They Didn't Feel a Thing: Chloroform and Serial Killers
Ms Rebecca LushZoom
The overarching narrative of chloroform in the history of medicine is one of great achievement and medical triumph. Along with ether and nitrous oxide, chloroform is regarded as one of the earliest experimental forms of anaesthesia in Western medicine. Names such as John Snow are virtually synonymous with the drug and its development. Due to these early experiments and research, medical disciplines, most notably surgery, evolved and procedures were able to be performed without the risk of significant pain.
While this is an important narrative, it does not exist in isolation. Recent historiography, for example Chloroform The Quest for Oblivion by Linda Stratmann, is beginning to explore the darker side of chloroform and how it has been misused since the 19th century. This paper will add to that historiography by focusing on its use by notorious serial killers including H. H. Holmes and Thomas Neill Cream. It will serve to add another layer to the complex and evolving history of chloroform.