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Washington Post (Washington, D.C.)
24 March 1907

Criminals Who Revel in Torture Are Fit Subjects for the Surgeon

A large and growing school of sociologists and penologists believe that crime is a disease and that in the future the surgeon's knife, asylums, and medicinal remedies will displace the gallows, the electric chair, and penitentiaries. However iridescent may be this dream of a time when morality can be contracted through the administration of subtle pills or methods akin to vaccination, yet it is a fact that in most of the monstrous crimes that have recently shocked the country experts of the new school discover evidences of brain lesion, or other nervous and physical conditions that make the criminal an irresponsible brute, an atavistic monster. The mysterious Jack the Ripper, whose crimes shocked London several years ago, and were followed by a number of similar atrocious murders in the United States and France, is of this class and alienists are now generally of the opinion that Tucker, Durant, and the recent woman murders in Chicago were subjects for the surgeon and not the hangman.

The ignorance of the ordinary jury and failure of the law to recognize the discoveries of science frequently result in turning loose upon society fiends in human forms and sometimes in the judicial murder of the irresponsible. This matter was the recent subject of discussion at a meeting of distinguished lawyers and physicians in New York, and promises to be a vital topic at the annual meeting of jurists and medical men during the present year.

While American investigators have made valuable contributions to this infant science, the principal work has been done by Germans and French alienists, who have collected thousands of cases in the development of their theories. In the highly artificial civilization of Europe the theory of atavistic tendencies, of reversion to savage types of the race, resulting in monstrous crimes, finds a wealth of material to support it.

The Lust for Blood

The delight in torture and cruelty, the lust for the sight of blood and cries of agony, the capture and subjection of women by brute force, are primary savage traits that persist in the highest civilization in atavistic forms in just the same way that the rudimentary tail persists in the human skeleton. From this point of view, a flood of light is thrown upon the cause of assaults of negroes upon white women.

The classical example of a blood-lusting monster is Marschall Gilles de Rays, who was executed in France in 1440. He confessed to the torture and mutilation of 800 children and declared that the sight of the flowing blood, the cries of agony of the little victims, as they were being tortured and killed, gave him the most inexpressible pleasure. With the aid of a servant, almost as great a monster as himself, he captured or lured little children to his castle, where he locked them up, subjecting them all to the various tortures that his fiendish imagination could devise. The bodies were burned, and only the heads of a few particularly beautiful children were kept by him as souvenirs.

He declared that the crimes were suggested to him by reading the descriptions in Suetonius of the orgies of the degenerate Caesars, Nero, Tiberius and Caligula. These Roman emperors experienced the most intense delight in witnessing the slaughter of youths and maidens, which they would order for the sole purpose of satisfying their lust for the sight of blood and helpless agony. Alienists now declare that Durant, the murderer of several girls in San Francisco, and Tucker, the Massachusetts murderer, recently executed. were likewise victims of this mad lust for the sight of blood.

Jack the Ripper

Feurbach gives the case of Andreas Bichel as typical of the Jack the Ripper class, which has had representatives in every civilized country. Bichel, after the perpetration of many atrocious crimes, was captured and confessed. Showing his psychological state, he said, in describing one of the murders:

"I opened her breast and with a knife cut through the fleshy part of the body. Then I arranged the body as a butcher does beef and hacked it with a knife into pieces to fit the hole which I had dug for it in the mountains. I may say that while cutting up the body I was so greedy that I trembled and could have cut out a piece and eaten it."

Jack the Ripper operated during the three years from 1887 to 1889, and was never captured, although he threw certain districts of London into terror stricken panic. Ten women were his victims. In all of the cases the throats of the women were cut and then the bodies slashed open and mutilated, the murderer sometimes carrying away parts of the body.

Vacher, the French Ripper, committed eleven murders, to which he confessed before his execution. He was a tramp, who had been discharged from the army as mentally unbalanced. His victims were boys, girls, and women, and he operated in practically the same way as did his London prototype.

Italy's Ripper Case

Italy had a Ripper case in Vincenz Verzeni, born in 1849. He confessed to the murder of many women and girls covering a period of many years during which he avoided the suspicion of crime. In his confession he said that it gave him the most exquisite pleasure to throttle his victims and drink their blood, particularly if they struggled and showed fear and pain. He declared that the impulse was irresistible.

Another phase of this monstrous mental condition that seeks pleasure in the shedding of blood and the infliction of pain is seen in many cases of vitriol throwing and so called stabbers. Nearly every American city of any size has had its experience with them. For several years a vitriol thrower has been active in Baltimore, his victims almost always being girls, upon whom in crowds he has dashed the contents of a bottle of acid and always escaped.

The "stabber" operates with a sharp knife or dagger. Sometimes he is satisfied with simply slashing the garment of his victim, but generally his morbid desire for the infliction of pain is satisfied only by thrusting the knife into the arm or leg of the victim, then quickly escaping in the protection of the crowd. The "girl cutter of Augsburg" avoided capture for years, during which time he wounded more than fifty girls. The police records of almost every American city show records of similar cases. The "hugger", as he is known to the police, whose forte is to scare girls and women by throwing his arms about them when they are alone on the streets, is, according to alienists, a mild form of the same case, into which it is likely to develop.