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Old 05-31-2016, 02:19 PM
Kattrup Kattrup is offline
Join Date: Mar 2016
Location: Denmark
Posts: 193
Default 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
aspect of the thighs as far as the knees [my bolding, Kattrup]

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:
"there was no sign of sex except the long hair upon the head, and, as is well known, that alone is not positive sign, inasmuch as in some nations the hair is worn long by men. The fact the whole bladder had been removed did away with the help that might have been afforded by the prescence of the prostate gland [...] if all the organs and parts had been taken away or the body exposed to the effects of decomposition, a careful preparation of the skeleton would have been imperative to decide that the body was that of a woman [...] the prescence or absence of a beard could not be stated and if the hair had been designedly cut off there would have been absolutely no sign by which sex could have been determined. The hair on the pubes had been removed, and [...] could not be availed as an indication of sex."
For clarity, I am not saying that the author claimed that it was difficult to determine the sex. But the purpose of the text is to argue for the possible difficulty of doing so in extreme cases.

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.
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