karyo magellan


In response to the Foreman's question as to whether or not the a photograph of Annie Chapman's eyes had been taken
the police surgeon Dr George Bagster Phillips said:

I have no particular opinion upon that point myself. I was asked about it very early in the enquiry and gave my opinion that
the operation would be useless, especially in this case.


These were the early days of forensic investigation. Fingerprinting would become routine by 1910, around the same time as the important principle of forensic investigation, that 'every contact leaves a trace' was established by Edmund Locard. But even in 1888 the importance of an accurate and well documented examination of the corpse and crime scene was appreciated. Even though blood letting was still commonplace and medicinal cures frequently did more damage than the disease for which they were prescribed, medical science was advancing inexorably.
     Although sceptical that images were retained by the retina Phillips was unable to totally dismiss the idea. Science has moved on exponentially since the Victorian era and apart from the development of sophisticated forensic techniques we have come to appreciate the importance of analysing information objectively.              
     Objectivity is crucial to any impartial examination but it is frequently difficult to be truly objective and investigative authors in particular often prefer to approach their subject from a particular and often narrow perspective. Unfortunately such an approach does not always lead to a balanced interpretation and facts become distorted or are excluded because they don't quite fit the theory.    

'Science is built up of facts, as a house is built up of stones; but an accumulation of facts is no more 
a science than a heap of stones is a house.'
Henri Poincaré 1854-1912: Science and Hypothesis (1905) 

life death and murder

The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.
Joseph Conrad (Jozef Teodor Konrad Nalecz Korzeniowski; 1857–1924) Polish-born British novelist. Under Western Eyes, Part 2

attitudes to death

Only during the past 60 years or so – since the end of World War II – has the subject of death become something to be avoided and denied. Our ancestors were less repulsed by the inevitable and to the Victorians death held great fascination – influenced perhaps by Queen Victoria’s own extended mourning following the death of her husband Prince Albert from typhoid in 1861. It could be argued that the Victorians were a little too fascinated by death and the invention of photography enabled them to record their dead relatives for posterity in a manner than today we would perhaps find uncomfortable at best, or obscene at worst.
Photographing the dead for other than forensic purposes would be frowned upon today, especially in Western Cultures, but not only did the Victorians photograph the dead but they did so in posed and contrived circumstances that suggested the deceased to be still alive. This done for adults and for children.
Was the philosophy of the Victorians better or worse than our present day reluctance to acknowledge death as a part of life? Our reticence when faced with the subject is largely attributable to the fact that we no longer come into contact with death, dying and the dead in the same way that our ancestors did or in the same way that people do in other countries or cultures. Without an understanding and appreciation of death it is doubtful that life can be treated with proper respect. Death has replaced sex as the taboo subject in Western society.

death - reality and deception

Since the middle of the nineteenth century photography has been used to assist the police in the detection of crimes. Paramount in this is the imaging of crime scenes – an valuable tool to preserve the ephemeral state of victim and surroundings. Such images may subsequently, if not at the time, assist detection by recording details that might otherwise have been missed. Although the camera can be made to deceive, the strict manner in which forensic images are taken minimises distortion of the facts. 
     The camera, so often associated with imaging beauty, is uncompromising in the manner in which it records the reality of death, especially violent death. The brutality, repulsion and finality of death cannot be disguised and knowledge that the scene is real takes the viewer beyond the image. It is impossible not to empathise with the victim’s final moments and to embrace the deep sadness conveyed by a buttoned cardigan or tied shoelace – rarely do we ever know that we are doing something for the last time. Actions, so unimportant at the moment, would have assumed special importance in a life with perhaps only hours left. 

While we are generally detached from the reality of death and even from images of real death we are daily bombarded with make-believe death, and fantasy images of death and the portrayal of violent death. There is a peculiar irony in this; we avoid confronting the reality of death but gladly embrace the substituted fantasy. Thus, when confronted by reality, we are ill-equipped. The preoccupation of Western societies with fantasy death especially through fictional literature and television drama tends also to create a state of indifference. In fact, there exist two quite distinct polarisations that induce indifference. At one end of the spectrum is the sanitised version of events that keeps the subject matter at arm’s length and at the other end is over-exposure to real violence which eventually numbs the senses. Sanitised images and the fantasy portrayal of death do humanity a great disservice. They do not bring us into close proximity with the true horror of violent crime.

This girl was the victim of a brutal murder. She was found dead in a barn with severe head injuries. We cannot for one moment appreciate the terror suffered by the victim and in reality we have no desire to do so because of the psychological consequences that might follow. It is even too uncomfortable to consider the consequential pain experienced by her friends and relatives; we can sympathise but rarely do we empathise. How could anyone inflict such injuries on a young and vulnerable victim? It seems that in pursuit of base gratification her achievements in life and her dreams for the future were worthless. At what point did her killer decide that her life had no value? What kind of person has such a complete disregard for human life?

The image of the murdered girl is disturbing for several obvious reasons. It is uncomfortable to look at the image of her without experiencing feelings of guilt  - this is a voyeuristic experience and it seems as though we are viewing what we should not see - and that we are able to do so because of her misfortune. Are we invading her privacy? This image was taken as a record of an event - perhaps as a source of information or as part of a scientific exercise. If such an image is used to inform - to depict what we otherwise would not see or understand - then there should be no guilt, but such an image can also be regarded as lurid or even salacious and there must inevitably be degrees of both. It is important to remember that it is not the image that violates the victim but the crime that brought them to the post mortem table. There is no glamour in murder, only wrecked lives.
     Essentially the plight of the young girl was no different from that of Jack the Ripper victim Catharine Eddowes, with the possible exception that Eddowes' ordeal was not prolonged. However, the feelings consequential to viewing the post mortem room images of her corpse, taken in 1888, seem to be different but for no good reason.
     Why does it seem less acceptable to look at images of the young female victim above than to look at those of Catharine Eddowes? Is it because Eddowes was much older, because she was killed in a different era, or because she was a alcoholic prostitute? Would our appreciation of the corpse of the young woman be different if we knew that her lifestyle was perhaps on the edge of what society judges to be acceptable? There should of course be absolutely no difference in our appreciation of any murder victim merely because if their age, appearance, lifestyle, or circumstances. In these examples both women met with a terrible death and their suffering during the attack was beyond comprehension.

These photographs of the unfortunate Catharine Eddowes were taken firstly as she lay in a coffin and before the autopsy was undertaken – the wounds to her neck mutilation to her facial features and extensive cuts to her abdomen are clearly visible. The second image was taken after the autopsy and after extensive reconstruction and stitch-work to her corpse. The extended stitch-work vertically across her chest and up to her neck followed the autopsy examination – her killer did not mutilate her thorax. The photographs after autopsy were taken with Eddowes’ corpse vertically arranged with her hair tied to a fixing on the wall behind her head so that she appeared to be standing. A rather ignominious end to a sad life.



A 'smile' from death
Partially decomposed corpse


Jack the Ripper was certainly not the first serial killer in history but he was one of the first to be acknowledged and to be documented as such. Because methods of criminal investigation were somewhat lacking prior to the twentieth century, the further back in time one searches the the more difficult it becomes to link deaths as part of a series and the less chance there was of apprehending the killer, especially when victims were selected randomly. Disturbingly, however, the State historically creates circumstances under which serial killers can operate with impunity - such was the case centuries ago and it is much the same now. Military combat is an obvious arena for those with more than a passing interest in murder to practice their skills, usually among the civilian population. However, while a state of war was a particularly convenient cover under which multiple killers could gratify their urges, a far more disturbing period in history allowed serial killers not only to operate with impunity, but to select their victims for torture and death with the total compliance of the State.
     The witch hunts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were a horrific period in history from which arose some notable individuals who self-styled themselves as witch hunters but in truth they were driven by the same compulsions that drive the psychopathic serial killer. Not only could they gratify their perversions at will but they were rewarded financially for their endeavours, often from the funds of the victims, who had to pay for their own torture and death. Water torture as depicted in the image to the left was one of many techniques employed to extract confessions but the witch finders were not necessarily interested in the truth or otherwise of the accusation - the thrill for them was the process of getting the confession which usually involved many bouts of torture as the victims confessed under torture then retracted the confession afterwards. Once an accusation of witchcraft was made, more often than not against young and attractive women,  excruciating torture was the route to an inevitable death by hanging in England or Colonial America, or by being burned alive in Scotland and the countries of continental Europe. Gratification for the witch finders came from the terror that they induced in their hapless victims and from the absolute power that they exercised.
     The darker aspects of human behaviour appeal to many writers, and psychopathy, the darkest of all, provides a rich source. Not all psychopaths kill, but their total lack of empathy with, and sympathy for, the feelings of others leads them to cause disruption and damage in many other ways to  those who come into contact with them. An extreme manifestation of psychopathy is the desire to kill repeatedly and it is little wonder that serial killers have become a fascinating subject of literary focus, albeit disproportionate to true prevalence in society. Ever since Jack the Ripper brought terror to the East End of London the fascination with serial killers has endured. Severin Klosowski, who re-named himself George Chapman, was a psychopath who serially murdered three 'wives', including Maud Adams with whom he is pictured, by poisoning them with antimony. Klosowski has subsequently been considered as a possible candidate for the role of Jack the Ripper and he was certainly in the right place at the right time for all of the six murders that I have identified as being attributable to the same killer. There are however significant reasons to reject his candidature and these are examined in By Ear and Eyes. Klosowski typically demonstrated a psychopathic personality and in more ways than just the callous manner in which he committed murder. He was executed in 1903. 
     It is immediately difficult to see how psychopathy could ever be an advantage in evolutionary terms, but we live in an artificial world; a flimsy veneer of civilised sociability in which antisocial behaviour is not tolerated. A breakdown of society would lead to an entirely different environment in which man may again have to rely upon basic instincts for survival of the fittest. So, in the midst of anarchy, psychopaths may just beat the meek in the race to inherit the earth!
Society should never underestimate the psychopath - they may appear poorly equipped, but like any other trait it can be an advantage under the right circumstances.

Confessions were extracted from 'witches' under torture - water torture was one example

The psychopathic serial killer Severin Klosowski with Maud Adams, 'wife' and victim


Post mortem images of Catharine Eddowes are reproduced by kind permission of the Metropolitan Police; that of the churchyard is copyright Karyo Magellan 2005. The remaining images have been copied from various sources not purporting ownership and thus copyright. All images on this site are used for non-commercial purposes but an acknowledgement as to copyright will gladly be given if established. Owners of the copyright of any images shown on this site should contact the webmaster whereupon the situation will be remedied or the images removed as required.