Edward Mordake (sometimes spelled Edward Mordrake) was an heir to an English peerage who reportedly had an extra face on the back of his head. The duplicate face could neither eat nor speak out loud but was seen to “smile and sneer while Mordake was weeping.” Mordake reportedly begged doctors to have his “Demon face” removed, claiming that it whispered to him at night, but no doctor would attempt it. He committed suicide when he was 23 years old.
The 1896 medical encyclopedia Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine, co-authored by Dr. George M. Gould and Dr. Walter L. Pyle, gives an account of Mordake with no mention as to when he lived. Though the encyclopedia describes the basic morphology of Mordake’s condition, it provides no medical diagnosis for the rare deformity. With no photographs of Mordake known to exist—he likely lived many generations before practical photography became ubiquitous—such a birth defect might have been a form of craniopagus parasiticus (a parasitic twin head with an undeveloped body), a form of diprosopus (bifurcated craniofacial duplication), or an extreme form of parasitic twin (an unequal conjoined twin).
Mordake has been the subject of various texts, plays, and songs. The description of Mordake’s condition is somewhat similar to those of Chang Tzu Ping and Pasqual Pinon. Both Mordake and Pinon are featured as the “2 Very Special Cases” on a list of “10 People With Extra Limbs or Digits” in 1976 edition of The Book of Lists.
This is the story as told in Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine:
“One of the weirdest as well as most melancholy stories of human deformity is that of Edward Mordake, said to have been heir to one of the noblest peerages in England. He never claimed the title, however, and committed suicide in his twenty-third year. He lived in complete seclusion, refusing the visits even of the members of his own family. He was a young man of fine attainments, a profound scholar, and a musician of rare ability. His figure was remarkable for its grace, and his face — that is to say, his natural face — was that of an Antinous.
But upon the back of his head was another face, that of a beautiful girl, ‘lovely as a dream, hideous as a devil’. The female face was a mere mask, ‘occupying only a small portion of the posterior part of the skull, yet exhibiting every sign of intelligence, of a malignant sort, however’. It would be seen to smile and sneer while Mordake was weeping. The eyes would follow the movements of the spectator, and the lips ‘would gibber without ceasing’. No voice was audible, but Mordake avers that he was kept from his rest at night by the hateful whispers of his ‘devil twin’, as he called it, ‘which never sleeps, but talks to me forever of such things as they only speak of in Hell.
No imagination can conceive the dreadful temptations it sets before me. For some unforgiven wickedness of my forefathers I am knit to this fiend — for a fiend it surely is. I beg and beseech you to crush it out of human semblance, even if I die for it.’ Such were the words of the hapless Mordake to Manvers and Treadwell, his physicians. In spite of careful watching, he managed to procure poison, whereof he died, leaving a letter requesting that the ‘demon face’ might be destroyed before his burial, ‘lest it continues its dreadful whisperings in my grave.’ At his own request he was interred in a waste place, without stone or legend to mark his grave.”
He quickly became famous and attracted visitors from all around India. Rich noblemen would arrange private shows in their own homes, allowing the guests to freely examine the boy.
The boy had one head on top of the other, both similar in size and development to that of a normal child. The second head ended in a stump and its eyes and ears were not fully developed. It also appeared to function separately. When the boy showed emotions like crying or smiling, the second head wouldn’t always match them. When the main head was fed, the second one produced saliva and would attempt to suckle if was given the opportunity.
Also, the heads had different sleep cycles; when the boy was asleep, the secondary head would often stay awake.
Even though the Two-Headed Boy of Bengal received a lot of attention, none of it was medical. He died at the age of four after being bitten by a cobra. His body was exhumed by an agent of the East India Company and his skull was brought back to England. A dissection revealed the boy’s heads had separate brains, each one properly developed.
His skull is on exhibit at the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons of London.
In more recent years, the case of Chang Tzu Ping stood out. He became famous in the 1980s after traveling from a tiny Chinese village to the U.S. to have his ‘devil face’ removed. Ping had an extra mouth complete with teeth, traces of scalp and undeveloped eyes, ears and nose. The surgery was a success and Ping lived the rest of his life in his native village.
Here’s a short video of him in case you haven’t seen something disturbing today: