As the frenzy over the Jack the Ripper murders increased dramatically in October and November 1888, the newspapers were awash with articles putting forward all manner of strange, bizarre and outlandish theories as to who the perpetrator of the crimes was, and what his possible motivation for his barbarous acts could possibly be.
Was he a religious fanatic on a crusade to rid the streets of the East End of the sin of prostitution? Was he exacting revenge on the prostitutes themselves on account of some contagion he, or someone close to him, might have contracted from one of them? Was he attempting to draw society’s attention to the horrific social conditions in the area in which the murders were occurring?
All these theories, and many more besides, were appearing in the newspapers as the world and its mother attempted to explain something that, to the rational mind at least, was, quite simple, unexplainable.
Just when the theories about the Whitechapel murderer’s motivation could not, so it seemed, get any more bizarre, Professor Ordrenaux, of Columbia College Law School, entered the fray and put forward the opinion that the murderer might either be a vampire, or that he might be suffering from demonic possession.
As theories go, Prof. Ordreneaux’s was up there with the most outlandish of them, and yet he was able to present a seemingly rational argument for his theory, which, so he claimed, was backed up by medical theory and historical fact.
The Fort Wayne Weekly Gazette, published his postulation in its edition of November 22nd 1888:-
PROBABLY A LUNATIC
The Opinions Of Experts – The Law Of Atonement.
Professor Ordrenaux, of Columbia College Law School, author of standard works on legal bearings of insanity, and for nine years state commissioner of lunacy for New York, gives this opinion:-
IS THE LONDON FEIND INSANE?
“The murderer is a lunatic, of course. There is no doubt of that. His very cleverness in eluding the police might be a proot of it. The devilish cunning and resource of some maniacs is marvellous.
The question is, what frightful nightmare of madness is this that possesses him?
When he is caught he will speak out; he won’t hesitate to give reasons as far as he is able.
Meanwhile, we can only guess. But cases of the kind have not been so rare that we need guess at random.
The vampires of the middle ages that haunted the cemeteries and dug up the bodies of women to tear the flesh from their bones were doubtless madmen of his calibre. They were a very real terror to their time, not all creatures of an excited fancy.
At times their peculiar madness became fairly epidemic on the continent of Europe.
The reason why the psychology of the middle ages presents more such cases than our day is that then they ran about unhindered, while nowadays such lunatics would be very soon arrested.
IS HE POSSESSED?
Science may ridicule the idea of demoniacal possession. Those who deny that there is anything but matter will see no proof to the contrary. Proof expires with the conditions of matter you are examining, and when you drop the subject as a mental and take it up as a moral question you tread on uncertain ground in a sense.
It is true that you cannot find a demon with a microscope or figure it out by tables of logarithms; and yet it is not irrational to suppose that a distinct evil agency does dominate the human mind under circumstances when it is overthrown to the last degree and has lost its personal and subjective identity.
When insanity, originating in a perversion of the sexual instinct, passes beyond bounds within which it can be explained on conditions of physical deterioration, it is permissible to recognize a superhuman cause as the controlling power in the domination of human conduct. This is demoniacal possession.
THE CONDUCT OF THE VICTIM
Granted that the only foundation for belief in it is the utterly inhuman and illogical conduct of the victim, yet if he, alone of ten thousand lunatics similarly affected, goes this length, we shall have to assume either that he is a being differently formed, which we cannot do, or that some new agency is discovered in his case, as in that of this London murderer.
Here is where ‘possession of an evil spirit’ steps in to supply the explanation.
It seems to me as admissible in this last emergency as the law of gravitation. Nobody sees it, yet nobody doubts it. We all see its results.
The law of blood atonement is written on the constitution of the human mind, and, when utterly perverted by a sense of intolerable wrong, makes of the man such an ogre as this slayer of women.
There are many kinds of vampirism, but they all cluster around this one idea of motiveless mutilation of dead bodies.
No one would do the deeds of this monster unless dominated by the law of blood atonement mingled with an evil principle that then takes the form of demoniacal possession,
The law must furnish by punishment some motive for the man to resist.
A GRADUAL PROCESS
The taking possession of a mind is a gradual process, a consequence of willful sin against nature’s law, or weak yielding.
The whole subject opens up such a wide field of metaphysical study and religious suggestion that you cannot answer any question in one word, yes or no. It is yes up to a certain point and no beyond it.
Dr. Hammond is also emphatic in his opinion that such murderers should be executed and alienists generally are adopting the view that a monomaniac is often morally responsible for his condition and that the responsibility can be fixed.
THE LONDON POLICE HAVE A THEORY
And, adopting the opinion of medical men, the London police now have a theory that satisfies them, and they claim to have a particular individual in view, and to possess corroborative evidence in support of their theory.
He has been repeatedly tracked and traced, and is a well known and wealthy resident of Grosvenor Square, the most fashionable quarter of London.
A sensation of immense magnitude is expected in connection with the matter.