Fact check: Edward Mordake, an English noble with two faces, is a literary creation

·7 min read

The claim: Photos show the skull of Edward Mordake, a man born with an extra face

A person with four enormous, crab-like claws. A spider with a human head. “The Four-Eyed Man of Cricklade.” The “melon child of Radnor.”

In 1895, the Boston Sunday Post published an article about these "medical marvels" supposedly found in reports from the "Royal Scientific Society." All have faded into obscurity over the years, except one: Edward Mordake, sometimes spelled "Mordrake."

The article says Mordake was "heir to one of the noblest peerages in England," but was tormented by a second face that was on the back of his head. His "devil twin" would be "seen to smile and sneer, while Mordake was weeping."

More than 120 years later, his story persists in a post shared more than 150,000 times on Facebook.

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"Although he could not speak in full words, the second face was able to laugh, cry and make strange noises without Edward's control," the Facebook page Diabolico wrote in Spanish. "He apparently begged doctors to remove his demon face on the grounds that it whispered horrible things to him at night, but no doctor could do it. He committed suicide at the age of 23."

The post includes photos that purportedly show Mordake’s skull, as well as the man himself.

Unlike crab-claw hands and duplicate sets of eyes, scientists have observed conditions similar to Mordake’s storied second face. So was Mordake fictional, or does his story deserve its spot among the oddest medical cases in American history?

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The facts point toward the former conclusion.

Mordake’s story stood the test of time, but it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. The photos show sculptures, not real people or skulls, and the sources cited in the original mention of Mordake don't hold water.

USA TODAY reached out to Diabolico for comment.

Mordake's story had fictional elements

Mordake’s story gained credibility and notoriety because it was included in “Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine,” a medical case study book published in 1896 by doctors George M. Gould and Walter L. Pyle. However, the book copied his story from a fictional newspaper article.

Alex Boese, a historian and curator of the popular myth-busting website Museum of Hoaxes, found that Gould and Pyle had copied Mordake's story from a newspaper article that first ran in the Boston Sunday Post in 1895.

Born in a noble English family, the article says, Mordake was intelligent, musically gifted and handsome, but he suffered from a rare medical condition – he was born with a second face on the back of his head. Terrified of revealing the face to others and unable to find a doctor who would excise it, Mordake committed suicide at the age of 23.

The article's purported source: reports from the Royal Scientific Society. But that citation doesn't hold up to scrutiny.

The only Royal Scientific Society that USA TODAY found online was founded in 1970 by Jordanian monarchs. No reports from the similarly named Royal Society of London match the claims in the article.

There are no records to prove Mordake's doctors, supposedly the source of details about his case, ever existed. Other elements of the article also raise some red flags.

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Charles Lotin Hildreth, the author of the article, was a speculative fiction writer and poet. The other subjects of the article, like "The Fish Woman of Lincoln" and a man with four eyes, are made-up hybrids of humans and animals. And the article was published in the 1890s – the height of the yellow journalism era in the United States.

Gould and Pyle's inclusion of Mordake's story in “Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine" doesn't add to the story's credibility.

The authors didn't say they identified any new sources or examined Mordake themselves. Instead, they included the same text as the newspaper article and claimed an unnamed "lay source" had passed on the story.

Photos supposedly of Mordake, two-faced skull show sculptures

Social media users have shared photos that purport to show Mordake’s skull. But the images show works of art, not real human remains.

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One black-and-white photo shows a man's nose and chin contrasted with his smaller second face. A color photo circulated in some posts shows another angle of the man, purportedly Mordake.

Snopes, an independent fact-checking website, identified the photos as a wax figure displayed at Panoptikum, a museum of oddities in Hamburg, Germany.

The skull in Diabolico's post was created and uploaded to Instagram by Tom Kuebler, a sculptor who has sold several similar two-faced skulls – all with the caption #edwardmordrake – on Instagram.

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In May 2018, before Kuebler's sculpture was posted, some social media users claimed a papier-mâché creation by Ewart Schindler was the skull of Mordake. In fact, the artwork was posted on DeviantArt in 2015.

Mordake's description doesn't match known medical conditions

Mordake's purported condition shares some similarities with two real but extremely rare medical conditions: craniopagus parasiticus and diprosopus. However, existing descriptions of Mordake don't quite match either one.

Craniopagus parasiticus is a type of asymmetrical conjoined twinning in which one twin is considered parasitic because its body is undeveloped or underdeveloped. Doctors who studied Mordake's description for the Child Nervous System journal diagnosed Mordake with "an apocryphal case" of the condition.

The condition is also unlikely. According to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, conjoined twins occur once in roughly 50,000 to 60,000 births, and most are stillborn or cannot survive outside of the womb. Of these cases, 25% are males and just 2% are joined at the head.

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In its analysis of the story, Snopes also suggested that if he existed, the real Mordake could have had diprosopus, also known as craniofacial duplication, a condition in which a person's face is mirrored in another, underdeveloped face elsewhere on their head. This appears to line up with the description of Mordake as having a second face rather than a fully developed conjoined head.

However, Mordake's description doesn't exactly match that condition.

The Boston Sunday Post article says Mordake's second face "would be seen to smile and sneer, while Mordake was weeping." But in cases of diprosopus, facial movements are mirrored in both faces.

Our rating: False

Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that photos show the skull of Mordake, a man born with an extra face. The photos show works of art, not a real person or skull. There is no credible scientific or archival evidence that Mordake existed.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Two-faced Edward Mordrake was a literary creation

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