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Szemeredy was in mental asylum in Budapest during 1888-89

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  • Howard Brown
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    Bump Up

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  • Anna Morris
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    Gergely: I have a great interest in diseases and disorders of the brain and nervous system. I believe a great deal of behaviour is physically and genetically driven but even serial killers have enough control to be cunning and get away with their crimes. So if they can delay crimes until the right victims or circumstances are present, why do they kill at all? Or in terms that most of us have probably experienced, most of us curb sexual or lustful desires for various reasons, especially to remain true in a monogamous relationship.

    Some recent research on addictions seems to show that there are on/off switches in the brain and when these "switches" are disabled, the person has less control or perhaps loses control. Some serial killers, like Gary Ridgway in Washington state, have described serial killing in terms of addiction.

    IMO medical science and patients have been ill served by the belief that people can think themselves well, that "talk therapy" can heal brain disease.

    So what is the bridge between organic brain disease and behaviour? Considering Bayerlein"s background and the backgrounds of other heinous killers and criminals, I thought of something in the bible. Avoiding discussion of religion, if we look at the bible as philosophy and a tool for building a positive life, there are verses urging the reader to fill the mind with good and uplifting thoughts and to reject what is negative. Modern psychology urges the same. People like Bayerlein had the opposite life experience.

    However there are cases of children raised in loving homes who become horrendous criminals. Some children who are born into criminal families, adopted as babies and raised in good environments, grow up to be horrible criminals.

    There is definitely a borderline area that we still do not understand. I would guess that borderline area is where most criminals commit their crimes. I think too that a person existing in that borderline area, with weak on/off switches in the brain, easily tips toward insanity when drugs and alcohol enter the picture. In the U.S. statistics indicate most prisoners who committed serious crimes did so under the influence of alcohol.

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  • Gergely Marosi
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    Originally posted by Anna Morris View Post
    What the Hungarian doctors were proposing was exceptionally observant for the time. Even in England we can see doctors' opinions about whether criminals committed crimes because of and during epileptic "fits" for instance. Other researchers sought to identify the extremes of insanity and sanity and what fell between would come under moral failings. The insane committed heinous crimes, the sane fit into the prevailing society and those who did not fit might be considered immoral. (The last could bring us back to the notion that "solitary vices" led to insanity...or blindness....)

    It has taken a long time and imaging equipment to begin to understand the brain and nervous system. Many of the worst killers and criminals have some level of brain damage though many other people in the world have brain damage and commit no crimes. We still do not fully understand the borderline territory between insanity and sanity. But just as someone with a stomach disorder for example would not show symptoms all the time, would be unlikely to continuously vomit, so people on the border between sanity and insanity have symptoms and behaviours that wax and wane. We still have no idea how much of that is biochemical and how much is due to thought processes.

    The work of those Hungarian doctors is refreshing and amazing for the times.
    I was surprised, too. The study was a result of a debate (rather, attack) on their thinking, which is no surprise. Dr Laufenauer complains in the foreword about judges not only overruling the psychologic/forensic experts, but criticising their scientific viewpoints.

    "We know that these criminals of debatable mental state can show the most complex, most complicated, most shrouded states of illness; so it is highly difficult for even the doctors to tell if they are healthy or insane. Even doctors need days, weeks or even months of observation for a well-grounded evaluation."


    (later in the book)

    "When X committed the crime, she was not in a loss of consciousness and she was not insane, yet she showed very strong signs of severe hysteria [I guess that might be stress-induced conversion disorder or dissociative disorder now]. Severe hysteria is not insanity. But neither it is a healthy state of mind, because in the case of severe hysteria free choice, recognition ability, even free intention might all be strongly reduced."

    He was trying to push the debate into the direction that lawmakers should make an entry for not only psychic extenuating circumstances, but extenuating circumstances resulting from pathological causes.

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  • Howard Brown
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  • Anna Morris
    replied
    What the Hungarian doctors were proposing was exceptionally observant for the time. Even in England we can see doctors' opinions about whether criminals committed crimes because of and during epileptic "fits" for instance. Other researchers sought to identify the extremes of insanity and sanity and what fell between would come under moral failings. The insane committed heinous crimes, the sane fit into the prevailing society and those who did not fit might be considered immoral. (The last could bring us back to the notion that "solitary vices" led to insanity...or blindness....)

    It has taken a long time and imaging equipment to begin to understand the brain and nervous system. Many of the worst killers and criminals have some level of brain damage though many other people in the world have brain damage and commit no crimes. We still do not fully understand the borderline territory between insanity and sanity. But just as someone with a stomach disorder for example would not show symptoms all the time, would be unlikely to continuously vomit, so people on the border between sanity and insanity have symptoms and behaviours that wax and wane. We still have no idea how much of that is biochemical and how much is due to thought processes.

    The work of those Hungarian doctors is refreshing and amazing for the times.

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  • Gergely Marosi
    replied
    Originally posted by Howard Brown View Post
    Thanks Gergely....multiple & differing determinations as to his ( or other killers) sanity has been with us for quite a while it seems.
    Very much so. What is interesting that Szemerédy asked for a mental illness evaluation in 1885 and he was evaluated by two frontrunners of psychology in Hungary.

    Károly Laufenauer studied in Vienna and Berlin and he was the one setting up the first ever psychological faculty in the country in 1882. He was involved in what we'd call today criminal psychology and he's considered a "founding father" of Hungarian psychology.

    The other doctor was Károly Lechner, another prominent psychologist/pyschopathologist (his brother was famous Hungarian Art Nouveau architect Ödön Lechner). Lechner worked for years in Western Europe in mental institutes and set up a famous asylum in Transylvania.

    Laufenauer wrote a famous study called "Kétes elmeállapotok a törvényszék előtt", meaning "Questionable mental states in front of courts". The study is dealing with a "borderline state between insanity and sanity", observed in criminal cases.

    "As a practising doctor I have to say that we have examples for pathologic patterns which cannot be qualified as insanity or full unconsciousness. These states of mind are between a sane, healthy state and insanity. The expert is in a very difficult situation when asked to certify these people sane or insane."

    He goes on to enumerate such pathologic patterns, including sexual deviancies and the difficulties that those cases cause in front of courts. He was advocating for not branding too many people insane, but recognise this "borderline state", which is not healthy but not insane, and can directly affect deeds and thinking.

    So these were two of the best psychologists of that time in Hungary and evaluated Szemerédy. Both went with completely sane. Szemerédy was classified insane the next December. Go figure.

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  • Anna Morris
    replied
    Originally posted by Howard Brown View Post
    I was thinking too about the allegation that Kosminski became insane because of "solitary vices", aka masturbation. If he obsessionally and inappropriately engaged in this activity it might also point to a manic phase of a bipolar disorder.
    -Anna-

    I'm not willing to attempt it, but I doubt that masturbating on a regular basis would cause insanity. To me, that's the way 'people in authority' would try to thwart their kids or whoever from doing it by using what it is little more than an old wive's tale to scare them. Sort of why Grimm's Fairy Tales were made....to keep their kids from straying too far from home. 19th Century stuff.

    On the other hand, if the person was mentally disturbed in the first place, if they masturbated it would be looked at as only more evidence of their mental illness being manifested.


    Back to Szemeredy....sorry for diverting the thread
    I only meant if that practice was obsessional or inappropriately practiced, for instance in a public place.....

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  • Howard Brown
    replied
    I was thinking too about the allegation that Kosminski became insane because of "solitary vices", aka masturbation. If he obsessionally and inappropriately engaged in this activity it might also point to a manic phase of a bipolar disorder.
    -Anna-

    I'm not willing to attempt it, but I doubt that masturbating on a regular basis would cause insanity. To me, that's the way 'people in authority' would try to thwart their kids or whoever from doing it by using what it is little more than an old wive's tale to scare them. Sort of why Grimm's Fairy Tales were made....to keep their kids from straying too far from home. 19th Century stuff.

    On the other hand, if the person was mentally disturbed in the first place, if they masturbated it would be looked at as only more evidence of their mental illness being manifested.


    Back to Szemeredy....sorry for diverting the thread

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  • Anna Morris
    replied
    One of several reasons I keep rejecting Aaron Kosminski as JtR is that reports from the time make him seem out of control mentally ill. Modern writers have suggested he was schizophrenic.

    Recently I got to thinking that some forms of bipolar disorder can seem very much like schizophrenia. Perhaps JtR--whoever he was--had manic episodes when he felt invincible and that was when he killed.

    I was thinking too about the allegation that Kosminski became insane because of "solitary vices", aka masturbation. If he obsessionally and inappropriately engaged in this activity it might also point to a manic phase of a bipolar disorder.

    In nursing I have encountered patients who were paranoid, who thought they were being poisoned, etc. and the diagnosis was severe manic depressive disorder--now called bipolar--rather than schizophrenia. I never knew how in these cases, doctors insisted on bipolar rather than schizophrenia.

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  • Howard Brown
    replied
    Thanks Gergely....multiple & differing determinations as to his ( or other killers) sanity has been with us for quite a while it seems.

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  • Gergely Marosi
    replied
    A very interesting insight from a contemporary mental asylum doctor

    Quoting Dr Jakab Salgó, head doctor of the Lipótmező Mental Asylum in Budapest. He was the one treating Szemerédy. It's interesting how he looked at someone who might have been branded a psychopath serial killer today.

    Salgó was a famous doctor and forensic medical examiner of his time, was known as the author of multiple books. One was written for law enforcement about mental illnesses, other books were about anthropology in mental illness and child criminals.

    "Answering to our journalist's question, Dr Salgó did not exclude the possibility that Szemerédy committed his crimes in a deranged state, which would render him insane. On the other hand, he does not find impossible that somebody is mentally ill but can commit such heinous crimes with cold calculation and utmost cunning.

    Dr Salgó told about a similar case in Dijon, France, which caused considerable debate in medical circles. A henchman was arrested for arson, on first examination he seemed to be insane, so he was put into mental asylum. The head doctor of the asylum examined him and diagnosed him as incurably insane. The henchman fleed on the very same day from the mental asylum and committed a robbery-murder a week later. He was caught again and taken back to the asylum. A different doctor evaluated him and he was found completely sane, causing a huge debate between alienists in France. A similar case happened, too, in Budapest."

    (Pesti Hírlap, 30 September 1892, page 6)

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  • Gergely Marosi
    replied
    The murders or murder attempts Szemerédy could have connection with in Vienna:


    11 February 1892, Andreas Schütz(e), jeweler (attacked in Wöhring, Vienna, Austria): knife attack, neck knifed. Succumbed to his injuries and died the next day. Robbery attempt, killer took jewels.

    4 June 1892, Maria Schottola, clock-maker's widow (attacked in District 7, Vienna, Austria): a man entered her shop, asked to see a clock and when Maria turned her back to her, he attacked. With an iron rod he aimed a few hard hits on the head. Victim survived the attack with serious injuries. Robbery attempt.

    16 September 1892, János (Jan? Johan?) Lammel (attacked at 18 Schönbrunner street, Vienna, Austria): Lammel worked as the apprentice of a clock-maker, Hermann Stolle (or Stolár). While the clock-maker was out, having lunch, about 13.30 a postman tried to enter the shop but did not receive an answer to his greeting. He entered anyway and found Jan Lammel lying in his own blood. Succumbed to his (knife?) wounds, died later that evening. Robbery attempt, killer took golden chains.

    Looks like he maintained a room (or flat) in Budapest, Lipótváros (in a "house occupied by vile elements") and travelled to Vienna, committing "commuter murders" (if he was the killer). Probably he was, as he was connected with pawning the golden chains in Budapest and multiple people recognised him.

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  • Jerry Dunlop
    replied
    Nice work, Gergely!

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  • Gergely Marosi
    replied
    Family background

    Okay, sooner or later this will be enough for a backbone of an article. Two friends helped me (as well as contemporary records) and more details emerged on background:

    ALAJOS SZEMERÉDY
    Birth date: 7 July 1840
    Born: Pest-Buda, Hungary
    Baptised: Belváros (District V, inner city), Pest-Buda
    Father: István Szemerédy, string-maker (a person who makes strings for instruments, is there an English word for that? Not luthier, because he's a specialist for strings only. Seitenmacher in German). He signed Nemes István Szemerédy on the birth record, indicating that he's from the noble family (was possibly impoverished nobleman). His profession is very rare, only 2-4 string-makers were in Pest-Buda at that time)
    Mother: Örzsébet Dotronyi
    Address of family: Müllergasse (today Molnár utca, District V, inner city)

    I managed to find the original birth register and the father's job and address in the Pester Lloyd Catalogue.

    I'd love to get a look into contemporary mental asylum records somehow, but there is a huge chance that they are either lost or destroyed or classified as sensitive data.

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  • Gergely Marosi
    replied
    Photos of the mental asylums Szemerédy spent time in

    From top to bottom:

    Budapest, Lipótmező, National Central Mental Asylum, around 1890
    Budapest, Lipótmező now (abandoned, up for sale)
    Budapest, Angyalföld Mental Asylum, around the end of the 19th century
    Budapest, Angyalföld Mental Asylum, living room







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