Bond, Hebbert and methodology
Trying to avoid to further derail the thread on body snatching, I thought I'd post some further remarks about the principles of historical inquiry, as pertains to the MJK mutilations.
As is seen in the other thread, Fisherman advanced the idea that Kelly's eyelids were cut off. This apparently fits with some other torso-related evidence, lending credence to the theory that JtR was also the Torso Killer.
I don't have much interest in or knowledge about the Thames torso mysteries. Whether eyelids were cut off or not in those cases is irrelevant to me.
However, were MJK's eyelids cut off? No.
Bond's post mortem report on MJK is pretty clear about the mutilations. It is from 1888, and even though it is most likely missing some pages, it is detailed and informative.
Bond's assistant during the MJK case was Dr. Hebbert. In 1894, Hebbert (who kept notes and, it has been argued, wrote out Bond's post mortem report on Kelly) sent details of the Kelly-case to Francis Harris, who included them in a textbook called A System of Legal Medicine.
Now, when researching MJK's murder and trying to establish whether her eyelids were removed, which of these two sources should be consulted?
In writing history, the guiding principle is that the earlier source is better. For instance, this principle is why (barring other compelling arguments) we prefer a 7th century transcript of the Bible to a 12th century one, if we're trying to establish a text close to the original.
Likewise, if we want to know whether MJK's eyelids were removed, the 1888 report will be more reliable than the 1894 textbook.
Let's see if the principle holds water with a few examples:
1888 states:The face was gashed in all directions, the nose, cheeks, eyebrows, and ears being partly removed. The lips were blanched and cut by several incisions...
1894 states: The eyebrows, eyelids, ears, nose, lips and chin had been cut off, and the face gashed by numerous knife-cuts.
1888 specifically states that the nose, cheeks, eyebrows and ears were partly removed, and that the lips were not removed at all.
1894, however, claims the nose, eyebrows and lips were completely cut off, together with other parts that 1888 does not mention.
1888 states: The right thigh was denuded in front to the bone
1894 states: The skin and much of the muscular tissue, not, however, exposing the bone, had been slashed away from the anterior
1888 claims cut to the bone, 1894 claims NOT cut to the bone.
Conclusion: the 1894 source differs from the earlier source significantly.
Time factor aside, there are other considerations why Bond's report would always be preferred when discussing MJK's mutilations: the report was prepared by an expert eyewitness, who personally witnessed what he wrote about. The report was prepared in a formal manner, as part of his official duties, and submitted to his superiors for approval. It was not written for the public, but for expert readers trained and experienced in investigating crime, several of whom would have had occasion to see MJK themselves.
The textbook, on the other hand, has a completely different context.
It is not written by an eyewitness, it is most likely not a primary source (this cannot be definitely determined without further research, I believe), being even in the most optimistic of scenarios a text only based on notes supplied by an eyewitness.
The chapter in which the MJK case appears concerns the matter of identifying the sex of skeletons or extremely mutilated bodies. The author brings up MJK as an example of a corpse mutilated to such a degree that it could conceivably have been difficult to determine if man or woman.
Thus the text follows a pattern of exaggerating the mutilations, to make the example fit the text.
The description therefore begins "In the particular illustrative instance..."
The example is specifically stated to be illustrative of the principle mentioned earlier in the text: "Indeed, there may be cases where the whole body has been so badly mutilated that it is by the preparation of the skeleton alone that an idea of the sex may be formed. "
This is again why the author accentuates the ambiguity caused by the mutilations:
Conclusion: Francis Harris' textbook from 1894 is most likely excellent in many ways.
As a source for the mutilations of MJK, it is, however inferior to Bond's report.
Anyone using it as a basis for his or her conclusions about MJK's wounds, as Fisherman does when he states that MJK's eyelids were cut off, is wrong.
When researching a particular point, event or piece of information, the earlier primary source is better. That does not mean that all relevant primary sources are close in time to what we want to know - for instance, the Littlechild letter (1913) or Macnaghten Memoranda (1894) can still be relevant if we're researching the events of 1888.
Surely the Great (non) Historian can help.
[u]However, were MJK's eyelids cut off? No[u]
I wouldn't go as far as you and make it a definitive No, rather I'd say, probably not.
i also can't agree that the earlier is ALWAYS the better source (if that was your contention) it is where Pierre's much vaunted source criticism comes into play.
"The hair on the pubes had been removed"...- Francis quote. Yes or no? Steven G. Ryan, where are you?
The question is what happened to the notes thereafter? If Bond retained them which is the more likely, for what need would there be to give them back as Hebbert was not going to be called at the inquest.
So the answer might be that what Hebbert said in the book was from memory.
I think the aforementioned Stephen G. Ryan has argued that Hebbert kept his own notes, in addition to actually preparing, i. e. physically writing, Bond's report.
Short answer is I don't know what happened to the notes, but it is immaterial in this case.
In the best case scenario, Hebbert sent his notes to Francis Harris, who then wrote a text involving MJK.
That still means the text is a late, secondhand account of MJK's mutilations. No use, when we have an earlier, firsthand account.
One thing I would like to point out in case anyone gets the wrong idea about the two different types of sources being discussed in the book - Although the accuracy of the MJK passage is being disputed, the accuracy of the details on the torso cases 87-89 are not the same. Those were lectures originally written and published in 1888 and 1889 in the "Westminster Hospital Reports" Vol IV and V and are contemporary sources. Charles Alfred Hebbert wrote those lectures to illustrate forensic techniques when trying to identify the unknown dismembered or mutilated dead using the post mortem findings in the torso cases, which is why they were included in the book.
Some scant details of the Mylett murder in 1888 are also included in the text book under discussion. A chapter on homicidal strangulation and suffocation includes a details that although the jury went against Dr Bond's evidence in the Mylett case and brought in a verdict of murder, it did not follow that Dr Bond was necessarily wrong [in thinking it was accidental] Hebbert also reveals in the same chapter that he believed Mylett was murdered by a hand being placed over her mouth while her throat was compressed, which is in contrast to the 'soap cutter' , two-handed lanyard method described by Dr Brownfield.
I have used this chapter in support of the idea that the method of strangulation on Mylett was not as clear as Brownfield would have had us think but I do reluctantly concede that this latter passage must also be classed as possibly unreliable here and a mis-remembering by Hebbert I guess -although in 1888, Dr Hebbert never gave his opinion on record of how he believed Mylett was strangled, we just know he agreed on Brownfield's homicidal strangulation conclusion.
It was nice to think that this was a scoop for Harris's book though!
Not had time to read all the comments fully, but from a brief look, the differences mentioned about MJK and the tissue removal, do show there is a significant difference between the reports of Bond and Hebbert.
Debra's point about the differences between the Torso reports and the report on MJK is very illuminating.
I did wonder about that when Fisherman, on the other thread said the report on the Torso’s was in great detail.
The issue discussed between Kattrup and Trevor also helps to put the whole issue of if notes were used, and you by in to some real context.
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