by A. Hyatt Verrill
Author of “The Astounding Discoveries of Doctor Mentiroso,” etc.
Doctor Thane, Psychologist
ALTHOUGH the press, the man about town, the subway perusers of the daily papers, and the public in general had forgotten the crime and its baffling mystery, two men were still deeply interested in solving it. One was the chief of detectives in whose district the body had been found ; the other was Doctor Edmund Curtis Thane, the eminent scientist.
Doctor Thane had, on more than one occasion, proved of invaluable aid to the police in unravelling mysteries of crime, and yet he was neither a criminologist nor, in the ordinary sense of the word, an amateur or scientific detective. He was by profession an anthropologist, and most of his waking hours were spent in his office on the fifth floor of the American Museum of Natural History, where he pored over scientific reports and studied fragments of the skeletons of long dead and forgotten human beings of strange races. He had traveled widely, especially in out-of-the-way regions and among primitive savages, and he had written numerous monographs on the results of his researches and studies. These had been undoubtedly of the greatest scientific interest and value, but were utterly unknown to the public at large ; for that matter, neither was the Doctor himself.
For years the short-sighted, quiet, pleasant-faced little scientist had been striving to solve the age-old puzzle–the origin of man and the relationship of races. He had attacked the problem from every angle, and having at last reached the conclusion that it was impossible of solution from accepted viewpoints, it had occurred to him that greater progress might be made from the psychological standpoint.
From the very first his studies along this new line met with marked success. Men’s bodies and bones, their lives and habits, their dialects and arts might be greatly influenced and altered through environment. But the mind, the psychology of the races, he theorized, would remain steadfast, and even if undergoing a change through external influences, would retain the ancestral characters and serve to connect the various races far more reliably than pigmentation of skin, dialects or other characteristics of the human race.
Moreover, so Doctor Thane reasoned, it would be in the psychological reactions of the more primitive and ignorant types of mankind, that valuable discoveries would be made. So, following his hypothesis, Doctor Thane turned his attention to the mental workings of the criminal classes. It was his belief and contention that crime, as defined by law and civilized standards, was merely he result of a psychological condition, a reversion to the ancestral type, a manifestation of our prehistoric ancestors’ mental processes. Scientifically speaking, it was not crime at all ; it was natural, and the criminal was no more responsible for it, than he or she is responsible for the color of his or her hair or eyes or the form of the skull.
Assuming that this were so–and of this Dr. Thane was firmly convinced–then the study of crime and the analysis of criminals’ minds were the paths to follow in his studies. Hence the mild mannered, spectacled little man of science at once interested himself in matters usually left to the police. And as he was a man who never did anything by halves, he made as deep a study of crime as he had of skeletons and shards in the past. The more involved, inexplicable and unsolvable a crime, the more It fascinated him. Looking, as he did, upon crime from an entirely new viewpoint, and being the possessor of a truly remarkable intellect, keen reasoning powers, deductive ability and a wonderful memory, and being thoroughly conversant with the habits, lives and points of view of nearly every savage and barbaric race, Dr. Thane soon proved himself a master mind at solving mysteries which utterly baffled the officials.
Personally, he cared not a jot whether a criminal was brought to justice or not. Rather, he would have preferred–for his purposes–to have the violators of the law turned over to him for study, instead of being summarily dealt with, or through the medium of the electric chair or a hangman’s rope, remove their mental processes forever from all possibility of scientific investigation.
As he was forced to cooperate with the police in order to carry on this most interesting research successfully, it naturally followed, as a rather regrettable but unavoidable result, he thought, that his cooperation inevitably resulted in the removal of his subjects from his sphere of studies at a most inopportune time. Hence Dr. Thane could not be included in the category of a detective or criminologist. Though he had studied all available works on crime and the methods of world famous investigators, he had discarded all recognized and familiar lines of his predecessors, and went about his investigations in a totally new way.
For the detective heroes of fiction–Sherlock Holmes and similar characters–Dr. Thane had the greatest contempt. The mysteries of literature unravelled by these wonderful characters were very different from the real things. The author of the tale worked backwards, building up a series of incidents, of baffling puzzles and of misleading clues to fit a solution already prepared and known in advance. In actual practice, however, the investigator had to build up and find a solution from whatever fragmentary information he could obtain. But just as the famed hero of Sir Conan Doyle’s stories was wont to deduce the truth through his miraculous knowledge of everything from the distinctive ashes of various tobaccos to the chemical properties and peculiarities of every ink and paper, so Dr. Thane proved himself able to deduce the truth through his even more marvelous knowledge of human minds and primitive psychology. Very often he could solve a seemingly insoluble mystery without moving from his comfortable study chair. Having absorbed the known facts, he would lean back, place the tips of his long fingers together, half close his eyes and concentrate his mind. Then, after a few moment’s silence, he would mutter, something like this, half to himself :
“A clear case of reversion to nomadic, polygamous ancestral traits. Probably of Cro-Magnon affiliations influenced by Semitic fanaticism and inherited Mongol traits and tribal customs. Let me see. Ah, I think you will find that the crime was committed by a short, stocky, dark-haired man with a narrow receding chin, rather heavy projecting brows, a sloping forehead, high cheek bones, a prominent nose, thick lips and sparse beard. He will be quick and active for a man of his build ; he will in all probability have bowed legs and long arms, and will be of a roving disposition. You will undoubtedly find that he has changed his residence frequently, has had a number of wives–very likely a bigamist–or at least has lived with several women coincidentally ; that he is a thief and a pickpocket, if not a burglar, and is, at least outwardly, very religious.”
These, and many other details outlined by the scientist, would be proved as amazingly accurate as though Dr. Thane had been present when the crime had been committed.
Very carefully, too, he had recorded every minute detail of every crime he had studied, had tabulated the results, and had jotted down the deductions he had drawn from his analysis of each case. But he discovered, in studying these results, that there had been a lamentable lack of variety and originality in the crimes which had come under his observation. For more ready reference and comparison, he had divided the cases into groups, arranging them according to the psychological and racial facts drawn from them, and he found that many links in his chain of evidence were woefully lacking.
Most of the cases were, so to speak, negative. May were so similar that they might be considered duplicate specimens in his collection. And, to his chagrin, he found that comparatively few races had taken part in the committing of acts against the community. To be sure, there were those baffling East side murders, which Dr. Thane had solved by tracing them to Ethiopian savagery actuated by an inherent belief in Obeah and devil worship. There were the almost equally inexplicable crimes of the Malay which had been cleared up by the scientist’s deep knowledge of Malaysian beliefs and mental processes. And there were a number of Mongolian crimes. But the great majority were those committed by Europeans, by men or women of mixed ancestry and mental characteristics so involved, that even Dr. Thane despaired of drawing logical and unassailable conclusion from them.
Indeed, he had almost despaired of carrying to the end this most fascinating investigation, when he learned of the discovery of the body in the ash can.
Alpheus Hyatt Verill. “The Psychological Solution,” Amazing Stories, vol 2, no 2, Jan. 1928, pp. 946-957, pp. 971.