14 December 1888
The Mysterious Murders Discussed at the Academy of Medicine.
The fifty-eighth regular meeting of the Society of Medical Jurisprudence and State Medicine was held last night at the hall of the Academy of Medicine, No. 17 West Thirty-first street.
A paper on the "Whitechapel Murders and Criminal Lunacy" was read by Mr. Austin Abbott, of the New York Bar, and was discussed by Dr. E. C. Spitzka, Dr. J. A. Irwin, Dr. Barnes, Dr. N. E. Brill and others.
The papers and discussion were very interesting, but although many theories were given about the murders not one had the boldness to state positively what kind of a man the perpetrator is.
Mr. Abbott dwelt pointedly upon the marvelous skill, the dexterity of hand evidenced by the work of the mysterious murderer. "He may not be a surgeon or a butcher," he said, "but evidently he is accustomed to swift manipulation. It was probable he was not a resident of that quarter. So many successful acts proved that he was a man of great resources. He had all the qualities, moreover, of a low, ignorant, brutal nature. If he should be captured the question of his mental condition would at once become of intest interest all over the civilized world."
Mr. Abbott went a great deal into the history of barbarous deeds in the last century and the seventeenth and generally showed that man in the past was naturally brutal. "Taking pleasure," he said, "in the killing of human beings and cutting them up, either before or after death, is not inconsistent with the average soundness of mind. But the perpetrator of these murders was born with the traits of the seventeenth century. He is behind the times. But why is there any more need of disease in his case that in that of his ancestors? The existence of savage traits must be better examined before we understand the proper treatment for crime. Is there anything in him which fixes his attention on the unfortunates of Whitechapel? It is probably not merely the vice of his victims, because that is abundant in the midst of wealth and luxury.
"His reasons for selecting Whitechapel are probably three. First, his victims there are less apt to find friends to succor and avenge them. Second, the district is less dangerous for the assassin. Third, the prevalence of disease among the women of Whitechapel.
"The line of scientific investigation into the nature of cause of crime which I wish to contrast and connect with that of mental disease is that of heredity, or, more appropriately, the persistence of the barbarous disposition. If I speak of heredity as a source of criminal intent I may be understood as meaning the special inheritance of some morbid or exceptional trait from particular ancestors. Civilization inherits traits from the barbarism out of which it has grown.
"If there is not sufficient evidence of disease adequate to cause irresponsibility, except misconduct without apparent motive, insanity is only a hypothesis of the persistence of some of the dispositions commonly men of earlier times, where there is no suggestion of disease.
"The Whitechapel murders present the problem in just this aspect. The perpetrator has not been found and no one can diagnose his case or give us any appropriate evidence of disease. Insanity as an explanation can only be inferred from his misconduct. It is, therefore, only a hypothesis as yet. The disease of the brain is not the only hypothesis that ought to be construed in inquiry for an explanation of his conduct.
"The first impression of a modern psychologist, and probably also of most alienists, would be that the barbarous pleasure of inflicting mutilation could not co-exist in the sane mind at the same time with the sexual passion: that the activity of the one is inconsistent with the simultaneous activity of the other, and that their co-existence is evidence of a deranged mind. This is doubtless the natural view to take when we look at mental action against the background of the restrained passions and elevated affections of our own time and life."
Dr. E C. Spitzka began his paper with numerous instances of horrible crimes having more or less analogy to the kind committed in Whitechapel. Still, there were few which approximated his. Doubtless he experienced the same pleasure in his cruelties as those which he (Dr. Spitzka) has quoted. If the writing found on the shutter signed 'Jack the Ripper' - that he had twenty more to kill - were genuine, then that was a proof of genuine intention and inconsistent with the theory of periodic insanity. The speaker would not be surprised to find that the perpetrator of the Texas homicides a year ago proved to be "Jack the Ripper." "Indeed," he added, "there are stranger freaks of history than in finding the Whitechapel murderer among us now." There was a loud murmur at this, followed by laughter.
Dr. N. E. Brill approved the line taken by Mr. Abbott and moved a vote of thanks to that gentleman and to Dr. Spitzka.
Mayor Hewitt yesterday received the following letter from some practical joker:--
New York, Dec. 12, 1888.
Hon. Abram S. Hewitt, Mayor:--
SIR-It is folly for the police and newspapers to speculate on my being in Montreal or any other part of Canada. I am right here in their midst and will begin operations immediately after Christmas.
JACK THE RIPPER.
The letter was written in a big round hand, and from the printed date line on the sheet it looked as if it had been sent by some waggish young man employed in a business house.