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The Lancet
September 29, 1888

The Whitechapel Murders

The revolting tale of the Whitechapel murder has been further embellished by the astounding statements which the coroner deemed fit to make public in his summing up of the case of of the unfortunate woman Chapman. The public have supped full of horrors, and now there is added thereto a suggestion which, in spite of its plausibility, is almost too horrible to be credited. It seems, on the face of it, to dispel all previous theories and explanations of a series of crimes which are happily almost unique in our annals. It supplies a motive for the deed, which has been compared to that of Burke and Hare, but which, in fiendish greed and disregard for the sanctity of human life, almost surpasses the villainies of those miscreants. In presence of this suggestion it is futile to discuss any other hypothesis until this has been thoroughly probed. Mr. Wynne Baxter did not withhold any of the information which came to him from an unexpected source on the day of the publication ofMr. Phillips' evidence respecting the mutilations of the body. It will be remembered that at his first examination, Mr. Phillips did not enter into these details. He acted on his own responsibility in stating only such facts as should enable the coroner's jury to arrive at a correct conclusion as to the cause of death; whilst he took care to inform the police authorities of all those facts which might give them any clue as to the object the murderer had in view, and thus lead to his detection. However, when the coroner insisted upon Mr. Phillips being recalled to add these further facts to his previous evidence, he stated that the mutilation of the body was of such a character as could only have been effected by a practised hand. It was appears that the abdomen had been entirely laid open; that the intestines, severed from their mesenteric attachments, had been lifted out of the body, and placed on the shoulder of the corpse; whilst from the pelvis the uterus and its appendages, with the upper portion of the vagina and the posterior two-thirds of the bladder, had been entirely removed. No trace of these parts could be found, and the incisions were cleanly cut, avoiding the rectum, and dividing the vagina low enough to avoid injury to the cervix uteri. Obviously the work was that of an expert--of one, at least, who had such knowledge of anatomical or pathological examinations as to be enabled to secure the pelvic organs with one sweep of a knife, which must therefore, as Mr. Phillips pointed out, have been at least five inches long.

The theory based on this evidence was coherent enough. It suggested that the murderer, for some purpose or other, whether from a morbid motive of for the sake of gain, had committed the crime for the purpose of possissing himself of the uterus. There could be little doubt that he first strangled of suffocated his victim, for not only were no cries heard, but the face, lips and hands were livid as in asphyxia, and not blanched as they would be from loss of blood. Then, with one long and deep incision he must hav severed the poor woman's throat, sa that almost all the blood from her body drained out of the divided vessels, accounting for the almost bloodless effect of the subsequent incisions in the abdomen and pelvis. If the evidence of Mrs. Long is to be credited, the victim was seen alive at half-past five in Hanbury-street, and about six o'clock her mangled corpse was discovered in the yard of the lodging-house. We confess to sharing Mr. Phillips' view that the coldness of the body and commencing rigidity pointed to a far longer interval between death and discovery that this; but, as he remarked the almost total draining away of te blood, added to the exposure in the cold morning air, may have hastened the cooling down of the body. Certainly the murderer must have done his work quickly; and this, again, points to the improbability of anyone but an expert performing the mutilations described in so apparently skilful a manner. The similarity between the injuries inflicted in the case and those upon the woman Nicholls, whose body was found in Buck's-row a few days before, gave from the the first the idea that they were the work of the same hand. But in the Buck's-row case the mutilation did not extend so far, and there was no portion of the body missing. Again, this is explained by those who think the possession of the uterus was the sole motive, by assuming that the miscreant had not time to complete his design in the Buck's-row case, and it was given in evidence that only a quarter of an hour before the discovery of the body the row had been traversed by others.

In the face of these facts, the statement made my Mr. Wynne Baxter presents great prima facie probability, but we must deprecate strongly any tendency to jump at a conclusion in a matter which may admit of another interpretation. Mr. Baxter said: "Within a few hours of the issue of the morning papers containing a report of the medical evidence given at the last sitting of the Court, I received a communication from an officer of one of our great medical schools that they had information which might or might not have a distinct bearing on our inquiry. I attended at the first opportunity, and was informed by the sub-curator of the Pathological Museum that some months ago an American had called on him and asked him to procure a number of specimens of the organ that was missing in the deceased. He stated his willingness to give 20 [pounds] apiece for each specimen. He stated that his object was to issue an actual specimen with each copy of a publication on which he was then engaged. He was told that his request was impossible to be complied with, but he still urged his request. He wished them preserved, not in spirits of wine, the usual medium, but in glycerin, in order to preserve them in a flaccid condition, and he wished them sent to America direct. It is known that this demand was repeated to another institution of a similar character." Although this statement seems to afford a satisfactory explanation of the motive for the dee and mutilation of the corpse, it is impossible to read it without being struck with certain improbablities and absurdities that go far to upset the theory altogether. We do not for a moment question the possibility of an application being made to museum curators for specimens of uteri. This is not an unnatural or unreasonable request to be preferred by a medical man engaged in the study of disease of that organ. But does it not exceed the bounds of credibility to imagine that he would pay the sum of 20[pounds] for every specimen?--whilst the statement that he wished for a large number, becuase "his object was to issue an actual specimen with each copy of a publication on which he was engaged," is too grotesque and horrible to be for a moment entertained. Nor, indeed, can we imagine that an author of a medical work to be published in America should need have uteri specially procured for him in England and sent across the Atlantic. The whole tale is almost past belief; and if, as we think, it can be shown to have grown in transmission, it will not only shatter the theory that cupidity was the motive of the crime, but will bring into question the discretion of the officer of the law who could accept such and statement and give it such wide publicity. The pleas that the interests of justice will be furthered thereby cannot be sustained. Such information as was given to the coroner would have been far more appropriately placed at the disposal of the Home Office and the police; for the clue, if there is one, was for them to follow up. In our opinion a grave error in judgement was made by the coroner's informant in this respect. The public mind--ever too ready to cast mud at legitimate research--will hardly fail to be excited to a pitch of animosity against anatomists and curators, which may take a long while to subside. And, what is equally deplorable, the revelation thus made by the coroner, which so dramatically startled the public last Wednesday evening, may probably lead to a diversion from the real track of the murderer, and thus defeat rather than serve the ends of justice. We believe the story to be highly improbable, although it may have a small basis of fact, which will require the exercise of much common sense to separate form the sensational fiction that surrounds it

Related pages:
       Press Reports: Alderley and Wilmslow Advertiser - 5 October 1888 
       Press Reports: Atchison Daily Globe - 27 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Atlanta Constitution - 5 October 1888 
       Press Reports: Chicago Tribune - 7 October 1888 
       Press Reports: Eastern Post - 29 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Echo - 26 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Echo - 27 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Echo - 28 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Echo - 29 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Evening News - 27 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Evening News - 28 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Lloyds Weekly News - 30 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Manitoba Daily Free Press - 5 October 1888 
       Press Reports: Montreal Daily Star - 5 October 1888 
       Press Reports: Morning Advertiser - 8 October 1888 
       Press Reports: New York Tribune - 27 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Pall Mall Gazette - 29 September 1888 
       Press Reports: St. James Gazette - 29 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Star - 27 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Star - 28 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Te Aroha News - 10 November 1888 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 27 September 1888 
       Press Reports: Times [London] - 28 September 1888