Speech by the late Dr. Herman Jones in 1969 on starting the Georgia State Crime Laboratory



Before coming to Atlanta in January, 1942, I was associated with the Alabama Toxicological Laboratory, Auburn, Alabama. We had assisted Georgia Peace Officers in several of their cases, one in particular being a homicide for Fulton County Police Department. This involved the identification of questioned hairs found on the victim. In the examination of the hairs we observed several small particles of brass shavings. The hairs were red and of Caucasian origin. This information was given to the officers with the suggestion that they make a search for a suspect who had red hair and worked in a machine shop which turned out brass fittings.

Eventually, they found such a suspect, obtained known hairs from his head, and submitted them to us in Auburn. We found brass shavings clinging to these red hairs. Comparison spectrographic analyses showed exact similarities with respect to the metal content of the brass. The hairs were red and of Caucasian origin. On the basis of this evidence in the case, the suspect was indicted and convicted of the murder.

When I went to Atlanta in January, 1942, as Professor of Biochemistry at Oglethorpe University the officers soon learned I was in Atlanta and began to request my assistance in cases they were investigating which they felt required scientific laboratory examinations in order to complete their case. Thus, the work began in Georgia.

An effort was made during Governor Ellis Arnold's administration to establish a state lab. Our discussions brought forth a proposed program to be carried out under the Department of Public Safety, money was made available and a date set for my becoming associated with the Department. However , after discussing the matter with the Director of the Department, I learned that the appointment of a director was vested in the Governor. I felt this was unwise, that it could become a political football. I was of the opinion then, and still am, that any crime laboratory must be absolutely free of politics. I declined the offer. Thus my services continued on case basis as the officers needed me in the counties throughout the state until June, 1947.

In early January of 1947 I was assisting the Sheriff of Upson County, Thomaston, Georgia, in a hit and run case in which a pedestrian was struck by a passing vehicle and killed. The sheriff would bring pieces of evidence to me from time to time as his investigation proceeded. Ultimately, I needed an ultra violet light in the examination of the clothing from the victim. I knew Fulton County Police Department had the UV lamp I needed.

In early April I called and made an appointment to use the lamp on a Sunday morning. While in the Police Department making this examination, Chief Neil Ellis walked in. He wanted to discuss the possibilities of establishing a Fulton County lab. We talked at random for some time, and he finally asked me if I would accept the position as Director if the County would make funds available. I replied that if the Commission wished to establish a crime lab and would give me sufficient money to develop a real honest to goodness lab that no one would be ashamed of, I would be interested. Remember, this was Sunday morning. Monday night I received a call from him requesting me to formulate a proposed plan for a lab, required staff, equipment and cost by Wednesday morning. He had talked to the Commissioners , they were to meet Wednesday afternoon and wanted the information. I said to Chief, "This is a big order and will require much time and thought." He then agreed to a tentative outline and cost estimate which could be changed and more funds made available if necessary.

I arrived home on Wednesday afternoon, picked up my Atlanta Journal and read the headlines "Fulton County Commissioners approve establishment of a County Police Laboratory; Dr. Herman Jones appointed Director." The article went into appreciable detail. I called Chief Ellis immediately and informed him that he was too fast for me. I was only a minor leaguer, he apparently was a mayor leaguer. I advised him I would have to confer with the Commissioners and him at which time I would state the conditions upon which I would accept the directorship. I prepared sixteen conditions upon which, if all were accepted by the Commissioners, I would accept the appointment. One of these, stated specifically and definitely, that there would be no political strings attached, and at no time was anyone to make an effort to have me change laboratory results. Most of the conditions were approved immediately. I was assured all would be met at the next board meeting. June 1, 1947, was the date set for me to become associated with the Fulton County Police Department and begin building and equipping the laboratory. Meeting all of my sixteen points went slowly. I finally called Chief Ellis And informed him that if all were not met by June 1st, I would not accept the position. I think the board felt I would soften up on some of the key points, but I was determined that if a lab could not be established with no strings attached, I would not take it.

June 1st was approaching. Finally, about the middle of May, I received a communication from the commission informing me they had approved all sixteen points. (I held on to my copies just in case.) Thus, on June 1, 1947, began the establishment of the first crime laboratory in Georgia. The laboratory was completed and equipped and the case load began to increase immediately.

Since one of my conditions was to permit me to continue to assist Peace Officers in other counties in the state when requested, I served many officers over the state from that date to February 8, 1952.

I assisted many officers in cases of suspected arson and burned bodies from 1947 to 1952, some of which were very unusual. One of these occurred in the City of Dalton. In the January-February Session of the 1951 General Assembly, legislation had been passed which would consolidate many of the Atlanta-Fulton County government departments. One of these was the consolidation of the Police Departments. The County Police Department was to be transferred to the City Police Department and with it the Crime Laboratory in January, 1952. During the years from about 1943 or 44 to 1951 many of the judges and solicitors would raise the question, "Why doesn't the State create a State Crime Laboratory?" This question became more frequent by the solicitors as the years passed. Without my knowledge, the Solicitors General Association appointed a committee at their fall meeting in 1951 to confer with the then Governor Herman Talmadge and request him to take over the Fulton County Laboratory and make it a State Laboratory. They (the solicitors) felt this could be more easily accomplished at the time of consolidation. Thus in lieu of the City of Atlanta acquiring the laboratory, why not the State? The Governor approved their suggestion and request apparently after some deliberation.

At this same conference, the Governor authorized this committee of solicitors, Joe Ryan, Savannah; Carey Skelton of Carnesville; Wright Lipford of Newnan; and Jack Flynt of Griffin to confer with me relative to the possibilities of the transfer of the Laboratory to the State.

My first knowledge of any such plans came as a surprise. This committee walked into my office in the lab at about 2 P.M. I was somewhat puzzled since I had testified in their courts and I thought quickly, "What have I done now?" We chatted for a few minutes. Then, they told me: " We have just left the Governor's Office. He authorized us to confer with you and learn if the Fulton County Lab could be transferred to the State during the consolidation of the City-County Police Departments and if you would go with the lab as its Director?" I must admit I was really surprised but most pleased that this possibility could be consummated for it would give the Police Officers statewide coverage at no cost to the counties. Now, the real discussion began and finally the question, "Would you take over as Director and will you support such a move?" I thought for a few minutes and finally answered that I would if the set-up with the State would be on the same basis as with the county: no politics and sufficient funds to develop a real up-to-date State Lab. Their reply, "Well, let's do some figuring." We did. To make a long story short, we came up with a figure of $88,000 for the first year with an anticipated ten to fifteen thousand dollars increase the second year, based on demand of services by the officers.

Immediately, one member said, "Doc, you can begin to make your plans now. The Governor authorized us to proceed with the program if the cost did not exceed $100,000." I was on the spot. Here I am again in the minor league and they are the major league. Too fast for me! They then told me they were returning to the Governor's office to inform him of the good possibilities of the State acquiring the lab and that Dr. Jones would accept the directorship. Before they left I brought up what I thought would be the needed legislation for the transfer. They said "Don't worry about that, the Governor will have the proper legislation prepared and see that it is passed."

I had copies made of the suggested program and cost of operation of the lab and gave each member a copy including the original.

The following day I received a call from Miss Peterson, who was the Governor's Secretary at that time. She informed me the Governor wished to see me in my office at 1 P.M. that day. I replied, "I would be most pleased, but tell him I will be glad to come to his office." She replied: "No, he wishes to see you and while there visit the lab." Promptly at 1 P.M. the Governor walked in. We had a tour of the lab which at that time was valued at approximately $75,000. Following the tour, we sat down in my office. He questioned me at length about the operations of the lab as a state agency and finally asked me how many cases I thought the lab would have per month. I thought a few minutes, did a little mental calculating and finally told him, maybe 80-90 to 100. (I missed my calculations. We have never had less than 100 cases per month. I am glad to report that we ran over 1200 cases in the lab this last August, 1969.) The Governor finally pulled the original copy of the suggested program and cost of operation from his pocket, affixed his signature of approval and said; "You can go to work for me tomorrow." He then requested me to proceed with whatever action I felt necessary to consummate the transfer, advise him when and if the county and city gave their final approval and get this information at the earliest date possible so he could have the bill drafting department prepare proper legislation.

I discussed the proposal with the County Commissioners. They approved if the City approved. I contacted Chief Jenkins, presented the proposal to him. He approved if the City Aldermen would approve. However, he wanted it written into the legislation that the City of Atlanta would have priority on cases submitted to the Laboratory. That meant their cases would be worked first. He agreed to present the proposal to the Aldermen and invited me to meet with them for the presentation in more detail. I met with the Aldermen in December, they approved and amended Chief Jenkins' recommendation to read: "The City of Atlanta and Fulton County will donate and transfer to the State all laboratory equipment per se if proper legislation is passed which provides for the State lab to always give priority to the Atlanta cases and if, at any time in the future, the State decided to dispense with the lab, all equipment which has accumulated and is a part of the State Lab shall be returned to the City of Atlanta Police Department."

The County Laboratory was transferred to the City as per the consolidation law on January l, 1952 and served as such until legislation was passed. Proper legislation was passed early in the January-February Session, 1952, to this effect and so far as history records, this is the first time a person had been legally transferred from a city or county agency to a state agency. The Staff of the Crime Lab who wished to go to the State were included in the transfer together with all accumulated retirement funds and credit for the years of service. All transferred but two, a photographer who transferred to the Sheriff's office and our porter. The bill was signed by Governor Talmadge and became effective February 8, 1952. Thus was established the second statewide crime laboratory in the U.S. The Alabama lab was established by legislation in 1935. Since 1952 your laboratory staff has assisted you and many other officers in the investigation of suspected arson and burned bodies. Time does not permit me to go into detail here. This gives you a brief history of how Georgia became the second state in the union to have statewide scientific laboratory services available to all Peace Officers.