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Something to think about

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  • Something to think about

    GEORGE EDWARD WALKER . I am Medical-Officer of Holloway Prison and Newgate—Robert Coombes has been under my charge since July 18th—I have watched him carefully—an officer under my charge moved him from an ordinary cell to a padded room for a few hours on August 10th—he
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    seemed a very clever boy, and as a rule he was well behaved—from August 5th to 10th his excitability was especially noticed—I saw him on the 5th, the rest was reported by the officer—on the 5th he was excited and would not do what he was told—he was singing and whistling, and was very impertinent to the officers—he has complained of pains in the head on two or three occasions—he told me he had suffered from them more or less all his life—there is a distinct scar on his right temple, and on very careful examination I noticed also a very faint scar just in front of his left ear—those scars might have been caused by instruments used at the time of his birth—the brain is always compressed more or less when instruments are used, which will occasionally affect the brain—I believe children have suffered from fits afterwards—I have come across such cases, and I think it has been stated to me by the mothers—generally the marks disappear, but in this case there is a distinct mark of a wound—it depends upon whether the flesh has been injured or not—in this case considerable violence must have been used—and from the violence there must have been considerable pressure on the brain—I have noticed that his pupils are at times unequal—the variability of the pupils shows that the mischief is not in the eye, but is probably due to cerebral irritation—I asked him whether he heard voices—he said at night he had heard voices saying, "Kill her, kill her, and run away" on several occasions—I was instructed by the Treasury to examine him—I questioned him closely as to those voices, how they seemed to speak to him, and he stated that they seemed to whisper into his ear—he said he killed his mother because he was afraid that if he did not do so she would kill his brother Nathaniel, and that she had often threatened to knock his brains out with a hatchet, and had thrown knives at him—he said he had an irresistible impulse to kill her—I took down those words—these fits of mental excitement might come on at varying intervals—his general behaviour in the gaol has been fairly good as far as I have seen it—I made two reports to the Treasury—I had a conversation with him on the 10th inst.—it led me to the opinion that he was suffering from cerebral excitement—it was peculiar—he appeared in very great glee at being about to be brought here to be tried—his manner was peculiar, but you would hardly say he was suffering from very great excitement that day—he thought it would be a splendid sight, and he was looking forward to it—he said he would wear his best clothes and have his boots well polished—then he began to talk about his cats—from having been very talkative he suddenly became very silent and burst into tears—I asked him why he was crying, and he said because he wanted his cats and his mandoline—I have his letter, which was handed to me on Sunday, which appears to be written by an insane person—(Letter read—addressed to Mr. Shaw, 583, Barking Road, Plaistow, Essex, from R. A. Coombes, H.M.S. Prison, Holloway, 14.9.'95)—"Dear Mr. Shaw,—I received your letter on last Tuesday. I think I will get hung, but I do not care as long as I get a good breakfast before they hang me. If they do not hang me I think I will commit suicide. That will do just as well. I will strangle myself. I hope you are all well. I go up on Monday to the Old Bailey to be tried. I hope you will be there I think they will sentence me to die. If they do I will call all the witnesses iars.—I remain, yours affectionately, R. A. Coombes"
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    (Then followed a drawing of a gibbet and two figures being pushed forward by another; over the last figure was written, "Executioner." That was headed," Scene I, going to the Scaffold." Then, "Scene II," a drawing of a gibbet with a person being hanged, and the words, "Goodbye" issuing from his mouth, and the writing, "Here goes nothing!" Then, "Mywill: To Dr. Walker, £3.000; to Mr. Payne, £2,000; to Mr.Shaw, £5,000; to my father, £60,000; to all the warders, £300 a piece. Signed, R. Coombes, Chairman, solicitor. P.S. Excuse the crooked scaffold, I was too heavy, I bent it; I leave you £5,000.") That letter considerably strengthened my previous opinion of the boy's mental condition—I gave my reasons in my report to the Treasury—the things which would indicate insanity are: the inequality of his pupils; his hallucinations of hearing; the fact that whilst in prison he never appeared to realise his position, or showed remorse for the crime he had committed; and the attack of mental excitement from which he suffered from August 5th to 10th—hearing voices is sometimes a symptom of incipient insanity—misanthropy and general dislike to those about them is occasionally so, and sometimes a suspicious disposition—in my opinion he suffers from recurrent attacks of mania with lucid intervals—there are two forms of homicidal mania: sometimes the crime is committed on the impulse of the moment; sometimes with great deliberation and cunning—pernicious literature would be very bad for such a boy to read—I have been studying criminal lunacy more or less for the last twenty-three years—in my opinion these symptoms would be characteristic of the boy during his life.
    Cross-examined by MR. GILL. The subject of insanity is very difficult, especially with regard to children—I should say the conversations were held in a lucid interval; he appeared to talk' to me quite rationally and showed no insanity when I first examined him; that was the day after he was received into the prison, as he casually spoke to me and not from his physical signs—he answered my questions intelligently—he appears to be a boy of more than average intelligence—he is well educated, and able to take advantage of the opportunities given him at school—I only find trace of delusion from the boy's own statement; apart from the murder, I saw no delusion—"irresistible impulse" is what I have written, but I would not swear those were the very words he used, but he said something to that effect, either "impulse" or "irresistible impulse"—I am judging from the statement of the father that he had these periodical attacks every two or three months; that appeared to me the same kind that he had when under my observation—I have heard the evidence; a boy may be very passionate and may be vicious without being insane; some boys do give way to extraordinary violent fits of passion, especially if they are interfered with and not allowed to have their own way; but I do not speak of those fits of passion, but attacks of mental excitement, as the father described it to me, that is very different—the mental excitement came under my notice: the boy who is generally well-behaved becomes very excitable and passionate, and appears to be in a very excited mental condition—the father, in his evidence, said this boy had these attacks at intervals of two or three months—the statement the father made in evidence was that pains came on very often, and then there were intervals of a week, a fortnight, or a month
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    without them, and that then he would sit sullenly and not speak to anyone—that was hardly the statement the father made to me—except when suffering from what I have described he would be perfectly sane, and would understand the difference between right and wrong—he would then appreciate that he was doing something wrong for which he might suffer if found out—he might have been under the influence of delusion when he bought the knife—I do not know that he was—he might have bought it while suffering under an attack of mania—I seriously mean that he would go to the shop, select the knife, bargain for it, and buy it while under the influence of mania; under the influence of homicidal mania these crimes are done with great deliberation—I have not said he was violently passionate in these attacks—in this case there would be no symptoms you could notice, except it appeared to be a case of moral perversion at the time—no doubt any person committing a crime would be suffering from moral perversion—in this instance we could do nothing with him when he was so excited—I do not mean he was suffering merely from moral perversion, but that moral perversion is one of the symptoms of insanity; moral perversion exists in people who are treated as sane—that is, people who are supposed to understand the difference between right and wrong—whether his inquiring for the knife one day, and going a second day to buy the knife would take place in a boy suffering from an attack of mania, would depend upon how long he was under its influence—there may be no observable symptom of it—a person would have sufficient control to avoid attracting attention—the attack under my observation lasted five days—I think the boy's conduct after the murder and his explanations during the week would possibly be consistent with his being under the influence of mania—so would trying to conceal the crime—I do not think the boy was under its influence a week, but it is possible he might have been—his endeavouring to conceal the crime would point to his knowing he had done wrong—his letter to his father would be consistent with his endeavouring to conceal the crime—also if it is true that he said he would get quicklime—he gave me a detailed account of how he did it—he did not tell me he concealed the knife—the first time he told me he had no recollection of stabbing her, but remembered hitting her on the head with a truncheon—on another occasion he told me that he had stabbed her—I do not think he told me about his going to Southend to see Read's trial—he knew who the warders were and that I was the doctor—the boy's behaviour in prison and the absence of motive are unfavourable to sanity—there is nothing in the facts of the case as given in evidence which is inconsistent with perfect sanity.
    Re-examined by MR. GRANTHAM. I do not think he knew why I examined him; he was brought to the office and sat at my table—I did not tell him why I had come to examine him—his different accounts of the crime showed loss of memory.
    By the COURT. Recurrent mania is a condition in which the person would not know the nature and quality of the act he was doing, while the attack was upon him—he would not then know that he was doing wrong—he did not know the difference between right and wrong on the 5th, I fancy; I would not state positively.