectators about courtroom etiquette, and that the room was supplied with exits as well as entrances.

Mr. Arnold enjoyed the reply as much as anybody else and continued by asking the physician if the whole study of the digestive processes were not in its infancy.

“It is to a great extent,” replied the witness.

“Then the whole thing is constantly changing, isn’t it?”

“No, there are certain things which have been established which I do not believe will be changed no matter how deep a research is made.”

“Well, doctor, isn’t cabbage held to be the hardest food to digest?”
“No, I wouldn’t say that,” replied the physician. “Although I have heard that statement made.”

“Well, you don’t know, outside of what you have heard, how long the cabbage and wheat bread had been in Mary Phagan’s stomach?”

“Yes, I was able to tell by its appearance and by the degree to which it was digested.”

Then referring to the girl’s condition, Mr. Arnold asked Dr. Harris if he could tell positively whether or not the girl had been violated. The physician replied that he could say positively that violation had taken place, but he would not say in what form, or how it been accomplished.

“Could a visual and digital examination, such, for instance, as that made by Dr. J. W. Hurt, have revealed as much as your microscopic and chemical examination showed?” Mr. Arnold then asked.

“No, it could not.”

“Was the head injury enough to have produced death?”


Mr. Dorsey then started to ask Dr. Harris a few questions.

“Was there any evidences of poison in the girl’s stomach?”

“No, not any irritant poisons, at least not enough to have had any effect.” After a few more questions on this line Dr. Harris, who appeared to be almost as ill on the previous occasion, when his condition forced him to leave the stand, was excused.

Solicitor Dorsey then tendered in evidence the sample of the cabbage taken by the physician from the dead girl’s stomach. There was no objection made to this by the defense, but when the solicitor tendered samples of the cabbage take by Dr. Harris from the stomach of men and compared with that from the girl Attorney Arnold objected.

“We will make no argument over this, he announced, “but merely wish to record our objection.”

Mr. Dorsey then announced that he desired to tender the cashbook of the National Pencil company, and also Frank’s bankbook, and with them would close. The two books had been produced, and by agreement, state rested its case.

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Atlanta Constitution, August 8th 1913, “Harris Sticks to Testimony as to Time of Girl’s Death,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)