Plymouth County Biographies

Part of the Massachusetts Biographies Project

Dr. A. Elliot Paine

Medical Examiner Nearly Fifty Years-Dr. A. Elliot Paine of Brockton in March, 1926, tendered his resignation as medical examiner in the Brockton district, after serving in that capacity more than forty-nine years. He had hoped to hold the position and even half century but failing health made it desirable that he tender his resignation to Governor Fuller who accepted the same. Undoubtedly he served longer as medical examiner in Plymouth County than any other man ever had or ever will. So far as known he was the oldest medical examiner in the country in both age and service. He was at that time eighty-two years of age and had served since his appointment in 1877 by Governor Rice. During that time he handled many cases which became nationally known. He had qualified in courts as an expert on medical investigations and his opinions were always regarded highly by judges, juries and attorneys. He was succeeded as medical examiner by Dr. Walter W. Fullerton, also of Brockton, who had served as assistant medical examiner seven years.

Dr. Paine was a native of Truro, Cape Cod. He entered Harvard Medical School in 1862, but the same year enlisted for service in the Civil War, and was assigned to Company E, Forty-third Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteers, and became assistant to the surgeon. As a medical practitioner following the war he was located at Wellfleet, Taunton and North Bridgewater. He was president of the Massachusetts Medical Association in 1891 and 1892 and for several years was treasurer of the Massachusetts Medico-Legal Society. He is a member of the American Medical Society and the Plymouth District Medical Society. He was vice-president of the Brockton Hospital association in its early years and was for several years a member of the consulting staff of that institution. For more than forty years he had charge of the emergency hospital at the Brockton Fair Grounds during successive Brockton Fairs.

The first autopsy performed by Dr. Paine in his capacity as medical examiner of the First Plymouth District was on the body of Barney McMennihan, whose body was found near the railroad between West Bridgewater and Matfield. Foul play was suspected but no one was ever apprehended for the deed.

Dr. Paine's first murder case was that of Justin L. Gunn of Bridgewater, killed by gunshot. His son was arrested, tried and convicted, sentenced, pardoned, and finally met his fate by jumping in front of a train in New Jersey, meeting death by suicide.

There were several unusual and unsolved murder cases within the experience of Dr. Paine. On April 27, 1892, Collin Leaman, a Brockton barber, was murdered by having his skull crushed by an unknown assailant as he was walking home from his shop in Montello in the evening. A man was arrested in Rhode Island in whose pocket was found a wallet, said to have belonged to Leaman, but, at the trial, the evidence was conflicting and the witnesses unsatisfactory. The man was not convicted and no one was ever apprehended as the rightful murderer. The deed was done with a sword or a sword fish, one of the strangest weapons ever used in committing a crime in Massachusetts.

Another unsolved murder was that of Elijah Godfrey of West Bridgewater, a recluse, living alone, who furnished evidence against a group of people charged with violation of the liquor laws. Before the case against the men came up in court Godfrey's shanty was blown to bits. The verdict at the inquest was: "The man met his death by an explosive thrown into this dwelling by persons unknown," and they are still unknown.

The bodies of Thomas and Grace Ball, small children, were found in the woods off Oak Street in Brockton several years ago. They had been killed and buried by their mother, an insane person, later committed to an asylum in Taunton. For many days and nights following their disappearance searching parties scoured the woods, fields and every place where they might be found, dead or alive, but without success. They had disappeared in the winter and it is supposed their mother took them into the woods, strangled them and buried them in leaves and such loose earth as she could get together with her hands, as the ground was frozen. Their bodies were discovered May 29, 1908.

Dr. Paine played an important part in unraveling the evidence in the murder of Admiral Eaton of Norwell several years ago, on account of his knowledge of anatomy.

On March 20, 1909, the R. B. Grover & Company shoe factory in Brockton was demolished by explosion of the engine boiler and fire. It was one of the worst catastrophes in New England, in the number killed and the horrible manner in which the shoe workers were pinned down beneath their machines and roasted to death in the holocaust Dr. Paine was called upon to work days and nights, as bodies were being discovered and brought out for identification. He refers to this as the worst experience of his life.

There were probably five thousand cases in which Dr. Paine figured officially during his half century as a medical examiner and during all that time he served faithfully and was re-appointed term after term without question, until age and failing health made it impossible for him to continue. Dr. Paine said after his retirement that a majority of accidental death were traceable to drunkenness and things were fully as bad before as since the Volstead act changed liquor laws.

Source: "History of Plymouth, Norfolk and Barnstable Counties Massachusetts; Volume I" by Elroy S. Thompson. Pub. 1928. Page 131-133