IF you walk down Harley Street on the left-hand side, you will come to a house which was built by one of the Georgian architects, a man who understood that rigidity of form may be made the lively vehicle of expression. Ring the bell. A manservant with a solemn face and twinkling eyes will open the door. A moment later—provided you have made an appointment—you will be shaking hands with Dr. Eustace Hailey.
Your first impression of the man will be an impression of size, and you will remember probably that you have heard him spoken of as the "Giant of Harley Street." But that impression will pass. Gradually you will find a likeness between the man and his house, a sense of movement within the framework of immobility, which will arrest and hold your attention.
Dr. Hailey, perhaps, will be telling you at that moment why he prefers Bach's music to Beethoven's, or Holbein's portraits to those of Rubens. He will be explaining that no painter can convey the impression of a rushing torrent without painting the banks between which the torrent is rushing or the rocks over which it pours.
"Life," he will assure you, "is an affair of tensions, and the resolving of tensions. All the great events of life have their foundations in the immovable and the uneventful. These are the narrow banks through which the stream battles its way." And he will declare that Bach and Holbein were greater artists than Beethoven and Rubens just because they understood the necessity of an unrelenting form. And that will bring him easily from his work as a specialist in mental disease to his hobby, the detection of crime. "It is society," he will say, "which makes the criminal." When you have recovered a little from your surprise he will add: "The criminal is the man or woman who does not live and work within the bounds imposed by the lives and works of his neighbours. He is the stream which bursts its banks and floods the countryside."
Dr. Hailey loves controversy, and his eyes will gleam as he watches your reaction to these views. "You and I," he will say, "accept our neighbours as the big fact of life. We learn as children to live within the family, so that later we may live within the nation and within the family of nations. But the born criminal does not accept any of these restrictions. In so far as his neighbours exist for him at all, they exist to serve him."
That, he will go on to explain, is the extreme criminal type—the type which carries murder always in the back of its mind. Dr. Hailey looks upon such people as insane, and takes in consequence very little interest in their crimes. So far as he is concerned they are the victims of incurable disease. "The really interesting crimes," he insists, "are those committed by people who, in ordinary circumstances, would have lived all their lives without apparent fault. Their tragedy, and the tragedy of their neighbours, is that they have encountered extraordinary circumstances. Perhaps by reason of their own delinquencies, perhaps by fatal chance, the pressure exerted by society has suddenly become too great for their powers of adaptation. It may be that there is a point in life at which all, or nearly all, of us would become criminals."
This is Dr. Hailey's philosophy of crime. He never blames the criminal so whole-heartedly as to be unable to see and feel his tragedy. But neither does he give support to those sentimentalists who demand the relaxation of all social laws, in order that temptation to crime may nowhere exist.
"The splendour of Bach's music and the glory of Holbein's art depend," he told me once, "on the rigidities of form which these masters imposed upon themselves. Great living depends, in the same way, on self-imposed restrictions and restraints, that is to say upon form in the sense in which artists use that word. Society is the form of our lives. We can change the form; we can vary it; we can to some extent soften it. But we cannot do without it. Life without a social form is nothing. Great men add to, rather than subtract from, the rigidities which society imposes on their lives."
Dr. Hailey took a pinch of snuff when he said this. The gesture was accomplished in the manner of a French marquis of the ancient regime. He added: "Consequently there are no great criminals. A criminal is always a man who has failed in the art of adaptation to circumstance. It is weakness, not strength, which is revealed by and through crime. The criminal streak in all of us is our weakest spot, and we have reason to pray that circumstances may never arise in which weakness will be exposed."
He went on to explain that this view had supplied him with the basis of his method as a detective. He looked always for weakness.
"Sometimes," he said, "I find that weakness directly by studying the murderer's mind; more often I come to the truth indirectly by an understanding of the special stresses to which he was subjected immediately before the crime took place."
He mentioned a number of instances. In The Toll House Murder, for example, the man Butcher found himself faced by ruin owing to the strict sense of honour, mingled with personal vanity, of his business partner. Butcher was weak in that he could not understand such a sense of honour. Consequently he exaggerated the element of vanity until he had persuaded himself that his partner was a snivelling scoundrel. "That murder," Dr. Hailey went on, "belonged to the type which I have always found the most interesting—namely, that in which the method employed, as well as the motive, constitutes a puzzle. If you remember, the murdered man was found shut up in a closed car all the doors of which were jammed. The car was surrounded by untrodden snow, but it could be, and was, shown that death had occurred in the car at a moment when apparently the vehicle was completely isolated. A puzzle of that kind serves as the best of all correctives to wild theorizing. One is compelled to go from the man to the motive and from the motive to the method."
That order of proceeding is, of course, the reverse of the system usually followed by professional investigators. They begin with the method, gather information from the murdered body and its surroundings, and work back to the man and motive. Dr. Hailey has nothing to say against this well-worn system. "It must obviously be used in every case," he told me once. "In most cases it can be relied upon to furnish the required information, because criminals are almost always careless. It is only in the exceptional case that it fails."
He put his eyeglass in his eye and smiled as he added, "These exceptional cases are the cases which interest me." Until the murderer has been found, he pointed out on another occasion, one has only the mind of the murdered person to go upon. But that usually is enough, for the murdered person constitutes the tension of which the murder is the release. The murdered person is society, the rigid frame of life, the banks of the stream.
I asked Dr. Hailey how far he thought science had helped in the discovery of crime. He shook his head doubtfully. "As a doctor," he declared, "I am always being told that this or that machine has replaced the human senses in the study of disease. Frankly, I don't believe it. Machines may record, but it is the mind which interprets, and the same is true of detective work. Machines are capable of leading men into ghastly error simply because it is assumed that they cannot lie. Science has its place; but that place is not the citadel of judgment. There is no mechanical substitute for experience or wisdom or human sympathy."
He spoke these words with deep earnestness. I recalled a scene which occurred many years ago, and which I described in the case called Red Scar. A man was on his trial for murder, and the long trial was over. The Judge was ending his summing-up.
Text © 1935 Anthony Wynne-Allen & Unwin Layout © 2004 R.D. Collins
The Great Detectives
The Great Detectives
Books Wanted Bibliographies DW Artists Home Page