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Hallucinations & Delusions 4: Louis Box & Jack the Ripper

Previously in this blog, we commented on the prevalence of delusions concerning Jack the Ripper expressed by late nineteenth century Bethlem patients. Here, we continue the story of Louis Box, admitted in 1891.

On examination by the medical officers the day after admission, Box “says that he does not think he is 'Jack the Ripper' now and that he was mistaken last night. The fact of it is, it is evident that everybody thinks he is Jack the Ripper, people sniff as he passes them in the street in a meaning manner, they also make sarcastic remarks about him saying 'he appears pretty happy this morning', 'there he goes' etc. Worse than this, detectives are on his back and conspire to annoy him into confessing. Lately he went to what he thought was a boarding house but what turned out to be some house in the pay of the police. The house was in the care of a Frenchman who turned out to be Charcot [the French neurologist well known for his experimental research into hysteria through hypnosis]. He knows he was Charcot as he heard him remark as he was going upstairs that he (Box) had found out who he was. In this house he was subjected to every kind of machination with a view of making him confess. Wires were in his bed and he received shocks; there were telephones in the room and a false back to the cupboard. He heard them discussing all his previous life. They used to imitate the falling of drops of blood and then watch the effect on him. They used to flash lights before him and shew him indecent pictures at all times discerning the effect on him. It is not improbable that Charcot hypnotised him to see if he had homicidal tendencies.”

It was not just the mass media and the public who expounded on the Ripper case: psychiatrists, including Bethlem’s George Savage, published in national and specialist papers. Box's words incorporate many of these medical interests: research into the “criminal personality” and the "born criminal", homicidal tendencies, and psychopathia sexualis; the use of hypnosis; the wide fame of Charcot, and physiological and psychological investigation and experimentation. It is hard not to feel sympathy for Box’s declaration that: “He gets so annoyed by these contrivances and by public opinion in the case that although he knows he has not performed any murders consciously, he thinks he may have unconsciously.” The unconscious mind was, after all, just what many of these investigative methods aimed to uncover.