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Luetgert lawyer dies in insane asylum
Alchemy of Bones does not describe the death of Lawrence Harmon, because I was unable to confirm reports that he had died in an insane asylum in time for publication.
Within days of my book being published, I finally received a copy of Harmon's death certificate from the Illinois State Archives, confirming that he had died at Kankakee State Hosptial, an asylum.
Harmon's date had been mentioned in a 1986 Chicago Tribune Magazine article on the Luetgert case. The article states: "The tenacious Lawrence Harmon, Luetgert's chief lawyer in the second trial, was so convinced of the sausagemaker's innocence that he refused to accept any fees for defending him and spent more than $2,000 of his own money trying to find the missing Louisa. In 1920 he went mad and was committed to an asylum, where he died three years later at age 78."
However, the obituaries from the time of Harmon's death make no mention of him having been in an asylum, and the source of the Tribune's information was uncertain.
The newly obtained death certificate (see below) confirms the Tribune story. According to the document, Harmon had been in the hospital since February 8, 1921. As one would expect, the death certificate offers no clue on the details of Harmon's mental illness. His behavior during the second Luetgert trial did indicate that he had a somewhat erratic and excitable personality, though it would be speculation to say this had any bearing on his later illness. The death certificate notes that the cause of his death was furuncle, a term for a "small abcess or boil."
I subsequently found this article from the February 22, 1920, Tribune:
Yesterday Mr. Harmon was committed to the state asylum for the insane at Kankakee. He is 75 years old and was a legal bright light in his day.
Mr. Harmon, possibly remembering the spectacular subterfuges employed by Frank Collier, celebrated in his day as a corporation lawyer, and himself involved in an insane court, yesterday resorted to the writ of habeas corpus to give him relief from confinement in an insane asylum.
The complaint filed with the county court against Attorney Harmon was signed by Dr. William O. Krohn. General dementia was the basis. But, Mr. Harmon, [his] legal instinct uppermost, made an objection and said to Judge Henry Horner that he preferred a jury trial before the county judge instead of a hearing at the county psychopathic hospital. The case therefore transferred to the county building and Mr. Harmon was taken there.
At the Clark street entrance he bolted. In the crowd he was lost. Two hours later he was reported as under arrest at the Summerdale police station. He was delivered there because he had not paid his fare to a street car conductor. He was restored to his custodians.
Drawing of Harmon: Chicago Record, Feb. 5, 1898.