“Never send a monster to do the work of an evil scientist,” thus spoke evil scientist in the Warner Bros. Looney Tunes Bugs Bunny short titled “Water, Water Every Hare.
There are numerous “anthologies” about “mad doctors” on the Internet, just google them. The four below are my “favorites.” More than a century apart, the first two look like amateur showmen, experimenting on cadavers in front of fascinated spectators, while the other two are true evil. And Josef Mengele, Angel of Death, isn’t even on the list…
Giovanni Aldini, professor of physics at Bologna in 1798, was the nephew of Luigi Galvani, Italian physician, physicist, biologist and philosopher, recognized as the main pioneer of the bioelectromagnetics, the man who pioneered galvanism. Aldini spent most of his life testing the medical applications of his uncle’s discovery. He traveled Europe staging shows of his experiments.
In 1802, Aldini electrically stimulated the heads and trunks of cows, horses, sheep and dogs with high powered batteries. The animals’ jaws and eyes moved as though animal cadavers came to life.
His most famous experiment was publicly demonstrated in January 1803. Aldini sent electric charge through the face of a hanged criminal, George Forster, who had been executed for the murder of his wife and child. The face moved and contorted, eyes opened. By all accounts, the hanged murderer came alive. To freak out the horrified but fascinated audience some more, Aldini inserted an electric rod straight up the corpse’s anus. The cadaver, then, truly made a show, kicking and hitting Aldini’s assistants with his violently twitching legs. People were duly impressed. Some spectators even demanded to hang George Forster again.
Andrew Ure (1778-1857), a Scottish doctor, scholar, chemist and early business theorist.
In December 1818 Ure created a public sensation when he announced that he had been carrying out experiments on a murderer called Clydsdale after his execution. Ure claimed that by stimulating the phrenic nerve, life could be restored in cases of suffocation, drowning or hanging. It has been claimed that Mary Shelley used Ure as a model for her main character in the book, Frankenstein (1818).
Appropriate dissections exposed the various sites on the body selected for electrical stimulation.
No bleeding occurred proving that Clydesdale was indeed dead. Application of the connecting rods to the heel and the spinal cord at the level of the atlas caused such violent extensions of the bent knee ‘as to nearly overturn one of the assistants’.
In an attempt to restore breathing, the rods were connected to the left phrenic nerve and the diaphragm.
‘The success of it was truly wonderfull. Full, nay, laborious breathing instantly commenced. The chest heaved and fell; The belly was protruded and again collapsed, with the retiring and collapsing diaphragm’.
The real drama occurred when the electric current was applied to Clydesdale’s supraorbital nerve and heel.
By varying the voltage, ‘Rage, horror, despair, anguish, and ghastly smiles united their hideous expression in the murderer’s face’.
More on Ure’s experiments: Glasgow: The Matthew Clydesdale Story.
Surgeon General Shirō Ishii
was a Japanese army medical officer, microbiologist and the director of Unit 731
, a biological warfare unit of the Imperial Japanese Army.
A doctor’s “god-given mission,” Ishii said, was to block and treat disease, but the work “upon which we are now about to embark is the complete opposite of these principles.”
In the name of defeating Japan’s enemies, Ishii and his staff spent the next five years mixing witch’s brews of pathogens that cause some of the world’s most horrific diseases: anthrax, plague, gas gangrene, smallpox, and botulism, among others.
Unit 731 used Chinese prisoners (dismissively termed maruta, or “logs”) as guinea pigs, forcing them to breathe, eat, and receive injections of deadly pathogens. Allied POWs were also allegedly targeted.
Victims were often killed before the diseases had run their course, so autopsies could show their progress through the body. Ishii’s men also supplied the Japanese Army with typhoid, cholera, plague, and dysentery bacteria for battlefield use. In addition, they contaminated water sources, released disease-carrying fleas, and dropped contaminated wheat from airplanes.
Although dissolution of Unit 731 in 1945 led to the destruction of many of its records, there is no doubt that Ishii and his men had caused the death of many thousands of Chinese, and possibly hundreds of Russian and Allied prisoners of war.
Sidney Gottlieb, aka Dr. Feelgood was an American chemist and spymaster best known for his involvement with the Central Intelligence Agency’s 1950s and ’60s assassination attempts and mind control program, known as Project MKUltra.
There are stories that have come to light, over the years, that make the Central Intelligence Agency look like a collection of Looney Tunes shorts. The violence, the slapstick, and the over-the-top ridiculousness of the experiments that have been conducted over the years boggle the mind. They came from the (slightly-boggled) mind of one man: Sidney Gottlieb.
Sidney Gottlieb proved to the world that there are few things more dangerous than a chemist with a metaphysical streak – especially if he collects a few thwarted ambitions. Born in 1918, he was deemed physically unfit for duty in the Second World War. Instead of going to war, he went to the University of Wisconsin, and graduated with a degree in chemistry. His degree didn’t help him [get] into the army, but it did [get the CIA extremely interested.]
The Central Intelligence Agency, barreling into the Cold War, was trying to devise new ways to get an advantage over the enemy. Old warfare strategies wouldn’t work. They had to brainstorm new ones. It’s said that there are no bad ideas in brainstorming. The CIA, at the time, seemed set out to prove that there were no bad ideas at all. And Gottlieb was just the guy to try to help them.
Image via National Geographic
MKUltra was a nebulous plan to dose pretty much anyone the project could get its hands on with LSD. In San Francisco, prostitutes paid by the CIA secretly gave their clients LSD and dropped them in a room with a two-way mirror to let agents observe what happened to them. In Kentucky, mental patients were dosed with LSD, supposedly as part of their treatment. Around the country, prisoners were given LSD and subjected to mind-control experiments. The CIA even tried to discredit Fidel Castro by dousing a TV station in which he was about to give an interview in LSD.
The project was an unqualified failure. One person died (not Castro), many had lasting mental damage, and quite a few went on to sue the nation when the records eventually went public. LSD, Gottlieb found, did make some people more suggestible, but it did not give anyone the ability to ‘control’ someone’s mind – at least not to get any kind of predictable action as a result.
When Gottlieb wasn’t trying to break someone’s brain, he was trying to poison people. He was the one to come up with the infamous ‘poison cigar’ and ‘exploding seashell’ gags which failed to take out Fidel Castro. When he didn’t aim to kill, he simply aimed to annoy. He wanted to spray thallium on Castro’s shoes. Supposedly this was to make his beard fall out, but more likely it was yet another murder plot. Thallium is an element that is so toxic it has earned the nickname of “The Poisoner’s Poison,” or “Inheritance Powder.” Although it can be treated with dialysis or chemicals that absorb the element, thallium isn’t just a depilatory.
One idea Gottlieb oversaw, meant to poison Castro, was instead used on an Iraqi general. It involved a poisoned handkerchief tucked into a suit pocket. It did not work. Another failed assassination scheme involved a tube of poisoned toothpaste meant for Patrice Lumumba, the Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo. This toothpaste was meant to be doused with a biological agent, rather than a chemical one. This was a bit outside Gottlieb’s experience, so he experimented with many different possible agents, including smallpox, tuberculosis and equine encephalis. Lumumba eventually died in 1961, the victim of an uprising against him.
The Things We Won’t Know
Before Gottlieb left the CIA in 1972 to (no kidding) work with lepers in India, he became the head of the Technical Services Staff. There, with access to records, he destroyed about eighty percent of extremely damaging files, many of them about his own projects. This is frustrating for those who want to know the facts. (From the article in io9 Every crazy CIA plot you’ve heard of originated with one man.)