Archive for Friday, December 23, 2011

100 years ago: Juvenile thief not responsible for his crimes, says Dr. Naismith

December 23, 2011


From the Lawrence Daily Journal-World for Dec. 23, 1911:

"An expert examination of Herbert Wiley, a fifteen-year-old thief now in the county jail, has revealed the fact that the youth is suffering from a defect on his brain which causes him to steal. The boy is believed to be practically irresponsible for his deeds. Dr. Naismith of the University made the examination this morning at the request of Judge Means of the Juvenile court. Just what the injury is has not been determined, but it is believed now that young Wiley is the victim of physical defect rather than a moral weakness.... The judge was convinced that the boy was not wholly responsible for his misconduct, and that there was something driving the boy on that he could not control. He does not only have a mania for stealing, but it seems that he has an equal weakness in regard to telling falsehoods.... He is said to come from a very respectable family, which gives added weight to the assertion that he is irresponsible for his deeds due to some physical ailment.... With the recent discovery that an operation has cured a similar case and converted a 'bad boy,' Judge Means decided to have Herbert examined. It is not certain as yet whether an operation will be attempted on the boy or not."


Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 5 months ago

Brain surgery like that in 1911? I don't think so! Well, maybe it was done, but it certainly was not a good idea!

As of 1937 and 1952, it became apparent that prefrontal lobotomies and frontal lobotomies might cure a person of the ability to think, but as for a "cure" for anything else, that's quite an exaggeration!

From the 'The New York Times' in 1937 and 1952:

The following is clipped from:

Surgery Used on the Soul-Sick Relief of Obsessions Is Reported:New Brain Technique Is Said to Have Aided 65% of the Mentally Ill Persons on Whom It Was Tried as Last Resort, but Some Leading Neurologists Are Highly Skeptical of It

By WILLIAM L. LAURENCE, Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times June 7, 1937. pg. 1, 2 pgs

A new surgical technique, known as “psycho-surgery,” which, it is claimed, cuts away sick parts of the human personality, and transforms wild animals into gentle creatures in the course of a few hours, will be demonstrated here tomorrow at the Comprehensive Scientific Exhibit of the American Medical Association, which is holding its eighty-eighth annual assembly here this week.

(It's very strange that there was no follow up article to inform the public about the success of the operation!) ————————————————————————

A BRAIN OPERATION FAILS TO CURE THIEF:Prefrontal Lobotomy to End Urge to Steal Proves Vain — ‘Patient’ Back in Jail Jun 20, 1952. pg. 33, 1 pgs

PITTSBURGH, June 19 (UP) — A surgeon admitted today that a brain operation had failed to cure a thief of his urge to steal.


SURGERY ENDS IN SUICIDE:Thief Relapses After Lobotomy ‘Cure’ and Takes His Life Jun 30, 1952. pg. 11, 1 pgs

BUTLER, Pa., June 29 (UP) — A habitual burglar who underwent a rare brain operation to cure an uncontrollable urge to steal only to resume his life of crime five years later, imposed his own final sentence today — death by suicide.

Steve Jacob 6 years, 5 months ago

We have come along way since lobotomies . Now we use Ritalin.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 5 months ago

Better than that-- these days he'd have a bright future on Wall Street.

Sarah St. John 6 years, 5 months ago

Ron, thanks as always for the links! I too was surprised to find brain surgery to "convert a bad boy" as early as 1911. If I see any follow-ups on this, I will be sure to let you know!

History fans, I have quite a few nice OHTs for all three timelines ready and waiting for your (I hope 3-day) weekend. I hope you enjoy them and that you all have a lovely holiday, and I thank you for your loyal readership. All kinds of good things coming up in 1912, 1972, and 1987!

There were several Christmas tidbits that I couldn't use, partly because I had far too many from which to choose and partly because I try to go light on the non-local stories. There was a lovely one about a man who had picked up a hitchhiker (I don't remember which state this was in) and, upon finding that the man was unemployed and desperate, drove him from one factory to another in search of work. The sixth factory they visited did in fact hire the man, who was enormously grateful to the stranger for going above and beyond. Now, I know it's not considered safe to pick up hitchhikers, and we were told this even in the 1970s, but I am glad this incident turned out well.

And here is one that just melted my heart. Merry Christmas!

From Dec. 24, 1971 Springfield, Mass (AP) -- Three-year-old Janine Besancon waves each day to the crew of the Penn Central freight train passing her house. For Christmas the crew stopped the train near the Besancon home and took a large box of gifts to the family whose name they did not know. Janine's card was addressed "to the little girl that waves in the window." The crew gave her a big doll and a tea set. For her brother, Donald, and sister, Vickie, there were puzzles and games. Janine's mother, Mrs. Ronald Besancon, says the girl has been waving to the train for two years.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 5 months ago

My younger sister's name is Janine! It's a rather unusual name.

Although the spelling used in the book, the movie, and the recording is different, the pronunciation is the same.

Charted at #1 in 1928. Also #2 for Nat Shilkret and the Victor Orchestra in 1928, and #15 for John McCormack in 1929. Theme song from the movie, "Lilac Time" starring Colleen Moore. Written by L. Wolfe Gilbert and Nathaniel Shilkret.

Gene Austin - Jeannine, I Dream of Lilac Time (1928)

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 5 months ago

Actually, Sarah, 1911 was quite a late date for brain surgery, by about 9,000 years!

But, what they call "success rate" really cannot be judged, the only thing the surviving skulls can tell us is that the patient survived the operation by many years or perhaps even decades, I don't believe there are any reliable written records that indicate whether the surgery was successful for the intended purpose.

The following is clipped from:

History Of Brain Surgery

Brain surgery is perhaps the oldest of the practiced medical arts. No hard evidence exists suggesting a beginning to the practice of other facets of medicine such as pharmacology -- using drugs, chemical and natural ingredients to help a fellow human being. There is ample evidence, however, of brain surgery, dating back to the Neolithic (late Stone Age) period. Unearthed remains of successful brain operations, as well as surgical implements, were found in France-- at one of Europe's noted archeological digs.

And, the success rate was remarkable, even circa 7,000 B.C.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 5 months ago

Although, I understand Doctor Joseph-Ignace Guillotin's method of brain surgery had a nearly 100% success rate!

Sarah St. John 6 years, 5 months ago

"Actually, Sarah, 1911 was quite a late date for brain surgery, by about 9,000 years!"

Oh, I didn't mean brain surgery in general -- I know that trepanning has existed for a very long time, and that there are cave paintings and skulls proving that the procedure was known thousands of years ago -- I meant this type, vaguely referred to in the article as curing and converting a "bad boy." I wish I knew what they meant, specifically. I can't find anything on lobotomies earlier than the 1930s, so I am thinking it wasn't that.

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