New York, USA
4 October 1888
Speaking of the Whitechapel atrocities to an EAGLE reporter the Rev. Dr. Talmage hinted at a possible clew to the apprehension of the author of these villainies. He suggests the skill in handling the knife and the knowledge of anatomy that appear upon closely investigating the nature of the wounds running deeper than the flesh mutilations as a thread they may lead to the unraveling of the mystery. The doctor, in referring to the unnecessary fright that seizes hold of the public upon the most trivial and unreasonable pretexts, related an incident in which he was the central figure, which, he says, has not before been printed, and which he thinks his friends and acquaintances will highly relish. Dr. Talmage said he had not closely studied the daily reports from the Whitechapel murders. He described his impressions as follows: "They are no doubt the work of an insane man. Insanity sometimes pursues the work of arson and sometimes that of assassination. I have no doubt that the police will very soon apprehend the perpetrator and lodge him in a place of safety. Murders are often committed through a desire for pelf (?), but there can be no reason of that kind assigned here, since the poor creatures he mutilates have nothing worth stealing."
"How do you account for the mutilation?" he was asked.
"There are no people more systematic in crime than the insane. Each has a theory of his own as to how the murder ought to be committed."
"But why has the skill of a surgeon been so adeptly shown?"
"Insanity seems sometimes to quicken faculties in certain directions, while they are benumbed in other ways. If this laceration has been done as systematically and in a manner implying surgical skill, as is suggested, it would in my mind suggest a possible professional pursuit in which the demon had previously been engaged, and I would suppose that the London constabulary would follow that line of investigation, as perhaps they are already doing. I have no doubt the surgical skill shown might remain and be quickened to a wonderful extent, while the other faculties are obliterated. A man may be utterly responsible and yet he may have started in his mind a theory as to how this bloody work shall be carried on and as to the exact methods to be pursued in accomplishing it. There have been many cases when, upon examination, it has been ascertained that the insane have felt that they were called upon for conducting that especial form of butchery. It does not, however, imply previous wickedness. The best men when they have become insane have proved the most diabolical.
The loss of reason is the worst calamity that can befall any one, because it leaves nothing impossible in the way of depredation, cruelty and outrage. Some men are born with an intellectual twist which is greater than the average or they are the victims of a moral malformation, either of which they may have inherited."
"In what light do you regard the fruitless endeavors of the London police to terminate these outrages?"
"I do not think these murders can in any way be set down against either London society or the efficiency of the London police, or that they indicate any general demoralization. It might happen in any country and the most skilled efforts to prevent its continuance be foiled. A demon like that in London might dodge in and out of the alleys of New York City or even Brooklyn without being arrested. As, witness the Nathan murder and the half massacre of the New York broker in his own bed chamber; witness fifty other cases all over the land. There are no finer and more complete detective and police systems than those of London. People get in the habit on both sides of blaming the police when offenders are not immediately caught. My wonder is that, with the acumen possessed by many of these offenders the police are able to overtake then as soon as they do. Sometimes crime is epidemic and breaks out in many different places at the same time and it seems to be owing to something in the atmosphere. The east wind is the mother of all sorts of villainies, while the northwest wind is the most favorable wind for honesty and good order. But this London affair must not be looked upon as an epidemic, as all the work appears to be the product of one brain and one hand. I can easily understand how there should be a feverish and unnatural excitement as the result of these desperations. When I was residing in Philadelphia there was considerable excitement over what was called the India Rubber Man. Women out at night declared that they had seen man with the most extraordinary jumping capacities, which seemed to come from extraordinary india rubber appliances or from a supernatural gift of powers equal to the same. Some had seen him leap from curb to curb and others had seen him vault over the tops of houses without any apparent means of assistance. During the excitement I was absent. One Friday evening I returned home barely in time to get to prayer meeting. I was, of course, unaware of any extraordinary event or excitement. It was wet and stormy and hastily donning my waterproof outfit I hurried down the street at full speed. Just before reaching the church I met a couple of women. I turned to pass them, still on a run, when they suddenly threw down their umbrellas and gave most unearthly screeches. The next moment, fortunately for me, I appeared under the full glare of a lamp and they at once recovered self possession and composure. I was, of course, greatly perplexed that the women should be so frightened over an inoffending person hurrying along the street to prayer meeting and I did not fully understand when I heard one of them say, as I passed by, "O, I thought it was the India Rubber man.""
Dr. Talmage in concluding added a good word for the police. He said he never understood that the police more than other human mortals claimed omnipresence. Their comparatively small numbers in the cities of New York and Brooklyn make it impossible for them to be all over at once. he said he had watched the policemen on their beats at all hours of day and night, going to and from houses of sickness and trouble, and had never found a man yet off duty or intoxicated or in anywise acting improperly. Many he knew personally who were hard working, faithful public servants, good husbands and kind fathers. Referring to examples of the loss of reason, he said: "The best and mightiest had been mentally shipwrecked. Robert Hall, the great Baptist clergyman of Bristol and of all Christendom, as consecrated and brilliant a man as the Christian pulpit ever had, had again and again been incarcerated in the insane asylum. John Brown, the Scotch essayist, died in a straight jacket, and Alexander Cruden wrote the Concordance, the greatest work ever prepared beside the Bible, during his lucid spells and between repeated periods of incarceration."