DR. CHARLES H. MITCHELL, sworn as a witness on behalf of the State.
Direct examination by Mr. Wilentz:
Q. How long, Doctor, have you been a physician licensed to practice
in the State of New Jersey?
A. Almost 35 years.
Q. And in addition to your license to practice medicine in May, 1932, did you hold an official position in the County of Mercer?
A. County Physician of Mercer County, yes, sir.
Q. And in your capacity as County Physician, were you called to perform an autopsy upon the body of a child on May 12, 1932?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. By whom – and where did you go as a result of that call?
A. I was notified by the Coroner that he had sent a body into the morgue in Trenton, known as Swayze's morgue on Greenwood Ave. I called there about seven o'clock in the evening of May 12th to or perform an examination and autopsy on that child.
Q. When you saw the remains of this child, was it recognizable?
A. The facial expression was quite good. The facial muscles had not deteriorated, although the body generally was in a bad state of decomposition.
Q. Have you seen pictures of the Lindbergh child?
A. We had a picture of the Lindbergh child produced at the morgue that evening, and I made a comparison, the best I could, and I was very much impressed with the fact that it was the same child.
Q. Now, Doctor, that was the only autopsy you performed at that morgue that day?
Q. How many autopsies would you say you have performed in your experience?
A. Oh, probably a thousand.
Q. As the result of your examination, can you tell us what caused the death of this child?
A. There was no question as to the cause of death. The child died of a fractured skull.
Q. Can you tell us whether of not that fractured skull was the result of external violence?
A. It had every indication of it, in my estimation, from my experience.
Q. What was the nature of this fracture – was it extensive or not?
A. Quite extensive. The fracture extended from a point about an inch and a half posterior to the left here, it extended forward, well, probably three to four inches; it extended upward to one of the fontanels; it extended backward around the back of the head. In other words, it was a very extensive fracture.
Q. Will you please tell us, if you can, your opinion as to the relationship between the fractures that you have just described and the time of death?
A. I would say death in this case occurred either instantaneous or within a very few minutes following the actual fracture occurring.
Q. There were some parts of this body missing when you performed this autopsy, were there not?
A. Quite a lot of them, yes, sir.
Q. Did that prevent you from ascertaining what in your judgment was the cause of death?
A. Not by any means. I come to my conclusions as to the fracture occurring during life by virtue of the fact that on the inner wall of the skull at the point of fracture there was still the remains of a blood clot. That blood clot could not come there if the child was dead when the fracture occurred. That fracture occurred on a living child. It bled. The clot was still there or part of it. That indicated in my mind the blow was struck or the damage done, however it happened – I can't say – but it was done prior to the death of the child or at least some time during its life.
To the effect that I think it occurred immediately is proven by the extent of the fracture. It was so great, covered such an area, in my estimation, that proved conclusively it was instantaneous or almost so.
Q. What you are giving us, Doctor, is your best judgment on the basis of your many years of experience, is that not it?
A. That is all, sir.
Mr. Wilentz: That is all I have with this witness.
Cross examination by Mr. Reilly:
Q. Where did you graduate from, Doctor?
A. University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.
Q. Are you on the staff of any hospital?
A. I have the privileges of every hospital in Trenton, but I am not actively on the staff of any of them at this time.
Q. How many autopsies have you performed on children under the age of two years?
A. It is rather difficult for me to tell you, but I have performed, I think I can say in a conservative way, at least two a week, on all sorts of cases. Now, we will allow out of the entire lot ten percent for children. I can safely say I performed a hundred on children, or more.
Q. Of all ages?
A. Oh, no – yes, of all ages.
[Mr. Reilly pursues a list of possible causes of death, e.g. cardiac conditions, kidney conditions, lung conditions, liver..., and elicits a response from the Doctor that none of the organs in question were present, or, if they were, were so far decomposed as to be useless from an analysis standpoint.]
Q. You made no effort to determine in your autopsy any cause of
death from choking, did you?
A. We examined very carefully by opening the mouth, putting the finger down the throat, also opening the chest, looking down the various organs that were left – very few of them left – examined the teeth, the tongue. The odor itself almost made it impossible for a man to work over this child.
Q. Then your examination was rather perfunctory, was it not?
A. I wouldn't say so. I think it was a mighty good one, myself.
Q. How long did it take you to determine the cause of death?
A. Well, I first made a general examination of the external portion of the body, measurements of length, examined the teeth, the condition of the muscles, which were in a badly decomposed state; then after that I made an effort to open up the scalp, to dissect it. In dissecting, in cutting, it was in such a decomposed state, it brushed back. Then I found this marked fracture on the left side, extending up to the frontal posterior occipital bone in the back of the head. There was no laceration over the scalp over that point. There was no reason why there would be any external bleeding, because there was no opening in the scalp. But in taking off the top of the skull, which I endeavored first to do, but the bones finally separated and fell off, and I found the various sutures, I found this evidence, the evidence of it on the inside as well as externally, and for an area, I would say, two inches in diameter around this centralized point where that fracture radiated from was an area of decomposed blood clot.
The brain substance itself was just past doing anything with, it was in the form, I would say of almost, well, probably a thick soup. We poured it out onto a table and made a very thorough examination of the entire contents of that brain, put our hands through it with gloves of course, and hunted very carefully for anything that might have been in that brain substance, and we also examined carefully the inner structures of the skull after we got the brain out.
The only thing I found was that in a hole on the opposite side of the head about an inch posterior to the right ear, an opening into the skull about close to an inch and a half in diameter, an irregular rounded hole.
Now, do you want me to describe the loss of these various organs, Mr. Reilly? I can tell you them, I think I have them right in my mind – the left foot was gone from the knee down; the both hands were gone.
Q. No, I am only talking about organs from which you could determine a cause of death. What is the general characteristics, if you know, of the skull of a child, as to its thickness and pliability when the child is born?
A. The pliability is quite free. The thickness is not very much. I think if I said an eighth of an inch, it would cover the thickness of the skull bones.
Q. Quite true. And the skull of a child is quite pliable, soft and elastic. So that doctors have been known, after birth, for at least a year, to be able to shape the head of a child?
A. Well, I don't think I wold want to go quite a year at shaping any child's head.
Q. A child of two, its skull would not be as brittle as a child of ten?
A. No, of course not.
Q. As we grow older, the skull becomes more brittle?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Now is there such a thing, Doctor, as bleeding after death?
A. For the first few moments there is a gravitation of blood from vessels, but after – it takes about three minutes to four minutes for the blood stream, for the blood that had flowed out to become more or less of a jelly type. Then after that, as the serum flows out, and then eventually in the course of an hour or two, you will begin to get the strict clotting of the blood. But the blood will flow just for a few moments as it gets into the jelly shape and then is not able to flow. It can be shaken out, but it will not flow.
Q. How long in a child of two years of age, after death, how long would it be before rigor mortis would set in?
A. It depends upon the surroundings, the temperature of the room, the cause of death. Sudden deaths produce rigor mortis a little earlier than slower deaths.
Q. Let's take rigor mortis out on land around Hopewell with a child that age?
A. I would say that rigor mortis would set in within, under those conditions, from 18 to 24 hours.
Q. How long in your opinion would it take for a child, dressed as the body of this child, to die of exposure in March, 1932?
A. Well, just what temperature are you speaking about. March can have various temperatures. I have seen it quite warm in March.
Q. The usual temperatures.
A. Do you mean average temperature – say an average temperature of 32. I'd say a child of that age would be very apt to die of exposure within 18 to 20 hours.
Q. Did you see this hole in the skull? Did you determine the cause of death the first night to be a bullet hole until you found out a policeman had accidentally poked a stick in there?
A. I never determined the cause of death as a bullet wound at any time anywhere. And, if the bullet went into that hole it would never be found somewhere in the head, for a bullet the size of that hole would just blast the other side of the head right out.
Q. Were you responsible for the movietone people and the movie people making a picture of this child at the autopsy?
A. No. We didn't allow anyone to see that child. We even called the police force in attendance, and asked them to keep everybody out.
Q. [About the body,] I just want to know what you did with the skull. Was the skull connected with the rest of the vertebrae to the body?
A. Yes, sir. Had not been separated in any way.
Q. The face had turned a brown color, had it not?
A. Rather a dark color when I saw it, sir.
Q. The eyes were missing?
A. No, they were there, but they had softened up considerably.
Q. Now I want you to tell me, please, just what you did to the skull.
A. Well, the face – I presume you include the face in the skull. I just counted the teeth.
Q. Were there any bruises on the face?
A. There was no evidence of bruises. The discoloration was due to decomposition. The facial muscles were very much still in what I would consider a natural formation. The eyes were softened. The lips were swollen and slightly everted, the teeth were showing prominently due to this elevation of the lips.
Q. There was no doubt in your mind but what you were examining the Lindbergh baby, was there?
A. At that time I didn't know. Of course we had our own ideas. We were told that it was suspected to be the Lindbergh baby.
Q. You knew it was a case of very importance?
A. We gave that case the same consideration we give every other case.
Q. An hour and a half after you looked at the body you determined the cause of death?
A. I certainly did.
Q. Where was the blood clot? Point it out on your own head, please.
A. About an inch and a half – this is inside the skull, not outside.
Q. You laid the skull open?
A. We laid the skull open by endeavoring first to saw off the top of the skull, but then it began to come apart of its own.
Q. Now, I want to know whether or not you photographed the blood clot?
A. We did not.
Q. Didn't you think it important enough to preserve the evidence by picture?
A. I felt my memory was just as good as the picture on that.
Q. Did you consider that if you did die before an arrest was made no one could testify to the autopsy from a medical viewpoint?
A. I don't know the law, to tell you the truth. I don't know how you work it. You fellows have got it around some way before you get through with it. (Laughter.)
Q. So – you say there is no photograph in existence except your recollection of this clot?
Q. Now what is the medical term for this blood clot?
A. That is what it is: coagulated blood.
Q. So you came to your conclusion that because there was a clot on the brain and there were evidences of a cracked skull that the child died of a fractured skull?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Yes. Doctor, is it true that blood decomposes more rapidly that any other portion of the body or changes its chemistry?
A. It is one of the softest tissues we have and, of course, the density of the tissue is in proportion to the decomposition. The softer it is the more rapidly decomposes. A blood clot I can safely say would decompose quite rapidly.
Q. That is all, Doctor.
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