Friday, November 13, 2015

What Really Happened To Dr. Harry Cross?

One tranquil afternoon, during a casual stroll through Stockton Rural Cemetery, I came upon the Cross family plot. Located in a section near "Millionaire's Row," sits the grave of Dr. Harry Cross. Why his grave stood out to me is unknown, but I felt compelled to find out who he was. The more I dug, the more interesting it turned out to be, finding out just who he was and how he met his death in 1922.

Harry Cross was born to parents, Lester Emmett Cross and Imogen Lyon on May 8, 1867 in Michigan. At some point before 1880, the Cross family moved to Stockton to set up residence, while Lester set up his medical practice. Dr. Lester E. Cross' nickname was "Dr. Stork" due to the large amount of births that he delivered during his prominent career as a physician in Stockton.

His son, Harry followed in his father's footsteps, eventually graduating from Cooper Medical College, class of 1889-90.  Being raised in a family of physicians, no doubt there was a level of pressure that Dr. Cross must have felt. According to records, he seems to have done quite well for himself even at a very young age. He eventually married a young lady by the name of Sophia, and purchased a lovely home at 330. W. Magnolia in Stockton (on the corner of Magnolia/Van Buren).  His office was located at 42 N. Sutter Street, Suite 313, inside the Elks Building.
Dr. Harry Cross' Home, 330 W. Magnolia

Elks Building, 42 N. Sutter Street, Stockton

Patent # US1349751 A

Unfortunately, an unforeseen medical emergency took place when Harry was 42 years old. According to the December 2, 1909 edition of the San Francisco Call, states:
"PHYSICIAN UNDERGOES SERIOUS OPERATION, [Special Dispatch to The Call] STOCKTON, Dec. 1.—Dr. Harry Cross, one of the most prominent of local physicians, yesterday underwent a serious operation for appendicitis and hernia. He was operated upon at St. Joseph's home by Dr. Ellis Harbert, Dr. Fred Clark, Dr. S. N. Cross and Dr. L. E. Cross. The patient is doing well."--  Thankfully Dr. Cross recovered from his appendicitis and hernia surgery and eventually went back to work.  
During Dr. Cross' life he seemed to have been quite the genius. In fact, there's a record of him dabbling in inventions besides being a physician. The U.S. Patent Office holds the records of one of Harry's inventions. a Dust-Fuel Carburetor, that was filed on February 12, 1919 and patented on August 17, 1920. 
Interestingly, newspaper accounts mention that he had also opened a tuberculosis hospital in French Camp, that I have not been able to locate as of yet. However, the account also mentions that he had invented some type of elixir that was actually improving patients health who had been suffering from tuberculosis, and that he had gained some success with it. Unfortunately, for reasons unsaid in the article, the hospital had closed just prior to Dr. Cross' death.
Mysterious Death 
According to the Bakersfield Californian, Dr. Harry Cross was traveling with one of his patients to Los Angeles for further medical treatment, but stopped for the night along the old Ridge Route at the Sandberg Summit Hotel.  Lee Smythe, Dr. Cross' patient, revealed to the authorities that he woke up in the morning after sleeping at the resort, only to find Dr. Cross' lifeless body with a gunshot wound to the head and a pistol nearby. The two were sharing the same room. According to Smythe's statement, the two were on their way to Glendale to seek further medical treatment for a "condition" Smythe had been suffering from, which Dr. Cross had been treating him.  

As I read the article more I noticed something that did not sit well with me. Instead of raising the question of why Smythe did not hear the gunshot, since he had been sharing the same room, but instead the newspaper insinuated that Dr. Cross committed suicide, left a bad taste in my mouth. Why were the authorities so quick to rule this a suicide? 

Another oddity was that they mention an "alleged" nervous breakdown that Dr. Cross had suffered from, which supposedly took place years earlier. It even claimed that he stayed at a Sanitarium for a brief time.  I could not locate any records that would verify this allegation, nor could I disprove it. 

It went on to say that after his nervous breakdown, that he went back to practicing medicine again.  I am not sure if that was common to allow a doctor to go back to practicing medicine after a nervous breakdown, but again, I could not find any proof of this, not even in the Stockton newspapers.

I started thinking about the fact that Dr. Cross had come up with a treatment for tuberculosis, that allegedly worked. He was starting to get noticed for this, and then suddenly his hospital is closed down? Was this somehow connected with his death? 

Why was he traveling to Glendale with a patient? Was he there to prove to other colleagues that Lee Smythe was one of those patients he successfully treated? Was he there to look into further medicinal treatments? We may never know.

Lee Smythe was a resident of Merced, I looked into his background and didn't find much. He was a day laborer and a cook at different times in his life. He was born, Leander "Lee" Vincent Smythe on February 11, 1876.  His sister was Belle Gribl, the Superintendent of the Merced County School District during the 1920s. Lee was married to Lotta Viola Goldman in May of 1901. By 1918, he was a cook on a dredger, W.W. Hutchinson out of Antioch, Ca. His address was the Santa Fe Hotel in Antioch, based on  his WWI registration card.

So, was Lee a suspect? I think so. I find it quite odd that he did not hear the gunshot that killed Dr. Cross, especially since they were sharing the same room. I find it even stranger that the record of Dr. Cross' death discreetly disappeared out of any further local papers in that area. It is as if his death was swept under the rug, and he was quickly buried and forgotten. I had contacted several historians who were well acquainted with the history of the Sandberg Hotel's history, and even they had never heard of this strange death that took place there. That intrigues me even more.

The question as to why Dr. Cross died will remain as much a mystery to us as how he died. Did Dr. Cross travel all the way to Los Angeles County only to shoot himself in the head? Was he really as "nervous" as the newspaper account tried to paint him?  Why didn't Lee Smythe hear the gunshot? Had Cross really committed suicide in the same room or was he murdered? What really happened in that hotel room along the old Ridge Route?

The answers to those questions unfortunately went with Dr. Cross to the grave, leaving us only to speculate and imagine to this day. Now the only reminder of his existence is that small, concrete headstone tucked back in the heart of Stockton Rural Cemetery. A permanent resting place for a man we will never fully know.

Rest In Peace, Dr. Harry Cross.

(Copyright 2015- J'aime Rubio, Historian)
Originally posted January 5, 2015
Thank you- Roland J. D. Boulware, Harrison Irving Scott, Margie Campbell, Bonnie Kane and Peter Mack. 


Census, birth and marriage records
Polk-Husted Directory, Stockton City 
and San Joaquin County Directory, 1920
San Francisco Call, (12/2/1909)
Bakersfield Californian (8/18/1922)
Stockton Rural Cemetery

Photos: photos of headstone and home, copyright J. Rubio

Sandberg Summit Hotel (c/o Harrison Irving Scott, Author,
all other photos are in public domain 

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