Bad to the Bone: All About Criminal Motivation
The Bad Seed
"What do I know of man's destiny? I could tell you more about radishes," Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) playwright, poet
Although Lombroso's research was discredited, the belief that scientists could successfully identify a criminal type continued. During the 19th century, long before the Corleone family became famous through Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather, the concept of criminal families became popular. In the late 19th century, sociologist Richard Dugdale, published The Jukes: A Study in Crime, Pauperism, Disease and Heredity. Dugdale investigated the hereditary line of a family he called the Jukes in upstate New York. Hundreds of descendents of the Juke family (a pseudonym) were traced through successive generations that went as far back as Colonial times.
Dugdale managed to study 709 persons with the Juke name. Those that married into the family and thereby not considered of pure Juke lineage totaled 169. Dugdale once estimated that if he were able to track every single member of the Juke family, the total would have exceeded 1,200 people. But of the 709 he was able to study, 180 had been in the "poorhouse" or received public assistance. Dugdale found 140 criminals or offenders. There were 60 "thieves," 7 murder victims, 50 prostitutes and 40 women who had contracted sexually transmitted diseases. Dugdale was able to estimate that the Jukes had cost the State of New York almost $1.4 million dollars to house, institutionalize and treat the family of deviants.
A follow-up study conducted in 1915 by Arthur H. Estabrook encompassed 2,820 Jukes and found similarly depressing results, only on a larger scale. "Children grew up in an atmosphere of poverty, crime and licentiousness. The girls and young women of these families were very comely in appearance and loose in morals," wrote Estabrook. These women attracted non-Juke men from nearby towns and produced offspring that were descended from "respectable" families. "In this way," wrote Estabrook, "syphilis has been spread from these harlots to the good and virtuous wives in the nearby community."
The psychologist Henry Goddard later conducted a similar research project in 1912 published as The Kallikak Family: A Study in the Hereditary of Feeble-Mindedness. He studied two separate lines of the Kallikak family. One line originated from Martin Kallikak, a Revolutionary War soldier and a feeble minded bar maid. This union eventually produced 480 descendents of which more than half were described as deviant or criminal. The second line originated from the same Martin Kallikak and a Quaker girl from Philadelphia, a female with an ostensibly "better" hereditary ingredients than the barmaid. This union led to 496 descendents. None became criminals and only three were characterized as abnormal. However, Goddard's work was highly questionable and some critics have said that the entire study was fictitious, invented by Goddard to promote his radical views and obvious distaste for people he labeled "feeble-minded."
Studies of criminal families, like the Jukes and the Kallikak, captured the imagination of the public who began to believe that there could be a "criminal" gene that was being passed from one generation to the next. Although Dugdale and Goddard's research contained serious flaws and were openly challenged over the years, their ideas took hold on the general public. The memorable film The Bad Seed (1956) was an example of inherited criminal behavior. In this story, originally made popular as a Broadway play, a small girl becomes a murderess at an early age, allegedly because she descended from "bad genes."
Goddard also believed in selective breeding for human beings. He said in The Kallikaks "they were feebleminded and no amount of education or good environment can change a feebleminded individual into a normal one, anymore than it can change a red-haired stock into a black-haired stock." Although the idea of genetic manipulation is ancient, Goddard worked hard to publicize the idea that people could be improved by improving the quality of the gene. This concept was called eugenics.
Fueling this new movement was an underlying belief that criminal behavior could be controlled by genetics, a notion that had harsh racial undertones. Eugenics became widely accepted in America and was even endorsed by Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. In the Supreme Court decision Beck v. Bell (274 U.S. 200, 1927), Holmes wrote in defense of forced sterilization: "It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for their crime...society can prevent those persons who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind." The Beck v. Bell ruling was used as the justification to forcibly sterilize thousands of American citizens against their will. This process continued until 1942 when the Supreme Court declared the practice unconstitutional in Skinner v. Oklahoma.
But Goddard's work, flawed and baseless as it was, was destined for a much more ominous role in history. The Kallikak Family was published in Germany in 1914 and again in 1933 when the Nazis, led by the demonic Adolph Hitler came to power. The similarities between ideas expressed in Goddard's research and Hitler's twisted vision of an Aryan race are striking.