Classical Texts in Psychology
Christopher D. Green
York University, Toronto, Ontario
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On the Witness Stand:
Essays on Psychology and Crime
Hugo Münsterberg (1908/1925)
IT is a sad story which I am going to report, a weird tragedy of yesterday. I am most seriously convinced that it is a tragedy not only of crime but also of human error and miscarried justice, and my scientific conscience as a psychologist compels me to speak of it because the tragedy of yesterday may come up again, in some other form, to-morrow.
I am the last one to desire for the modern psychologist a special privilege to meddle with the daily affairs of practical life. Far too often the " new " psychology has been made a kind of Jack-of-all-trades. Psychology has had to furnish the patent medicine for all the defects of our schools, psychology has become the word to conjure with in literature and religion, in social troubles and economic emergencies, and the public can hardly imagine how a psychologist's mail is burdened with inquiries from superstitious and unbalanced minds and with reports of uncanny and mysterious happenings.[p. 138] Wherever experience seems unexplainable, the psychologist is expected at least to pigeon-hole and to label the occurrence and to give his official sanction that such strange things may sometimes happen. Yet, the psychologist can hardly glance over such letters without wishing that the public at least might know how much wiser it would be to consult a detective. No mental explanation is in order till the facts themselves are cleared up by methods for which the scholar is not prepared at all. His steady contact with seekers for truth makes him least suspicious of the thousand sources of delusion and deception which an attorney may find out, but not a scholar.
But if the psychologist has thus not seldom the wish that the detective were consulted in his place, that does not prevent his regretting sometimes that the world relies on the detective instead of calling in the psychologist. The more the scientific analysis and explanation of mental life makes progress through the experimental and physiological, comparative and clinical methods, the more we learn how subtle the Internal connections are and how insufficient the popular psychology must [p. 139] be with which the facts of life are usually interpreted by detectives and attorneys, by juries and judges. To be sure, they all respect the physician who examines whether the criminal was insane or mentally disordered. But between the common-sense of the average juryman and the medical science of the alienist the world of criminal facts cannot be divided fairly. The detective may bring out much evidence which lies outside of the realm of physicians, which yet may be a closed book to the naïve view of psychical life. In such case the psychologist feels it his duty fearlessly to oppose the popular prejudice.
Just this was the situation when I ventured last year to write a letter to a well-known nerve specialist in Chicago who had privately asked my opinion as a psychologist in the case of a man condemned to death for murder. The man had confessed the crime. Yet I felt sure that he was innocent. My letter somehow reached the papers and I became the target for editorial sharp-shooters everywhere. I have before me still a collection of such specimens. "Harvard's Contempt of Court" is the big heading here, "Science Gone [p. 140] Crazy" the heading there, and so it went on in the papers, while every mail brought an epistolary chorus. The efforts of the attorneys to change the condemned man's fate by a motion for a supersedeas before the Supreme Court were unsuccessful. One week later the accused was hanged; yet, if scientific conviction has the right to stand frankly for the truth, I have to say again that he was hanged for a crime of which he was no more guilty than you or I, and the only difference which the last few months have brought about is the fact that, as I have been informed on good authority, the most sober-minded people of Chicago to-day share this sad opinion.
I felt sure from the first that no one was to be blamed. Court and jury had evidently done their best to find the facts and to weigh the evidence; they are not to be expected to be experts in the analysis of unusual mental states. The proof of the alibi seemed sufficient to some, but insufficient to others; most various facts allowed of different interpretation, but all hesitation had to be overcome by the one fundamental argument which excluded every doubt: there was a complete confession. [p. 141] And if the sensational press did not manifest a judicial temper, that seemed this time very excusable. The whole population had been at the highest nervous tension from the frequency of brutal murders in the streets of Chicago. Too often the human beast escaped justice: this time at last they had found the villain who confessed -- he at least was not to escape the gallows. For many years no murder case had so deeply excited the whole city. Truly, as long as a demand for further psychological inquiry appeared to the masses simply as "another way of possibly cheating justice" and as a method tending "towards emasculating court procedure and discouraging and disgusting every faithful officer of the law," the newspapers were almost in duty bound to rush on in the tracks of popular prejudice.
I took it thus gladly as a noble outburst of Chicago feeling against my "long-distance impudence" that a leading paper resumed the situation in this way: "Illinois has quite enough of people with an itching mania for attending to other people's business without importing impertinence from Massachusetts. This crime itself, no matter [p. 142] who may be the criminal, was one of the frightful fruits of a sickly paltering with the stern administration of law. We do not want any directions from Harvard University irresponsibles for paltering still further." This seems to me to hit the nail on the head exactly, and my only disagreement is with the clause "no matter who may be the criminal." I think it does matter who may be the criminal -- whether the one whom they hanged or somebody else who is still to-day in freedom.
But if I examine these endless reports for a real argument why the accused youth was guilty of the heinous crime, everything comes back after all to the statement constantly repeated that it would be "inconceivable that any man who was innocent of it should claim the infamy of guilt." Months have passed since the neck of the young man was broken and "thousands of persons crowded Michigan Street, jamming that thoroughfare from Clark Street to Dearborn Avenue, waiting for the undertaker's wagon to leave the jail yard." The discussion is thus long since removed to the sphere of theoretical argument; and so the hour may be more favourable now for asking [p. 143] once more whether it is really "inconceivable" that an innocent man can confess to a crime of which he is wholly ignorant. Yet the theoretical question may perhaps demand no later than to-morrow a practical answer, when perhaps again a weak mind shall work itself into an untrue confession and the community again rely thereon satisfied, hypnotised by the spell of the dangerous belief that "murder will out." The history of crime in Chicago has shown sufficiently that murder will not " out." It is important that the court, instead of bringing out the guilty thought, shall not bring it " in " into an innocent consciousness.
Of course in a criminal procedure there cannot be any better evidence than a confession, provided that it is reliable and well proved. If the accused acknowledges in express words the guilt in a criminal charge, the purpose of the procedure seems to have been reached; and yet at all times and in all nations experience has suggested a certain distrust of confessions. The earnestness with which caution is urged is decidedly different at different periods; the danger of accepting confessions seems to have been felt more strongly at [p. 144] some times than at others. Has this perhaps depended on the nervous disposition of the crowd at various epochs? No doubt, the abnormal, hysterical, neurotic tendency fluctuated greatly in previous centuries in which the world was scientifically still unaware of its own nervousness and its own hysteria, and yet protected its social life instinctively against its dangers. The essential argument, however, against the trustworthiness of confessions had a purely social origin: it referred to possible promises or threats by other members of the community. No doubt, the chances for such influences were different, too, at various times and in different social conditions. The self-sacrificing desire to exculpate others has played its rôle occasionally also. In short, there is no lack of social motives to make it conceivable from the start that an accused makes of his own accord a confession against himself which is not true. Especially in the realm of the minor offences, promise and threat are still to-day constant sources of untrue self-accusation.
Perhaps we can add still another motive which might induce a man in full possession of his understanding [p. 145] to declare himself guilty against his better knowledge. No statistics can tell the story, but we can suppose that persons suspected wrongly of a crime may, in the face of an unfortunate combination of damaging evidence, prefer to make a false confession in the hope of a recommendation to mercy. Every lawyer knows the famous Boom case in Vermont, where the brothers confessed to having killed their brother-in-law and described the deed in full detail and how they destroyed the body; while long afterwards the "murdered" man returned alive to the village. The evidence against the suspected appeared so overwhelming that they saw only one hope to save their lives -- by turning the verdict, through their untrue confession, from murder to manslaughter. To this group we might count not a few of the historic confessions in the Salem witchcraft tragedy. The nearest relatives urged the unfortunate accused women to such confessions, seeing no other way of escape for them.
But just those dark chapters of New England history can show us an abundance of other forms of confession which lead us step for step from [p. 146] well-balanced calculation to complete alienation, through all the borderland regions of mental confusion and disintegration. Even the advice of the nearest relatives of those accused as witches was often not at all based on confidence. The preposterous accusations were for them too sufficient proof of guilt, and not to confess appeared to them as obstinacy. Thus they urged the poor women prisoners, starting from the conviction that the unwillingness to confess showed that their minds were wholly given over to Satan. "In many cases where they yielded, it was not from unworthy fear or for self-preservation, but because their judgment was overthrown and their minds in complete subjection and prostration." There can, indeed, hardly be a doubt that in some instances the confessing persons really believed themselves "guilty." The reports agree further that the accused persons, when they made up their minds to confess, "fabricated their stories with much ingenuity and tact, making them tally with the statements of the accusers, adding points and items that gave an air of truthfulness."
Ann Foster at Salem Village confessed in 1692 [p. 147] that the devil appeared to her in the shape of a bird at several times. She further stated that it was Goody Carrier that made her a witch. "She told her that if she would not be a witch, the devil would tear her to pieces and carry her away -- at which time she promised to serve the devil; that she was at the meeting of the witches at Salem Village: they got upon sticks: and went said journey," and so forth. Yet Ann Foster was not insane; the horrors of the accusation had overpowered the distressed mind. We should say to-day that a dissociation of her little mind had set in; the emotional shock brought it about that the normal personality went to pieces and that a split-off second personality began to form itself with its own connected life story built up from the absurd superstitions which had been suggested to her through the hypnotising examinations.
The untrue confessions from hope or fear, through promises and threats, from cunning calculations and passive yielding thus shade off into others which are given with real conviction under the pressure of emotional excitement or under the spell of overpowering influences, Even the mere [p. 148] fatigue often brought to the Salem witches the loosening of the mental firmness and the intrusion of the suggestion of guilt. In tedious examinations the prisoners were urged to confess through many hours "till the accused were wearied out by being forced to stand so long or by want of sleep" and then gave assent to the accusation of having signed the devil's book.
It seems like the other pole of the social world if we turn from these cruel court procedures to the helpful humanity of our hospitals for the insane. But the sounds of reckless untrue self-accusation are familiar there too to everyone who knows the scenes of misery in the ward of the melancholic patients. There is no judge and no jury, only the physician and the nurse, yet no torture of punishment can be harder than the suffering of the melancholic who feels remorse for sins which he never committed, for crimes of which he never thought before. Years ago his friend died; now arises the illusion that he has poisoned him. The last fire in the town was laid by him; he is guilty of the unpardonable sin. The slightest fault in his real past takes, in this illusory [p. 149]affective state, new and gigantic dimensions; long-forgotten mistakes awake with unproportionate feelings of anguish. The patient accuses himself of meanness and deceit, of diabolical plans, and with growing accuracy he elaborates the minute details of his imaginary crimes.
As a matter of course, when the physician speaks in the modern court-room the grave word Melancholia, the self-accusation cannot have any further consequences of a judicial character. The doors of the hospital are closed behind the patient. He may still be witness against others; but the confessions of crime which he claims to have committed himself cannot be considered as evidence under any circumstances. And as the symptoms of melancholia and other depressive states with self-accusatory ideas are easily recognised, there remains hardly any reason for fearing lest such irresponsible fabrications of a diseased brain be taken as real confessions of an actual criminal. But does this give security for a proper rating of those illusory confessions which, like the absurdities of the Salem witches, result from the temporary abnormal states of a not-diseased brain? [p. 150] Hysterical and autohypnotic states may there combine with otherwise perfectly normal behaviour, and pseudo-confessions may thus arise in men who are distinctly not ill. A slight dissociation of mind may set in which does not suggest calling for the physician at all, and which may yet affect profoundly the admissions made by the accused person. Has the court sufficient means at hand to convince the jury that it must weigh all the evidence with a fair consideration of these not pathological, yet very influential, mental variations?
Whether the crime was done in a state of mental responsibility is certainly a question never neglected. The mental status of the witnesses finds usually much less subtle analysis: the cross-examining lawyers turn their attention mostly backwards to the time of the crime and overlook too often the mental state at the time of the trial. But above all, the psychical state of the defendant himself during the trial is usually measured by the crudest standards of easy-going psychology which considers a mental life as typical and unaltered as long as the man is neither insane nor [p. 151] intoxicated. And yet it would be perhaps less exaggerated if we claimed that no psychical mechanism remains entirely unchanged when a witness speaks under his oath or when a defendant faces the jury. The variations remain, of course, mostly within the limits of normal life, as we have to call normal every setting which harmonises with the life purposes of the individual. But variations they are, nevertheless, and only the psychologist may be clearly aware of their tendencies. Practical life would be satisfied with the broad statement that the witness was excited, or anxious and timid, or felt himself important, or was eager to prove his view. How far really his mental possibilities were influenced, how far his perceptions, memory, ideas, imaginative acts, feelings, emotions, volitions, attention, judgment and ideas of self were altered through the situation is not considered and would be certainly unimportant in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred.
Yet we must not forget that there is nowhere a sharp line to be drawn between the symptoms of real mental disease and the variations in normal personalities. There is no mental trait which belongs [p. 152] to mental diseases only; whatever we find in the asylums is made up of the same material that enters into the normal interplay of human minds. The order and harmony alone are disturbed; a single feature is grossly exaggerated or unduly inhibited, and by this abnormal increase or decrease of a regular trait the balance is lost and danger is ahead. Mental diseases are like caricatures of a person; in the caricature too every part of the face is the same as in the ordinary physiognomy, but the proportion is lost, as one special part, perhaps the nose or the teeth are grotesquely enlarged. All mental aberrations are such exaggerated caricatures of the normal feelings, or emotions, or impulses, or memories, or imaginations, or attentions. And because the disease does not develop perfectly new features, but simply reinforces quite ordinary tendencies, it is easy to see that there is nowhere a sharp line between the normal trait and its pathological over-functioning.
The motionless brooding of the melancholic patient is easily recognised, and yet the pessimistic temperament of many a normal man or woman generates all the features which are so sadly developed [p. 153] in the melancholic attacks. Even the self-accusations and the self-destructive despair of the melancholic find their counterpart in the realm of normal life; the pessimist is too often inclined to torture himself by opprobriums, to feel discouraged with himself, and to feel guilty without real guilt. From these slight traces of temperamental type to the complete alienation of the hopeless patient there is a sliding scale of depressions. It leads through all the affective states of the neurasthenic and other neurotic varieties. To recognise where the temperament ends and the irresponsible disturbance begins is made extremely difficult by the great breadth of the borderland region. Public opinion, and court and jury as its organs, are always inclined to claim that whole borderland field still for the normal life and to acknowledge the mental disturbance only when the disease region is entered. But modern psychology recognises daily more strongly that the subtlest analysis of the occurrences in the borderland field is absolutely necessary if the higher ends of social justice to be reached. The courts show in all other fields that the progress of science breaks new paths [p. 154] for them. It is, for instance, interesting to see how the neurasthenic states are slowly recognised by the courts in civil suits as real bodily disturbance, while a short time ago they were still considered as mere imaginations and illusory complaints. The time has come to take notice of the progress in psychology too.
There is no less a transitional region for all the other mental activities. Everyone knows in daily life the type of the superficial, silly person whose attention is always shifting, and yet it is only an absurd exaggeration of such behaviour that characterises the alienation of the maniac. We know the sanguine type with its quick, sudden impulses, or the slow mind whose will appears always inhibited, as if every volition is checked by an inner resistance. We know the stubborn mind which cannot be persuaded by any logical argument and which sticks to its fixed ideas, and we know the suggestible mind which follows the last hint and believes everything, or at least everything which is printed. Every one of these features of a mental physiognomy may grow till its caricature stands before us as disease, and everywhere there are [p. 155] many steps between the extremes of pleasant originality of character and the saddest mental abeyance. The trait becomes psychologically alarming as soon as the balance is sufficiently destroyed to make the purposes of life impossible. Persons who perhaps doubt in the reality of the enter world may be found in the asylums and on the philosophic platform; whether the doubting mind is a patient or a philosopher shows itself quickly in the consequences: the philosopher includes that doubt within an harmonious life plan, the patient's life is destroyed by his insane doubt.
This steady correspondence between the normal, slight variations and the hopeless disturbances, and the small steps of transition between the extremes are shown perhaps nowhere more clearly than in the field of memory. We differ from one another bad retention of our experiences or by good memory for different spheres, the one for names, the other for faces, the one for figures, the other for sounds, but the disturbances and illusions of memory too are most irregular, and just as no two persons have exactly the same face, certainly no two have the same kind of [p. 156] memory. Even unusual varieties may remain still fully within the limit of soundness. I myself, for instance, have absolutely no memory for the mental processes during sleep; in other words, I have never in my life had a dream. When I talk of dreams in my university courses of psychology, I speak of them just as a blind man might speak of colours. Yet, mental processes go on in my sleeping brain as in other men, because my friends have often found that when they wake me up from deep sleep with a question, I invariably give at first an absurd reply full of reminiscences of the foregoing days; but as soon as I am really awake, not the slightest trace of these comes back to my memory. Yet, this rare variety of memory is not an abnormal state, since it cannot interfere with the purposes of my life; and the remainder of mankind is, indeed, rather to be pitied for its dreams, which may bring a confusion of themselves with the real past. If most people were without dreams, the dreamers would have good reason to consult the nerve physicians and their mental state would be pigeonholed in the borderland region between normality and hallucination. Dreams are hallucinations [p. 157] which become harmless only because the impulses to action become ineffective during sleep.
I say that no field shows such a variety in normal limits as the memory, and this refers to its positive features as much as to its negative ones, as much to the remembering as to the forgetting. That we forget, is in itself certainly no defect and no pathological symptom. On the contrary, we could not fulfil the purposes of our life if we did not disburden our memory constantly of superfluous matter. We were lost if we had to keep in memory every face we have seen in the street and every advertisement we have seen in the papers. Our mind has to sift and sift. And we demand from our normal memory even that it follows somewhat our own imagination. We do not care to remember exactly as we experienced the impressions; our perception is full of little blanks which our imaginative memory fills all the time with fitting associations, and when we remember a landscape, we want to have the picture rounded out and do not care whether the wave of the ocean had exactly this curve and whether the tree had just this number of branches. We remember well when we [p. 158] select the material, eliminate some parts worthy of being forgotten, and add from our own imagination other parts well adapted to reproduce the original experience.
But it is evident that this suppressing and supplementing of memory ideas makes us unfit for life when it assumes large proportions. If we cannot remember our previous experience, and if, in addition to it, our own imagination deceives us by the delusion of pseudo-memories, we are of course completely lost in the social world, and the care of the asylum alone can protect us against utter destruction. Yet, who will decide when the limit is reached where we forget and supplement too much: nowhere is the borderland region broader and nowhere more important for the psychology of the court-room. We may move for a long while still in the realm of the normal. It may be pure fatigue which may decrease our resistance against the creeping of deceptive illusions into our memory, Or it may be a simple emotional excitement; no doubt, the mere fact of being on the witness stand awakens in many minds, by its importance and solemnity, an excitement which is [p. 159] especially favourable for opening the memory to suggestions and to confused ideas which group themselves around some ideas with strong feeling tone. Many a memory succumbs even to an impressive or a suggestive question. And more important still is the suggestiveness of the whole situation and especially of its social elements. All that is still normal; there is no education and no art, no politics and no religion without suggestion, and yet suggestion is certainly to a high degree a suppression of objective memory. But slowly all this leads over into the borderland region. Instead of a sound fatigue, there may be an over-fatigue; instead of light emotional excitement, the deep affectional influence of alcohol or drugs; instead of the mild suggestive influence of the teacher and minister, the deep intrusion of the hypnotising physician or of autohypnotisation. All that is not pathological; yet the abnormalities of the memory may have taken in the meantime dimensions which alter entirely the value of the reported recollections.
The untrustworthiness of memory under all such conditions has nothing whatever to do with [p. 160] the intentions and the veracity of the witness. The average man knows anyhow very little of the working of his own mind and his particular variations escape his attention. It is well known how many persons do not know even that they are colour-blind, or that they lack elements of imagination which are natural to others. A colleague once wanted me to hypnotise him because he had just, in his fortieth year, discovered that he had no power of optical remembering; he hoped to get it through hypnosis, and yet he had never missed it until he read of it in a psychological book. And only the other day I was consulted by a young woman who, up to her college days, had not discovered that other persons do not hear voices when they are alone; she had heard them since childhood days and had felt sure that it was everybody's experience. The average person is unfamiliar with his psychical peculiarities and with the varieties and trickeries of his memory. They do not concern the physician either. But the psychological examination furnishes indeed to-day a kind of mental Roentgen rays which illumine the internal happenings.
[p. 161] We must not forget, moreover, that our knowledge of our own personality and its doing is also only a function of memory. We know of ourselves, in a psychological sense, through the connected memory of our actions and of our experiences, and this reproducing self-consciousness is open to all the chances and defects which belong to our remembering in other fields. Our own doings, of which we know, perhaps, through our muscle sensations, are in themselves no better material for our reproduction in memory than the scenes which we have seen and the words which we have heard. As soon as the memory for our own past is completely lost, the pathological character is, of course, evident; and if the ideas which form our selves become dissociated and groups become split off as a second or third personality in us, no one doubts that such curious formations belong to the physician's domain. Yet here again we can reach the most hopeless forms through small steps from the experiences of our daily life. Every one of us is a different personality under different circumstances.
[p. 162] The man in the office is not the man in family life; on his vacation trip, not the same as at work; in the political meeting, not the same as in the theatre. New leading impulses, new groups of memory associations, new groups of feelings enter each time into play and change the whole aspect of our life. To be sure, the core of our personality is not touched by such daily occurrences, and we can easily bridge over in our mind from the one state to the other. Just for this reason it does not interfere with the purposes of healthy action. But this growing up of a new personality, with its own impulses and separated by its own memories from our regular life, may again increase just like those other variations of memory. An emotional shock or a captivating impression may stir up long-forgotten memory ideas or push imaginative thoughts into the centre and build around them split-off pieces of a dissociated mind into a new personality which can be, perhaps, hardly discriminated from the previous self, but in which important emotions and memories may be distorted. And this alteration may affect more and more the deeper layers of [p. 163] emotional thought and the whole man may be for a long time a new man before the outside becomes aware of it, or before he himself can explain the sudden changes in his attitudes and in his actions, in his judgments and his self-consciousness. The borderland region between the normal variations of personality and the complete pathological destruction of the self demand thus the most earnest consideration in the court-room.
And now I return to the distressing case of Chicago. Dr. Christison has set forth the entire murder case in a brilliant pamphlet which few will study without becoming convinced that an innocent man has suffered death by the rope on account of untrue confessions. It may be sufficient here to cite from it the following facts: On January 12, 1906, a young married woman was brutally outraged and murdered in Chicago. Her body was found, by the unfortunate defendant, lying face downwards on a manure pile in a barnyard. The barn was about half a block distant from his home. He had to go there to attend to his father's horse. When he observed the body, he at once reported the matter to his father at the house, [p. 164] and the father notified the police. The officers who inspected the premises found the woman's hat at her Feet, but could discover no evidence whatsoever of & scuffle having taken place. Purse, shopping-bag and muff were gone. Around her neck was a hard-drawn copper wire, the ends being twisted together.
The young man looked as if he had not slept during the night and the officers suspected him. The testimonies show that the young man was everywhere regarded as a thoughtful, obliging fellow of exceptionally good disposition, but often exhibiting marked stupidity. He never sought the company of women. All of his friends thought him decidedly trusting and credulous and absent-minded. He alternated between gay and morose moods. His most pronounced defect seemed to them his lack of initiative. His regular work was with his father at the trade of carpenter. When he came to the police station, he was told at once that he was the guilty man; but the accused denied everything.
Now the police began to press him and to suggest more and more impressively to him his guilt. [p. 165] Suddenly he began to confess, and he was quite willing to repeat his confession again and again. Every time it became richer in detail. "At about 6.30 I took her in the alley. I wrestled with her and lost my senses. She wanted to run," -- and so on and so on. On this basis he was condemned to death. So the matter stood when my opinion was asked for, as above reported. I could not help becoming convinced that all the external signs spoke against the interpretation of the jury. The young man's alibi proof, brought forward by his friends, seemed to me convincing. Everything seemed to point to the fact that the woman was murdered by an unknown person at another place, and that her body was dragged during the night by the copper wire coiled around her neck from another street to the barnyard. The so-called "confessions" themselves seemed absurd and contradictory and exactly like the involuntary elaboration of a suggestion put into the man's mind. His whole life history and the expression of his face were in fullest accordance with the suspicion that his mind was in a state of dissociation when he began his confessions. It seemed to me a typical case of that [p. 166] large borderland region in which a neurotic mind develops an illusory memory as to its own doings in the past. After most careful scrutiny as far as the written and printed material allowed, I wrote thus in June in my much-abused letter that the confessions must be untrue and that the condemned man had really nothing to do with the crime. I added at once, "It is an interesting case of dissociation and auto-suggestion; it would need probably careful treatment to build up his dissociated mind again and thus to awake in him a clear memory of his real experiences."
But when I expressed thus my firm conviction, I had, nevertheless, the uncanny feeling that there was something obscure in the case. I was unable to understand how the sudden change from denial to confession was brought about. To be sure, there were the sharp inquisitory questions of the police officers, and yet from a rather extended experience I could not imagine that without a sudden external shock or some overwhelming fascination such a conversion and such a disintegration could set in. Only a short time before a lady had come to me who showed quite similar blanks of memory for [p. 167] several days, filling the gap with imaginative ideas, and she too did not understand why her personality had been changed so suddenly. But when I hypnotised her, I understood what had happened. She had been in a nervous and over-fatigued state when her own physician bent over her, and the sharp sunlight reflected from his eye-glasses struck her eyes. At that moment she felt it like a shock, his eye-glasses seemed to become large and uncanny, and from that moment on her consciousness was split and her remaining half-personality developed a pseudo-memory of its own.
I had before my mind also the case of a certain religious conversion which Dr. Prince has recently analysed and described. It was the case of a young woman who, from a most distressed, restless and suffering state, was suddenly completely changed to a state of joyful excitement and happy ecstasy. She felt it as a spiritual "conversion" to health, and the complete change of her mental personality was indeed most surprising. She could not remember that anything had happened which might have influenced her; but when the physician hypnotised her in the interest of her ailments, everything [p. 168] became clear. She. had gone to church in a condition of hopeless despair. The church was empty and, as she communed with herself, her hopelessness deepened. Then her eyes became fixed upon one of the shining brass lamps in the church, and of a sudden all was changed. She went into a trance-like state in which many disconnected memories of her early life and of happy times rushed to her consciousness, each accompanied by emotion, and these long-forgotten emotions of happiness persisted.
If there had been anything of such optical captivation of attention, like the reflex of the eye-glass or the shining of the brass lamp, in the Chicago case, everything would have been completely clear to me; without such fascinating stimulus, I could not account sufficiently for the suddenness of the change in the defendant's personality. When I wrote my letter, I felt certain that if I had had a chance to hypnotise the condemned man, I should have found out that some unexpected stimulus must have come in, must have snapped off the normal connections. I expressed this as my wish at that time, repeatedly. I could [p. 169] not foresee that all the explanation I was looking for would be furnished only a few days later by Nature herself. The unfortunate youth awoke suddenly from the awful spell. The period of disintegration was suddenly again eliminated from the memory and the normal connections entered again into play. The same paper, which had insisted that the defendant must be the murderer because no innocent man would ever confess such a brutal crime, brought out a few days later a long report which began as follows:
"With death on the gallows only six days away, he asserts his innocence of the atrocious murder. He declares he has absolutely no memory of having made to the police a confession . . . He asserts that his only recollection of the coroner's inquest is that of seeing a revolver pointed at him. He said, 'I saw the flash of steel in front of me. Then two men got before me. I can remember no more than that about it. Someone told me afterward who the man was; but I had not seen him at all and I don't recall seeing any other men even until after I had seen the revolver. I suppose I must have made those statements, since they all say I [p. 170] did. But I have no knowledge of having made them, and I am innocent of that crime. From the time that I was arrested I do not believe that I was myself for a moment, until after I was over here in the jail. Everything about that time is a blur, a blank, to me. I can see through this blur the time in the station, when the police would bring me up every little while and tell me that I had done it. I know that the very first thing that the Inspector said to me when I was brought to him was, 'You did this.' I did not do it, and I knew that I did not; but I do not know what I said or did during that time in the station. I wondered why a revolver should be pointed at me,'" and so forth.
It would be absurd to fancy that this last turn of his mind was a made-up story to escape punishment. Through all those weeks of his half-dazed condition, he had never made the least effort to weaken his so-called confessions or to protect himself in any way. Moreover, this stupid boy would be the last to be able to invent suddenly a long story which fits so exactly in every detail the clinical experiences of the nervous physician and the mental experiences of the psychologist. "I [p. 171] saw the flash of steel in front of me." And from that moment everything became a blur and a blank. It was the one missing link in the chain of evidence of his innocence. He cannot even have understood that this flash of steel worked like the shining brass lamp in Dr. Prince's case or the reflecting eye-glass in that other case. He naïvely reported the whole truth, and with all the ear-marks of truth. He would have been absolutely unable to fabricate by his own efforts such scientifically exact observations. What resulted when he begun to fabricate out of his own faculties was sufficiently shown in his " confessions," a contradictory mixture of improbable and psychologically impossible occurrences. Six days later the punishment of death was executed.