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Port Philip Herald

1 November 1888


By Dr. Andrew Wilson in "Health"

While it certainly does not, as a rule, fall within the province of "Health" to discuss matters relating to crime, there are yet certain phases of criminal affairs which may be said to come within the cognisance of the sanitarian, physiologist and physician.

For instance, in connection with the brutal and apparently inexplicable murders recently committed in the East of London, certain theories have been ventilated which deserve to be noted by the press, lay and scientific, at large. The idea that the murders in question have been committed by a maniac, urged on to commit such horrible crimes by a homicidal lust for blood, has gained credence in many quarters. This idea, on the other hand, has been controverted by at least one medical journal. In my opinion, there is, first of all, nothing unlikely in this theory. Insane persons are capable, if the spirit moves them, of any brutality. The insane man may become a fiend in human form, may outrage every law of human nature, and may perpetrate on himself or on others, crimes of the grossest form. He is an irresponsible agent, and is, de facto, a lower animal, without possessing the animal's milder instincts in any degree at all. In the second place, one may ask if it is an absolutely necessary postulate of things to assume that the various murders have been committed by one and the same hand? There is such a thing known as "imitation" in crime as in other details of life; and in the population of a great city like London, there must, of necessity, be many a criminal mind only too ready and willing to seek the notoriety gained by a predecessor in the shady walk of life.

The medical evidence given at the inquest on the last victim bore out that the manner in which the woman's body was mutilated gave evidence of some acquaintance with anatomy. Upon this declaration a writer in a London evening paper had the effrontery to suggest that the murders may have been the work of some physiologist who desired to gain possession of human organs for purposes of science! Such an outrageous proposition, it is to be presumed, only requires to be mentioned to be reprobated as itself the product of a diseased mind. Anatomists do not require to kill subjects to obtain human organs for investigation, and it is not possible to name any "vivisection" experiment in the same breath with such a brutal and unmeaning crime.

We sometimes glean wisdom regarding the present from the records of the past, and by kind permission of Messrs. Chatto and Windus I have been permitted to quote the account given of old Whitechapel murders by Mr. Walter Thornbury, in his book entitled "Old Stories Retold." In this book the accounts of many almost forgotten crimes are fully given and the volume is, therefore, historically both interesting and valuable.

There follows an account of the Ratcliffe Highway murders.