21 September 1888
A correspondent of a contemporary writes: "Permit me to call attention to the cause of the labourers in the East end docks, who are known as a hard working class of men, with small earnings, compelling them to live in low and dirty lodgings, amidst disgusting surroundings. Their sufferings during the winter are deplorable. Being constantly on the spot I notice that from early morning until past midday these poor creatures are to be seen standing in the roads and corners, amidst wind, rain, and snow, with clothes in tatters that are past repair, without food - patiently awaiting employment outside the dock gates, and when some of their number are needed, to see them rush, thrusting aside the older and weaker ones, is a sickening sight to behold.
"My object is drawing public attention is - Firstly, that these wretched beings shall, before the winter sets in again, have some shelter provided for them, in order that they may have protection from the inclement weather, and where a cup of tea or coffee with bread, or soup, can be provided at the cost of one penny; and, secondly, that they might have their names or numbers called, when the managers of the dock company have work for them, and prevent that unseemly rush for work, in which doubtless those who deserve it most have not the necessary strength for the struggle. I would most earnestly invite all those who are interested in suffering humanity to see for themselves the above facts."
The Whitechapel tragedies are bringing to light more than one metropolitan want. The need for proper mortuary accommodation in the Whitechapel district was the subject of protest by Mr. Phillips, who complained of the impropriety of expecting medical men to make autopsies in places wholly unfitted for the purpose. His views were endorsed by the coroner and jury at the inquest on the unfortunate woman who has been recently murdered, the former stating that there was no public mortuary between the limits of the City of London and Bow. The absence of accommodation of this kind is an undoubted reproach to London, which would not have been tolerated had any sufficient system of sanitary administration existed in the metropolis. The position of London generally in respect of mortuary accommodation would make a fitting subject of investigation by the Local Government Board or Home Office.
The Whitechapel Vigilance Committee has allowed its zeal to outrun its discretion. It has decided to offer a preliminary reward if £50 for the apprehension of the person or persons who committed the recent atrocities, and to increase the amount of the reward as funds come in! Was ever such a remarkable decision come to by a body of intelligent businessmen? They must surely have been advised by an Irishman of the Sir Boyle Roche stamp. No one else could have hit upon such a comical idea.
If there is any virtue in a reward offered under circumstances such as surround the Whitechapel mysteries, it must surely lie in the hope that the amount will be sufficient to induce some accomplice or accessory after the fact to "peach" upon the actual murderer. But if this individual (always supposing him to exist) sees that the reward is to accumulate as time goes on he is not likely to hurry himself in the matter. The longer he holds out the better it will be for him according to the decision of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee.
The man who was arrested at Holloway, on being concerned in the Whitechapel murder, and subsequently removed, and detained at Bow Asylum, will shortly be released. His brother has given satisfactory explanations as to his whereabouts on the morning of the murder. It has transpired that the authorities of the asylum would not allow the police to interrogate the patient whilst there, as it is against the rules laid down by the Lunacy Commissioners.
DR. FORBES WINSLOW'S EXPERIENCE
With reference to the statement contained in the Lancet last week, to the effect that to their mind the question of the murder having been committed by a lunatic was not clearly established, and that homicidal insanity shows itself by the desire to kill being confined to one individual, Dr. Forbes Winslow replies in their columns as follows:
Being more or less responsible for the original opinion that the individual who committed the wholesale slaughter in Whitechapel was a lunatic, I beg to trouble you with this communication.
In the interview I had with the officials at Whitehall place, I gathered that this was also their theory. In your issue of the 15th inst., you say, "The theory that the succession of murders which have lately been committed in Whitechapel are the work of a lunatic appears to is to be by no means at present well established." Of course, it is impossible to give a positiveness to the theory unless some more evidence can be established; nevertheless, to my mind the case appears tolerably conclusive. The horrible and revolting details, as stated in the public press, are themselves evidence, not of crimes committed by a responsible individual, but by a fiendish madman. You go on to add that "homicidal mania is generally characterised by one single and fatal act." Having had extensive experience in cases of homicidal insanity, and having been retained in the chief cases during the past 10 years, I speak as an authority on this part of the subject. I cannot agree with your statement. I will give one case which recalls itself to my recollection. A gentleman entered my consulting room. He took his seat, and, on my asking what it was he complained of, replied, "I have a desire to kill every one I meet." I then asked him for further illustration of his meaning, He then said, "As I walk along a street, I say to myself as I pass any one, 'I should like to kill you'; I don't know why at all." Upon my further pressing him on the matter, he jumped up and attempted to seize a weapon from his pocket, and to give me a further, more practicable, and more realistic illustration. I was enabled, however, to frustrate him in this desire. Another case in which I was retained as expert was that of Mr. Richardson, who committed murder at Ramsgate (his homicidal tendency was not confined to one individual) and was tried at Maidstone this year; and there are many others that I could mention. Homicidal lunatics are cunning, deceptive, plausible, and on the surface, to all outward appearance, sane; but there is contained within their innermost nature a dangerous lurking after blood which, though at times latent, will develop when the opportunity arises.
The British Medical Journal has the following remarks upon the East end murders: When any serious and unusually bloody deed is done in public, still possessed by the idea that the insane are all more or less fiendish, look for an insane agent. It is pretty certain that where a modern miracle takes place, or where any strange and uncanny performance occurs in a country village, a hysterical girl is at the bottom of it, and so there is some foundation for the belief in the unusual being often being connected with insanity.
We must not, however, at once jump to a conclusion and set about to seek for an insane person, regardless of other clues. In life, truth is ever stranger than fiction, and coincidences are of everyday occurrence. The physician meets with a new or rare case, and within a very short time several similar ones come before him. It is thus, too, with crimes; they occur in epidemics of a like kind, and we must not forget that besides this the perpetration of a striking crime attracts the attention of a very unstable class, who are ready to follow any lead but the right one. We may have more than one person perpetrating these horrible crimes - one sane, another insane.
The most important question for medical men is as what form of insanity is likely to give rise to such a series of acts. We may say at the outset that we do not recognise any definite form of mental disorder deserving the name "homicidal mania." Maudsley, Marc, and others have described forms of impulsive insanity in which murder was the common tendency; but in these there was, as a rule, a special antipathy; the insane correlative of love, the tendency of the loving husband to kill his wife, or of the doting mother to destroy her offspring. In the cases under discussion nothing of this kind is noticeable. There are certain epileptics who have a murderous and impulsive destructiveness; but in these there is a disregard of consequences and a recklessness which are wanting in the Whitechapel murders. Besides the above there are a few insane persons who seem to be affected by a literal thirst for blood; but in these the murdering is more general and not so specifically selective as in the case under notice. In these bloodthirsty persons there is often a murderous attraction towards children and young women, who may be violated and then mutilated.
The ordinary maniac does not cunningly murder and at once conceal himself; if the acts are those of an insane person, it is probable that he is driven by some overpowering delusion. There are some lunatics who believe themselves to be persecuted, who will in the most cunning way avoid and even deny their delusions and yet act upon them. There are a number of young men who believe they are injuriously affected by women, and such a one might easily declare a vendetta against the class of unfortunates.
Such a one might be cunning in the extreme, avoiding notice because he believed that the class was against him and was on the look out for him. There are others who belong to the class of insane prophets who might be actuated by the feeling that they were the specially sent messengers to purge the world of its evils. Either a deep sense of wrong suffered or a profound feeling of the good to be done, might induce a young man to perform such acts as those recorded at Whitechapel; the fact which chiefly militates against this is the special mutilations which took place; those point rather to the person being actuated by some feeling of revenge. If the murderer turns out to be insane at all, hr may not improbably prove to be a young man of some refinement who was driven by delusions and who had suffered from hallucination of his senses for some time. There are no overpowering reasons for suspecting any ordinary chronic lunatic who may have escaped from control.
Dr. G.B. Phillips, official police surgeon, called as a medical witness in reference to the murder of Annie Chapman, was asked as to the possibility of obtaining a clue to the murderer by photographing the eyes of the dead woman; but, as might have been expected, he gave no hopes of any useful result. It must be remembered that the witness in question is the surgeon who endeavoured to suppress much that he knew as to the nature of the mutilations, and it was this extraordinary action on his part which gave so much colour to the theory that the murder was really committed by some overwrought experimental physiologist wishful to obtain living tissues from a healthy subject for experimental use. Although we may pretty confidently say that photographs of the eyes of the murdered woman would have been useless, there can be no doubt whatever that a series of photographs of the body and of the mutilations ought to have been taken, and in the face of those it would have been far more difficult to conceal essential facts. It is to be hoped that even now the camera will be brought into requisition, especially as there are several experienced anatomists who are also competent photographers. Perhaps a carefully made series of photographs, and the calling of such scientific experts as have distinguished themselves in the new art of abdominal surgery might throw light on the extraordinary action of the authorities in neglecting the most obvious means of getting information or of recording facts, and also on the strange action of Dr. Phillips.