MFDJ 05/06/24: Dr. Jekylls

Today’s Hippo-critical Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

From Dr. Jekyll to Dr. Lecter, the fiendish physician has long been a staple of horror fantasy. Unfortunately, this nightmarish figure is not just a figment of the pop imagination. The annals of crime contain notable examples of psychopathic M.D.’s who stand the Hippocratic Oath on its head by using their skills to do harm.

Given his dexterity at dissection, there has always been speculation that Jack the Ripper—the first and most famous of modern serial killers—was someone with surgical training. “Ripperologists” have come up with several candidates: a Russian doctor and homicidal maniac named Michael Ostrog, who ended up in a mental asylum; another Russian, Dr. Alexandr Pedachenko, described as a “criminal lunatic” exiled to London by the tsar’s secret police; and an English surgeon named Stanley who allegedly confessed to the Whitechapel murders on his deathbed.

Jack’s contemporary, H. H. Holmes, was America’s original M.D.—i.e., Medical Deviate. After receiving his degree from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Holmes made his way to Chicago, where he constructed his notorious “Murder Castle,” complete with a basement dissection lab. Though Holmes worked as a pharmacist, not a physician, he was able to put his surgical training to profitable use by selling the stripped and mounted skeletons of his victims to local anatomy schools.

H. H. Holmes

At roughly the same time, a British psychopath named Thomas Neill Cream—who received his medical degree from Montreal’s McGill University and did postgraduate work at the prestigious Royal College of Physician and Surgeons at Edinburgh—was busily dispatching victims on both sides of the Atlantic. After killing several women through botched, illegal abortions, Dr. Cream—who was residing in Chicago at the time—poisoned his mistress’s husband by lacing the man’s epilepsy medicine with strychnine. Released after a ten-year stint in Joliet, he sailed for England, where he embarked on a career as a serial killer of prostitutes—poisoning five London streetwalkers before he was caught, tried, and hanged in 1892. Dr. Cream is regarded as another Ripper candidate, since he is reputed to have cried, “I am Jack the—” just as he plunged through the trapdoor of the gallows.

Thomas Neill Cream.  I’m sensing a theme here.  Don’t trust men with mustaches?

Fifty years later and across the English Channel, residents of the Rue Le Sueur in Paris were assaulted by an overpowering stench issuing from a neighborhood building. When firemen broke in, they were horrified to discover a stack of dismembered bodies decomposing in the basement. The building, it turned out, belonged to Dr. Marcel Petiot, who claimed that the corpses were those of Nazi collaborators killed by the Resistance. It wasn’t until the war ended that the appalling truth emerged: the victims were actually wealthy French Jews, desperate to flee Nazi-occupied France. Posing as a Resistance member who would smuggle them to freedom—for a fee—Petiot arranged to have the unsuspecting victims arrive at his house with all their valuables. Then he would administer an “immunization shot”—actually a lethal injection of strychnine—lock them in a chamber (where, through a peephole, he could watch them die in agony), appropriate their belongings, and dispose of their remains in his furnace. Unrepentant to the end, Dr. Petiot went to the guillotine with a smile in 1946.

Dr. Marcel Petiot – Okay, maybe it’s not the mustache…

One of the most remarkable of medical monsters is the Swedish physician Dr. Teet Haerm, who killed and dismembered at least nine women in the mid-1980s. In a horrifically ironic twist, Dr. Haerm—who served as the medical examiner for the Stockholm police—actually performed autopsies on several of his own victims.

Dr. Teet Haerm – yeah, definitely not the mustache.  Maybe the smirk?

Culled from: The A to Z Encyclopedia of Serial Killers

Vintage Asylum Inmate Du Jour!

In The Library Eclectica, I have a book entitled The Faces of Madness: Hugh W. Diamond and the Origin of Psychiatric Photography (edited by Sander L. Gilman), 1977.  It contains a wonderful collection of photographs of asylum inmates taken in the 1850’s by pioneering medical photographer and psychiatrist Dr. Hugh W. Diamond, along with engravings that were made of them and used in teaching. There are also several case studies by Dr. John Conolly (the leading British psychiatrist of the mid-nineteenth century) for some of the patients.  The portraits are beautiful and sad and the text reveals the psychiatric thought processes of the mid-19th century.

Here’s today’s lovely melancholic soul.  I want to be her friend.

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