The Stathers Investigation
Evidence of Witnesses for and Against the Superintendent of the West Virginia Hospital
for the Insane as Related Before the Board of Investigation at Weston.
Some Damaging Testimony Affecting the Conduct of the Head of the Institution.
Cross Examination Discredits Much of the Evidence.
August 19, 1899
The Stathers Investigation
Evidence of Witnesses for and Against the Superintendent of the West Virginia Hospital for the Insane as Related Before the Board of Investigation at Weston.
Some Damaging Testimony Affecting the Conduct of the Head of the Institution.
Cross Examination Discredits Much of the Evidence.
In our report of the investigation into the charges preferred against Superintendent W. E. Stathers, of the Hospital here, we gave the substance of the testimony last week of Mrs. Mary L. Sommerville on behalf of the prosecution. At the time of our going to press, the Board was engaged in hearing the argument of Counsel upon a motion objecting to the attorneys for Dr. Stathers going into the private life of the witness with the view of disclosing her past history and thereby seeking to discredit her evidence.
Numerous authorities were produced by attorneys on both sides. The Board ruled that as the witness has been placed upon the stand and was there as the star witness for the prosecution, she should be compelled to answer fully all questions relating to the investigation and the circumstances attending he[r] life prior to her admission to the Hospital as well as all matters in connection with the charges contained in her affidavit upon which this investigation is in part proceeding. The prosecution excepted to the ruling and the examination proceeded.
"If I had had the affidavit I would have torn it up."
This was the declaration of Mrs. Sommerville after she had been subjected to a very searching cross-examination by Attorney McGary.
She stoutly and consistently maintained the truth of her statements under oath, but expressed the annoyance to which she was subjected because of the affidavit which she made.
Her conduct on this stand was admirable, and her evidence was not shaken, despite the fact that she was required to answer questions which would have broken down many a stronger woman.
She is very intelligent and she appeared to thoroughly comprehend the purpose of the questions put to her.
Mr. McGary then drew from Mrs. Sommerville the story of her unhappy marriage and the period which elapsed before the birth of her child.
"Wasn't it a military wedding?" he asked. The witness admitted that her husband was apprehended in Oakland and requested by male relatives of the family to marry her to save her honor. She denied that pistols were used.
Dr. Stathers's attorney then produced nine letters, which witness identified as written by her to Morris Smith, of Parkersburg, a nephew of Dr. Stathers. They were passionate love letters, and one of the last suggested that the correspondence should be discontinued, as "nothing could come of it, because of the marriage of Mrs. Sommerville." There was no suggestions of undue intimacy in the letters, save two or three expressions which might be regarded as incriminating under the construction placed upon them by the defense. In one letter, Mrs. Sommerville said: "We are partners in crime." In another she referred to her anticipated meeting with Smith as "spending a few days in paradise."
It was a most trying ordeal through which Mrs. Sommerville was required to pass during her cross examination. The inner-most secrets of her hearts were laid bare before the Board of Directors, for the purpose of influencing them to discredit her statements of Dr. Stathers misconduct toward her. A loving, trusting, fascinating and refined young woman, she was wronged by a man whose most intimate acquaintances do not hesitate to denounce him as thoroughly unscrupulous, and her life was ruined by him. Engaged to be married to her, he led her astray, and was compelled by her father and brother to marry him, and then deserted her and carried away her child. Under the terrible strain of the mental anguish which she endured, her mind gave way and she was sent as a patient to the Weston hospital, from which she was eventually discharged, secured[?] and where she was afterward employed by Dr. Stathers. Deserted by the man whom she [line of paper missing] voluntary exile from home, working in the asylum to support herself, she met and learned to love Morris Smith. A long correspondence followed and the language of her letters reveals the greatness of her love for him. They are passionate letters, revealing the depth of her affection for this man who seemed to return the affection. But throughout the correspondence she seems never to have forgotten her own situation and in one of the letters she reminds him that there is a limit to their love, that she is already tied up to one man that it would be some time before she could hope for release. She said that it looked as though nothing could come of their love and thought it was best that their correspondence should cease. There were references to meetings with him which it was desired should be kept from Dr. Stathers and frequently the wish was expressed that she could be with him (Smith) or he with her, but never once was any improper relationship between them referred to. An expression - "we are partners in crime" occurred in one of the letters but the context was such that there was no indication to what it referred.
These letters, laying bare the heart of this unfortunate young woman, which were intended only for the eyes of the man whom she loved with her whole heart, were read, one by one, from beginning to end, in her presence, before the Board of Directors. How they were secured has not been stated. Morris Smith is a nephew of Dr. Stathers, but even in this relationship no young man would be suspected of parading publicly the letters of love from one, the depth of whose affection for him is no great as hers seems to have been. Not only were these letters read in the presence of her who admitted their authorship but she was compelled to relate in more or less detail the circumstances of her marriage and other secrets which had been locked up in her heart, and which no woman fortunate or unfortunate, cares to relate to an unsympathetic audience and breath forth to the world. It was a terrible ordeal, but she bore up bravely and did not attempt to deny the slightest circumstance, even though it might rend her heart strings to relate the things which has occurred she never faltered.
Mrs. Sommerville remained on the stand until the middle of the afternoon Friday, and when she remarked: "I am very tired," her appearance did not belie her words.
Dr. Mark Perry, assistant physician at the Hospital, was the next witness. He corroborated Mrs. Sommerville in sub[s]tance in her testimony as to the advice he gave about making her statement retracting her affidavit. She was ill at the time, and the presentation of the paper annoyed her.
"What do you know of the relations between Dr. Stathers and Harriet Green?" was asked.
"Not much of anything. Your question is not explicit."
"Do you know Maud Stathers?"
"No, his wife's name is Virginia, and there is no Maud Stathers about the building."
Dr. Perry testified that Miss Green, while on the night watch, made her reports in the private office of the Superintendent, which both he and Dr. Snyder testified was not the general custom in the institution. Both also testified that her frequent visits to the office excited comment, but one witness added. "It's a great place for gossip."
Both agreed that Miss Green was absent when Dr. Stathers made his trip to St. Louis."
Dr. Perry said she told him she was going to Terra Alta, and after her return he heard her say she had been "down east."
Dr. George Snyder was assistant physical for nearly two years prior to April 4th, 1899. He testified that while driving to the Senatorial Convention at Buckhannon, last year, Dr. Stathers told him he would give half a year's salary for certain privileges with Mrs. Sommerville. Stathers thought witness was in her good graces and might accomplish the purpose, "and he said I had his consent to do so."
"Do you remember when Harriet Green attempted suicide," was asked.
Dr. Snyder replied in the affirmative, testifying that he attended her, with Dr. Bullard. It was before she left for Parkersburg to enter school.
The Board adjourned early to enable a member to catch a train for his home in Buckhannon. The investigation is proceeding very tediously and the present rate of progress will not bring about the speedy determination of the guilt or innocence of the Superintendent, which members of the Board have publicly announced as their purpose and desire.
Monday the absentees O. W. O. Hardman, of Tyler, and D. B. Gibson, of Jefferson, are expected to be present, but there will be another absentee. Joseph Keller, of Parkersburg, left for his home. Before his departure he said:
["]My health will not permit my attendance upon the investigation and I will not come back. When I reach home, I shall write to Gov. Atkinson tendering my resignation as a member of the Board. I am disgusted with the dilly dallying and the whole proceedings."
George B. Riddle, assistant engineer and plumber, states that he has been acquainted with Mrs. Sommerville and Miss Alfaretta Wilson for the past two years. He would not believe either on oath. Their reputation about the institution is bad and their actions are the grounds upon which they are judged. Mr. Riddle says they are "chums."
The first witness examined Saturday morning was Filmore Howell, a colored hotel porter at the Ward house, Grafton. His testimony related to the alleged going away of Dr. Stathers in May, 1898, with one Miss Hattie Green, an employe, on a trip to St. Louis. The witness stated that Miss Green came to the hotel where he worked on May 5th 1898, and that he took her up to Pruntytown to visit a Reform School inmate, and that she remained there over night, returning the next day. Witness carried a note from her when she returned to some one at the Central hotel.
Miss Green, who is here, was called in and was identified by the witness. He was present at the station on the night of the 6th and saw her purchase a mileage book with name of Maude Stathers. He and the ticket agent afterwards discussed the case and spoke of her using one name at the hotel on the register and another at the ticket office. He said a man had come down from the Hospital three or four weeks afterwards to get an affidavit from him that Miss Green had gone east and not west, and offered him a position at $25 a month if he could get proper endorsements from his home people. He identified C. L. Topping as the man, and Mr. Topping was placed on the stand and corroborated Howell's statement, stating that he had gone at Stathers' instance to get the affidavit. Topping is the hospital clerk.
Thomas L. Henderson, assistant ticket agent a[t] Grafton, was the next witness, and Dr. Stathers and Miss Green, having been brought in and asked to stand up before him, he identified both as having been in the waiting room and purchased tickets from him on the night on May 6, 1898. Dr. Stathers, he said, purchased a Pullman ticket to St. Louis, taking a lower or double berth, that being the only Pullman ticket sold by him that night.
Miss Green, who gave her name as Miss Maude Stathers, and so signed it on the ticket purchased from witness an interchangeable mileage book saying she wanted to go to St. Louis. While in the room the two paid no attention to each other, but witness say them go to the sleeper together. He exhibited before the board his office records of entries made on the day of sale, showing that interchangeable mileage book No. 5929 was sold May 6, 1898, to Maude Stathers.
On cross examination he admitted that he might possibly be mistaken as to the two being the same people, but he protested that he had no doubt in his own mind of their identity.
Clerk Topping was recalled and stated that he saw Dr. Stathers and Miss Green and sister get into a buggy one evening last April and start out driving in Parkersburg. The doctor returned to the hotel about 10 o'clock at night.
Miss Grace Bussey, of Jarvisville, one of the young woman who had formerly made an affidavit, gave testimony relative to Dr. Stathers having gained her confidence soon after she came to the institution by assuring her that he was a mason, and as her father was likewise a mason he felt it his duty to be a father to her. Soon afterwards she alleges that he again approached her and asked her to take a trip [word missing] with him, saying he though girls ought to have a good time as well as men, and that it would be no harm if it was not found out. A part of her affidavit relating to another matter she admitted having learned to be incorrect. She also stated that Dr. Snyder and R. Ad Hall had induced her to make the affidavit by telling her that she would be summoned before the board if she did not. When asked why she did not leave the institution when insulted by Dr. Stathers she replied that she remained because she was poor. She finally resigned and holds a recommendation from Dr. Stathers.
Miss Emma Snyder corroborated Mrs. Sommerville and Dr. Perry as to the signing of Mrs. Sommerville's counter-statement when ill of nervous trouble.
Miss Alice Custer, another employe, stated that Dr. Stathers talked to her at one time of her good looks, and finally put his arm around her. Miss Custer is very pretty and is a blood relative of the late General Custer, of Indian fame.
Dr. Lorilla F. Bullard, the lady physician, who was called and testified as to having been called by Dr. Stathers at one time to help treat Miss Green when she had attempted suicide by taking an ounce of bromo-chloral. She knew no reason for this attempt. The witness had heard about the building various rumors of intimacy between Dr. Stathers and Miss Green. She corroborated Dr. Perry in his statement that while night watch Miss Green made her reports in the superintendent's private office, while other reports were made in the general office, and she was seen quite frequently the with [sic] doctor - so often that it had excited comment.
David Snyder, who was for two years a Director of the institution, stated that at one time about a year ago Dr. Stathers had pointed out to him one of the employes of the institution whom he said was loose, and told Snyder to form her acquaintance. The girl afterward was discharged by Dr. Stathers because she was said to be in a delicate condition.
On cross examination witness said he believe the institution to be managed with commendable economy, cleanliness and good care of patients.
More was accomplished Saturday than in any other one day since the investigation began.
Two witnesses testified before the Board on Monday morning. They were Mrs. Ida V. Wilson, and her daughter, Alfaretta. Mrs. Wilson said that before she took her daughter to the Hospital she had heard immoral reports about the institution. Dr. Stathers promised protection to her. Miss Alfaretta is one of the chief [sic] witnesses for the prosecution. She has already instituted a ten thousand and dollars damage suit against Stathers. She told about the doctor coming to her room, after she had retired on the night of the 30th of April. He found her door unlocked and entered the room, in which an electric light was burning. He extinguished the light, sat down upon the bed and tried to put his arms around her. Some conversation ensued and he attempted to kiss her, he told her to meant no harm, and said she would never lose anything by being his little pet. On up to this time, he had always been very good and kind to her. His visit caused comment and he told her to deny that he had entered her room and to say that the report was one of Grace Bussey's big lies. She does not feel kindly toward the Doctor. On cross examination, witness denied having written certain letters to R. Ad. Hall, postmaster of Weston. Some consternation was created when she subsequently identified an envelope in which Hall had enclosed a communication to her. It was an offical [sic] envelope, unstamped, with penalty attached for private use.
It came to light that Dr. Stathers and his friends are going after R. Ad. Hall, postmaster, who is the prime mover in the prosecution. They will try to oust him from his office claiming he has constantly violated the postal regulations.
They allege loose management in permitting people to come behind the postoffice barriers.
They claim also to have letters of his on private business connected with the present investigation signed in an official capacity as postmaster. One letter in question was written to Athens, O.
Hall's friends say the Wilson letter was delivered by his private messenger and did not go through the postoffice. Evidence thus for [far] indicates indiscretion on part of Dr. Stathers, but wholly fails to establish criminal relations with any of his employes.
A. W. Smith, of Greenbrier - 2 years here an employee - knows Mrs. Somerville [sic]. Bad reputation. Would not believe her on oath. Same opinion as the Alfra Wilson and Grace Bussey. Smith is general outside night watch.
Geo. B. Riddle inpeached [sic] reputation of Mrs. Sommerville, and, and Miss Wilson, for truth and veracity. Considered them "chums."
Will Mick, supervisor, states he would not believe Mrs. Sommerville or Miss Wilson on oath or otherwise.
John Murray, baker for four years, wouldn't believe Mrs. Sommerville or Miss Wilson on oath.
Thomas L. Egan, tinner two years at Hospital, saw Mrs. Sommerville and Miss Wilson together a great deal, knows the reputation of both and wouldn't believe either of them on oath.
J. H. Davis, been employed as night watch for 25 months, came here from Harrison county. Mrs. Sommerville and Miss Alfaretta Wilson each have bad reputation among their associates at the Hospital, I would not believe either of them on oath.
Miss Maggie Wooddell has been employed at the institution for two years. She states that she has heard the Mrs. Sommerville and Miss Wilson have bad reputations for truth and veracity and from what she has heard she would not believe them on oath. She only knew what others said of them.
Albert Arkle, engineer in ice and electric plant, been here two years, knows Mrs. Sommerville and Miss Wilson since he has been here. Both have bad reputations about the building and he would not believe them on oath.
Other witnesses on this line are P. F. Tierney, J. E. Gatrel, W. B. Carpenter[,] Theodore Nicewarner.
Miss Harriet Green, of Parkersburg, was the first witness for the defense Wednesday. She is here for the purpose of explaining away the mysterious, and dark cloud of suspicion resting upon her. She proclaims herself to be an innocent victim of malicious falsehood and slander. She is prepossessing and outspoken and is proving herself to be an interesting witness. From Dec. 1897 until January last, Miss Green was an employe at the institution. She went to Parkersburg and completed a course of study at the Mountain State business college. At this time she has a position at the Jackson hotel. She denies positively that she accompanied Dr. Stathers to St. Louis or to any other place. She admits she was in Grafton in May 1898, that she went to Pruntytown to see her brother but denies sending a note to Dr. Stathers.
She did not see him or know that he was in Grafton. She did not buy an interchangeable ticket on which she could go to St. Louis and did not pass herself off as Miss Maude Stathers. From Grafton she went directly to Washington city, being accompanied by her sister, who met her on the train for that purpose. Dr. Stathers always treated her kindly and gentlemanly and no improper conduct ever occurred between them.
Miss Green was subjected to a rigid cross examination, and for an hour or more was made to relate in detail her knowledge of every public institution, building, park, cemetery, monument, museum and other point of interest she visited while in the city. This was for the purpose of testing the truth of her alleged visit. Miss Georgia Green, her sister, was subjected to the same rigid cross examination.
Miss Minnie Maynor - Putnam county, here since April year ago; saw Mrs. Sommerville many times, but was never with her a great deal. Mrs. Sommerville told her that Dr. Stathers had always been as good and kind to her as a father since she had been here.
Miss Kate Cummings - here about four years. Mrs. Sommerville told her about Last July that she had not made an affidavit, that she could not do anything against Dr. Stathers because he and Mrs. Stathers especially had been very good and kind to her. Said she had been drawn into this by Miss Wilson, Dr. Snyder and others. That Miss Wilson was a dirty little liar, and she would never forgive her. Said Dr. Snyder, Miss Wilson, Dave Snyder and Ad Hall had scared her into this trouble; that she was going to write an affidavit. Said she was going to show that she could not prove anything against Dr. Stathers.
Miss George Dawson - came here 5th August a year ago; acquainted with Mrs. Sommerville, and Miss Wilson. Had conversation with Miss Wilson in May last in which she told her that Dr. Stathers had been good and kind to her.
This witness testified that she taught Dr. Stathers partly to dance, Dr. Stathers had sent to her hall for her to come and dance with him. Taught him to waltz. Miss Wilson had made ugly remarks about him, and when told about it, Miss Wilson denied it and said that no lady would have been guilty of making such a remark.
J. R. Wells - Tyler county, farmer and gardner [sic]. Talked with W. S. Wooddell about Hospital. Talked about Democratic employees being here as to its good and bad effects. That the Doctor would better have listened to outside people about keeping Democratic employees, before it was too late. Dr. Stathers had been advised to dispose of some of the Democratic employees here. At that time talking about reports circulated about the Hospital. Wooddell was referring to the fact that all these employees of the Hospital should go, and especially those who were talking about Dr. Stathers. This conversation was just a few days before the meeting of the Board in July. Said to Wooddell that he knew some things about Dr. Stathers that he did not want to tell.
At 11 o'clock on yesterday Dr. Stathers went on the stand. He is 51 years old, and elected Supt. In June, 1897. Has six children living. Four residing in Hospital. Acquainted with Mrs. Sommerville, Miss Bussey, Miss Wilson. Never any improper relations between them, or in any way with Miss Harriet Green. Never stated to Mrs. Sommerville that he had been on a trip to St. Louis with Miss Green. Denied alleged trip. Never tried to unlock Mrs. Sommerville's door and never made any improper proposals to her. Did not have conversation with her, testified to by Mrs. Sommerville. Mrs. Sommerville said something to him on subject of being member of Democratic family. Was not in her room. Never told her that she must be his "little pet" or offered to send her to school, admits she had talked to him about going to school. At her request he prepared statement went to her room and asked her about affidavit. She said "Doctor, I don't know what to do". She was excited and had been scared and influenced into giving it.
"If that is true about what you have told me, you make that statement and sign it. She told me to write it. I did so. She copied it, leaving out some things she said she would not sign. Paper, he supposes, is destroyed, as he thinks it was thrown in waste basket. He endeavored to write down just the language she had used.
Robert L. Bland, special correspondent for the State Journal, very truthfully describes the situation at the Hospital in a dispatch to his paper on Tuesday. He says: What this week's proceedings in the matter of the investigation now pending at the Hospital for the Insane will disclose, is a question concerning which there is much speculation. It seems to be conceded that the principal evidence on behalf of the prosecution is now in, and it is doubtful whether anything of further importance will be offered by those who are seeking the political decapitation of Dr. Stathers.
The history of the West Virginia Hospital for the Insane reveals the fact that charges against the officials of the institution have been made under almost every administration. Of such frequency have they been preferred that the people of Weston, the location of the institution, are as a rule disposed to place but little confidence in the numerous rumors that are constantly kept in circulation. It should be borne in mind that the Hospital, with more than twelve hundred patients and something less than two hundred employes, constitutes an extensive family. As a matter of course, complete unity and satisfaction cannot prevail at all times. Now and then acts of indiscretion naturally occur and triv[i]al mistakes are inadvertently made, and the tendency at all times is to magnify and exaggerate the consequences, giving to them an alarmingly sensational phase until the true situation is understood. It is a truthful saying that mistakes will occur in the best regulated families. Indeed, upon an investigation into the private matters of almost every household, it would doubtless be said that something could be learned upon which to form the basis of scandal and disgrace if portrayed in the language of mispresentation and sensationalism. And so it is with this great institution at Weston. It has always been a source of political strife and contention. It matters not under what administration, something at some time or another is reputed to be going wrong. If an employe is discharged for refractory conduct or negligence of duty, he has a grievance to cherish and a fancied injustice to avenge. Then the public press is appealed to or an official commission must be invested with power and authority to investigate the condition of an alleged alarming state of affairs.
The only manner in which the present trouble at the Hospital for the Insane is distinctively different from the disturbances of the past consists in the fact that the prime movers in the charges of immorality preferred against Dr. Stathers are members of his own political party. They profess to represent the existing sentiment of that party in Lewis county. They proclaim the discovery of a state of affairs at the Hospital that needs cleansing. They say that in the name of party purity, justice and humanity, it is their duty to direct their influence in that way, that shall bring about the desired reform and demonstrate to the people of the State the sincerity of their actions. Dr. Stathers and his friends, on the other hand, charge that he is the victim of a foul and contemptible conspiracy. They say his accusers are actuated by personal, selfish, and dishonest motives; allege that they represent only a faction of their political party, and procured the affidavits and other evidence upon which their charges against him are based by intimidation and other questionable methods. They defy their accusers and rely upon an honest and searching investigation to fully exonerate the Doctor against every imputation under which he stands arraigned, and in this public way prove to the people of West Virginia and the world that he is an efficient and trustworthy Superintendent of the Hospital and that his administration of the institution is above reproach.
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