28 December 1888
THE WHITECHAPEL MURDERER
IN NEW YORK
Material for close study by the members of the Academy of Legal Medicine and Jurisprudence of the State of New York was provided at its last meeting by the series of horrible murders of women recently perpetrated in London.
Mr. Austin Abbott, a member of the College of Attorneys of New York, read a short work entitled "The Whitechapel Murders and Criminal Dementia", and the eminent alienist, Dr. Spitzka, Drs. Iswing and Barney and other physicians, took part in the discussion of this most interesting matter.
Mr. Abbott made mention of the famous skill of which the bloody work of the killer shows evidence, which, he added, even if he is not a surgeon or a butcher, he is at least a person accustomed to working quickly. It is likely that he does not live in the district in which he commits his crimes. "The repetition and the impunity of these crimes prove that he is a resourceful man, no doubt possessing all the attributes of a brutal nature, low and ignorant. On the day of his capture the civilized world will be preoccupied with the question of his sanity."
After referring at great length to some of the most ferocious and bloody crimes of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, to show that mankind at that period was brutal by nature, he added: "The enjoyment of death and the destruction of human beings is not inconsistent with a condition of partial sanity. The fact is that the perpetrator of these killings was born with instincts from the seventeenth century; that he is a throwback to two centuries before. But can it be deduced from this that he may have some illness that his predecessors did not have? We must examine these savage impulses to determine if it is a case of dementia or of crime.
What motives did the killer have to seek out his victims in Whitechapel? It is not only vice, for vice is also found among luxury and wealth. It is that his victims have no friends to help and avenge them; that the locality offers less danger to the killer; that illnesses are common among the women of Whitechapel."
The lecturer then proceeded to explain how it was possible to inherit criminal instincts, although the mere fact of heredity, prima facie, did not indicate that these instincts would be morbid; and he stated how, in the case of the Whitechapel killer, no other reason was needed to assume irresponsibility than the fact of this motiveless delinquency already experienced. Dementia, then, is purely hypothetical.
"But when it is a matter of explaining similar deeds, we should not look to the single hypothesis of brain disease.
The first impression that similar deeds awaken in the mind of the psychologist or the modern alienist is that the savage pleasure of mutilation cannot coexist with sexual passion; that the action of the one is incompatible with the simultaneous action of the other and that the two can only coexist in a disordered mind. This is without doubt the opinion that must naturally arise when we compare the action of this mind with the heightened effects and the domination of the passions of our times and our way of life."
Dr. Spitzka, among many other considerations, noted that with regard to the genuineness of the message that was found on a shutter announcing that Jack the Ripper had twenty remaining murders to commit, the intention there stated was incompatible with the theory of intermittent dementia. He added that he would not be surprised to find out that the perpetrator of these murders was the same man who a year ago carried out number in Texas, and it would not be unusual if the killer was here "among us today."
The serious academics looked at each other, finally breaking into general laughter.
At almost the same time as Dr. Spitzka was speaking, the Mayor of New York, Mr. Hewitt, received a letter signed Jack the Ripper, announcing that he was in this city and that he was preparing to start a series of crimes after Christmas."