Montee Ledderhos, Four: Maniac or Misdiagnosed?

The caption underneath Montee Ledderhos’ x-ray on the front page ofThe San Fransisco Call on Oct. 6, 1900 suggests that the dark area inside the white circle at the base of the skull is the location of an injury which caused his “maniacal” condition. It’s mind-blowing to imagine that a child that young could exhibit behaviors so horrendous that he would be committed to an insane asylum, but that’s exactly what happened to the child of Theodore and Josephine Ledderhos. Perhaps Montee’s condition was misunderstood and his commitment to the insane asylum occurred because his family and the system didn’t know what to do to help him or have a facility that could meet his needs. Further research reveals even more tragedy beyond October 1900 for the Ledderhos family. The article is lengthy, but it details the heart-wrenching situation faced by many families struggling to care for a child with Montee’s type of special needs over a century ago. Some of the language is not politically correct and the terms not those that I would use, but I have transcribed it just as it appeared in the newspaper.

     Montee Ledderhos, though but four years of age, has been adjudged a maniac by the Insanity Commission. He will be committed to the Asylum for the Insane at Napa by Judge William P. Lawlor to-day. The younger is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Ledderhos, who reside at 2501 1-2 Larkin street. When the child was but a few months old he suffered a fall from a hammock. He fell in the bed of a creek and it is believed so seriously injured the base of his brain at that time his present insanity may be attributed to the accident. Members of the Insanity Commission who examined him, however, are unable at this time, owing partly to the absence of a detailed clinical history of the case, to advance a positive opinion as to the cause of his malady. Since the child’s injury he has been constantly under the care of physicians. Everything known to  medical science which was within the power of his parents’ limited means to procure was tried in the ope of at least relieving, even though a complete cure was impossible, the sufferings of their baby. All efforts to aid him here have been futile, however, and the fight to secure his commitment to an asylum has just  been won. In all probability the remainder of his years on earth will be passed behind the bars of a madhouse.
     A mere baby will be committed to the madhouse by Judge William Lawlor to-day. A commitment consigning Montee Ledderhos, a toddling youngster four years of age, to the asylum for the insane at Napa was drawn up in the office of the County Clerk yesterday morning. The signature and seal of the court will be affixed to-day and the child, perhaps in the arms of a guard, will be carried from his home to dwell until death, the scientists say, among the raving imbeciles of his kind. There is no other place on earth for tiny Montee Ledderhos. Though of shuffling, unsteady gait, without use of tongue or sign, his diminutive but sinewy body is over alert to obey the mandates of his distorted brain. Scheming and ever an ally to death, he is a menace to the public safety, small as he is, while he is outside of prison bars.
     A listening baby sister has many times been beaten down beneath his blows and saved from death only by instant action, while he stood apart in the face of superior strength and with maniacal shrieks of laughter gloated over his brutish deed. From torturing his baby sister when for a moment the eyes of parents or guardians were turned from him, he would assault any living thing before him. Deprived of this means of gratifying his abnormal tendencies, he would inflict cruel injuries upon himself. This mad baby would drive his skull against a granite pillar with apparent impunity, only to again hurl himself head foremost to the floor or pavement and end his paroxysm with a burst of sobbing laughter-the laughter of a maniac.
     In Napa Asylum, however, his jangled mind may take full sway, but buy tonight that institution may harbor a scene unparalleled throughout these United States-the scene of a baby boy, his tiny arms held fast in leathern straps, pacing the floor of an asylum cell with no one but himself on whom to vent his lust for murder. His mother, ill perhaps unto death, the result of worry over her baby’s terrible affliction, is lying in St. Winifred’s Hospital. Her husband and friends have despaired of her life and say the hour of her knowledge that her boy has gone to live behind the bars of an asylum will be the hour of her death, unless they can nurse her back to health before she learns the truth.
     Over two years ago the attention of the California Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was called to the strange condition of this lad’s mind. The mother, wearied of her efforts to stay the homicidal and suicidal tendencies of her child, south the aide of the society in an effort to place him in the Home for the Feeble-minded. Ledderhos was taken before the directors of this institution, but they rejected him. They said there was no room, but other children entered daily. The courts were appealed to, bu orders for his commitment to the home were regularly evaded. For two years the fight between the California Society, the courts, and the directors of the Home for the Feeble-minded was carried on. Finally the society was forced to pursue a different line of proceeding. The fact that the lad was not feeble-minded, but was the possessor of a mind of normal strength but hopelessly disorganized, became generally known and the asylum for the insane alone remained as a refuge for him. 
Formally Declared to Be Insane
     Early yesterday morning the lad was taken before Judge Lawlor for examination. His aunt, Mrs. J.W. Barbee, who has been keeping the child with her at 1217 Lombard street, assisted by a friend, led the child into court. Dr. D.D. Lustig was called upon as a member of the Insanity Commission to give his views of the case. Dr. Lustig said that the case was plainly one of insanity and not simple-mindedness. The lad, in his opinion, he said, should be committed to the asylum for the insane.
     J.W. Barbee, who affixed his name to the warrant upon which the child was arrested, was called to the stand. He testified that for over three years the child’s parents had labored in vain to develop the child’s morality. He was vicious, destructive, murderous and brutal, the witness said. A small fortune had been expended on him in an effort to secure relief, but without result. Even the lad’s mother had despaired of effecting a cure, he said, and the safety of the child’s relatives as well as the public demanded that he be deprived of the power to do wrong.
     Judge Lawlor said that if Dr. Rethers, who is acting with Dr. Lustig on the commission, would agree that the child was not simple-minded but insane he would sign a commitment consigning him to the Napa Insane Asylum for treatment. Dr. Rethers was called upon to make an examination of the child. He immediately pronounced the lad insane, and with Dr. Lustig signed the certificate setting forth the nature of the child’s malady. This preliminary disposed of, the commitment was drawn up. The little patient was led back to Mrs. Barbee’s home to await the coming of the Sheriff, who will take him to the asylum. The commitment will be presented to Judge Lawlor this morning. His signature will be affixed and little Montee Ledderhos will leave his birthplace to go to the home where in all probability the remaining years of his life will be passed.
     Baby Ledderhos has been an enigma to the physicians of this city since he was four months old. Recently he was treated by Dr. C.N. Miller. That physician passed the case by as hopeless. Physician after physician was consulted in the hope that at least the child’s brutal habits might be corrected. Dr. Louise Hellbron, who is now a resident of San Diego, was the last attempt to relieve the child. She had the youngster removed to the California College of Osteopathy. There it was decided that the lad’s insanity was congenital-from birth-but was perhaps aggravated by the existence of pressure on the brain from a wound received some time in infancy. The child’s parents remembered a fall the lad received when but four months of age. He was left in a hammock sleeping one day, when a playful youngster ran against the hammock. The baby was thrown out and struck in the bed of a little creek on the back of his head. From that day his health began to wane. Finally he was taken with a fever. For weeks he hovered between life and death, and then began to improve. But along with the light of health in his eyes there came the flash of insanity. As a baby of eight months there was uppermost in his mind a passion for brutal things. Anything he could lay his dimpled baby hands upon he would crush or hurl to the floor. this destructive temperament developed with his months until the take of life seem to be the aim of his existence. 
An Operation Would Mean Death 
     Upon this clinical history of the case the physicians of the College of Osteopathy decided that a radiograph-an X-ray photo-of the child’s skull should be taken as preliminary to an operation, if such was found to be reasonably certain of successful result. The baby patient was taken to the laboratory of E. Fleischman, 611 Sutter street, and subjected to the ray. The result was marvelous from the standpoint of the radiographer, but it extinguished the last spark of hope that remained in the minds of the child’s parents. Just at the base of the skull a large dark spot appeared on the plate. This was the cause of the child’s insanity. The dark spot marked where the skull had thickened from the wound received in infancy, and behind it the dim traces of degenerated brain tissue and blood clots could be discerned. To remove the cause of the lad’s insanity would be to kill him. A large and vital portion of the brain was involved, and to lift from it the bony cover that is bearing down so cruelly upon it would only serve to free the blood vessels that long ago degenerated under the pressure, and almost instant death, so the physicians say, would be the reward of their labors.
     Her health broken from long and constant worry and watching, the lad’s mother, when all hope had gone, gave up to her illness. Her husband, Theodore Ledderhos, had her removed from their home, 2501- 1/2 Larkin street, to St. Winifred’s Hospital. There she will undergo an operation in the hope that her life may be saved, but a doubt hands upon the hope. After her removal to the hospital Master Ledderhos was taken in charge by Mrs. Barbee. His constant attempts to commit murder and to end his own existence by butting his abnormal skull against harder substances finally caused her husband to make the complaint on which he was taken before the Insanity commission.
     After completing his examination Dr. Lustig said:
     ‘The child is plainly insane. He cannot be classed among the simple minded. Simple-minded patients are commonly divided into three classes-idiots, imbeciles and cretins. The line of demarcation between the three degrees is, however, only relative. The idiot is the person absolutely bereft of intelligence, and the other two ascend the scale. The difference between a simple-minded person and an insane person is plain. The so-called simple-minded person, who comes within the three degrees named, is usually, or most always, to be more correct, congenitally so. In his case there is a deficiency in the brain. He was never gifted with full mental capacity, and his advance or the opposite would not find him another place on the mental scale. Insanity, in the strict sense of the term, is usually acquired through injury or abuse of nature. The term insanity presupposes that the patient up to the time of the affliction was the possessor of a normal mind, but that disease, injury or other abuse disorganized its functions. These latter conditions are manifested by this baby patient. I have gathered from the clinical history of the case that both the lad’s father and mother were normal people of sound intelligence. The story of the lad’s injury when an infant, the result of a fall from a hammock, has also been made known to me, as well as the fact of his subsequent fever or measles, which is usually accompanied by fever. Doubtless this child’s insanity was caused by the fall, aided perhaps by the fever, but from my examination of him, being assisted with such meager details of his life, I am unable to assign the exact cause of his condition.’

Insane Asylum His Proper Abode.
     ‘The asylum for the Insane is plainly the place for him. His mania is to destroy, to kill and to maim himself. There is no doubt that he will be a source of endless worry to the management of the Napa Asylum, and I fear that the trouble he will cause may result in a demand being made that he be discharged from that institution and committed to the Home for the Feeble-Minded. Though there is no doubt that the Home for the Feeble-minded is better fitted for the care of such youngsters-or rather simple-minded youngsters- in my opinion the only safe place to keep him is in the asylum. His mania at any moment might cause him to seek gratification among the helpless inmates of the Home for the Feeble-minded, and even though he may be the source of endless worry to the asylum officials, for humanity’s sake he should be allowed to remain there until the end.’
     Though he is not a medical expert, Emanuel Kaeintz, who resides at 6 Golden place, shares the opinion advanced by Drs. Lustig and Rethers. Kaeintz is an uncle of the unfortunate child ho is about to be committed to the madhouse. With the rest of the child’s relatives, he had long hoped that some relief for the baby’s awful malady might be found. Even now he has hopes that when the youngster grows stronger, if the fates so decree, an operation may be performed with successful results.
     ‘Ever sine he was injured when and infant Montee has been incorrigible,’ said Mr. Kaeintz yesterday. ‘I was to have testified as to his actions before the Insanity Commissioners to-day, but I was so busy that I could not get there. If any more testimony is needed, however, I will be glad to go. The little fellow should have been in the asylum long ago. Though the doctors say he is hopelessly insane, I am of opinion that he would not have been as bas as he is had he been placed in the asylum, where he could have received proper attention, two years ago. Though his mind is disorganized, he has sufficient left to profit by the leniency of his parents, who were wont to gratify his every desire when by some peculiar action on his part they knew that he had a desire to gratify.’
Always Brutal in His Habits.
     ‘He was always brutal in his habits. Frequently, when he was not watched, he would steal upon his baby sister, grasp her by the hair and hurl her to the floor. Then he would attempt to stamp out her life, and more than once her tiny neck has borne the imprint of his heels. Again, he would strike her and hurl anything he could get hold of in an evident hope of maiming her. Only the day before yesterday he assaulted his father. Without a word of warning he picked up a stove-lifter and hurled it with all of his maniacal strength. The iron missile struck his father on the chest and inflicted a painful wound. Had Mr. Ledderhos been struck on the head the result would have been serious. When sitting at the table, without warning he will grasp the cloth and hurl the dishes to the floor. Those that remain unbroken he will break if the opportunity is afforded him. Curbed in his desire, he will work himself into a frenzy and then can only be cared for by main force, and it takes considerable to handle him.
     He will sneak up behind an intended victim and without warning will inflict what injury he can. Hatpins are a favorite and dangerous weapon in his hands. He will stab and slash at anyone who attempts to interfere with him. Great caution must be used in approaching him, for no one can tell what weapon he may have concealed in his hand.
     His skull is most peculiar in formation. What I would call knots stick out all over his head, except the forehead, which recedes and is low. He refuses to walk steadily alone and constantly throws himself head foremost to the pavement. For this reason it is always necessary that two persons accompany him-one on each side to support him-if, indeed, they are not called upon to defend the passers-by. During his life he has never spoken a word. His language is an incoherent jargon and is punctuated with devilish screams that freeze one’s blood. His commitment to the asylum will save those who now keep him perhaps from a fate as pitiable as that which has befallen his mother. There may yet be a chance to save him from death in the asylum: it would be better that it occur on the operating table when scientists are bending over him seeking to dispel the cloud that darkens his mind.’

An Assassin at Heart He Seeks Lives of Relatives
Infant Sister Victim of His Brutish Attacks
Hat Pin Was Favorite Weapon When Angry
     Homicidal and suicidal mania have caused Montee Ledderhos’ relatives to seek his imprisonment. Without provocation he will assault any living creature within his reach. His favorite weapon is a hatpin, but without one he is equally dangerous. Deprived of the opportunity to gratify his lust for murder the tiny maniac will cruelly injure himself. Butting into stone pillars and throwing himself head foremost to the pavement are common practices with him, and unless closely watched he will continue battering himself until unconsciousness comes. His brutal and murderous treatment of his baby sister is past understanding. He would frequently assault her without warning, and when stopped by parents or guardian would conclude his paroxysm of rage with bursts of screaming and laughter. From infancy he was of destructive disposition, and this tendency gradually developed until he is more brute than human. He will throw anything that comes into his hands at anyone who is near at the time. Since his birth he has not spoken, but endeavors to express himself by means of unintelligible noises. His murderous inclinations prevented his admission into the Asylum for the Feeble-Minded, and in the absence of a better remedy or safer home he will be committed to the asylum.”
I wondered if there was any information about Montee after his hospitalization and found his mother’s obituary, about a month after the above article was printed. She died on November 2, still an “inmate” at St. Winifred’s. I got the impression that she was hospitalized from the stress surrounding Montee’s issues. She had began to improve when they finally told her about her son’s institutionalization, and after hearing that she had a “relapse” and never got better. If there were other medical factors that caused her death, they weren’t mentioned. The article about Mrs. Ledderhos’ death contained a little bit of information about how Montee was doing after being removed from his home. Doctors felt that he was not a maniac “but a degenerate, having been born imperfect.” Montee was said to be doing reasonably well, although he would sometimes try to injure himself when he didn’t get his way by banging his head against something. He hadn’t displayed any homicidal or maniacal behavior at the asylum. Staff did not think Montee would ever learn to speak.1
Not much is known about Montee after that until his death on November 22, 1907 at age 12. He was buried at what is now referred to as the Sonoma State Home Cemetery in Eldridge, California. When he was transferred to this facility is unclear, but the home where Montee died was called the California Home for the Care and Training of Feeble-Minded Children until 1909. It seems that at some point Montee was officially determined not to be insane and transferred to a facility for people with developmental disabilities. This doesn’t necessarily mean that his care or level of services were any better, but at least he was living with a more age-appropriate group of people with similar disabilities.

1 “Stricken Woman Now At Rest”The San Fransisco Call. 5 Nov. 1900.