The Case of Rapist Dr. Edward F. Jackson

Jun 25, 2010 - by Barbara Kussow

Dr. Edward F. Jackson

Dr. Edward F. Jackson

The case of Dr. Edward F. Jackson combined the elements of a lurid crime novel with an almost Shakespearean theme – a brilliant, prideful physician brought down by a fatal flaw. He was a man with a Jekyll-Hyde personality. By day, he was a respected internist. At night, he was a rapist, breaking and entering women’s apartments. 

by Barbara Kussow

Dr. Edward F. Jackson’s respectable life began to unravel shortly after 6 a.m., on September 5, 1982. Jackson, a 38-year-old, prominent black physician in Columbus, Ohio, was arrested in the home of two women who were not at home at the time. In Dr. Jackson’s possession were a flashlight, ski mask, rope, gloves, pry tool, and a plastic bag. He was charged with possession of criminal tools and aggravated burglary. He was held in the Franklin County Jail on $75,000 bond, and then freed on a reduced $25,000 bond.

Three days later, local papers reported that Dr Jackson was being investigated in connection with a number of rapes occurring throughout Franklin County since the mid-1970s – rapes attributed to the so-called “Grandview Rapist,” who had worn surgical gloves during some of his attacks. (Grandview is a suburb of northwest Columbus.)

The next revelation was even more damning. Dr. Jackson was said to possess a list of 65 women and dates in his own handwriting. Many of the names on the list were known rape victims. (In a later report, the Columbus Dispatch (July 10 1984, 1B) reported that the list was disguised as a list of patients with the heading “P.I.D non GC (pelvic inflammatory disease, no gonorrhea).”

Two of the names on the list were women who had testified against another man. He was William Bernard Jackson, who had been tried for the rapes in 1978, and was then serving a 14 to 50 year sentence for the assaults. The two Jacksons bore a resemblance in profile. They also had similar builds, each being approximately 6 feet tall and weighing around 180 pounds. Both had beards when arrested. They were not related.  (Columbus Dispatch, September 22, 1982, 1A).

On September 22, 1982, Jackson was indicted by a grand jury on 94 counts, which included aggravated burglary, 36 counts of rape, gross sexual imposition, attempted rape, and kidnapping. The evidence against Dr. Jackson was so compelling that Franklin County Prosecutor Michael Miller said he would request William B. Jackson be freed before Dr. Jackson’s trial.

On September 24, 1982, the wrongfully imprisoned Jackson was officially cleared of all charges.

Dr. Jackson’s arrest shocked the community. At the time of his arrest, he was on the staff of St. Anthony’s Hospital and a member of that hospital’s board of trustees and had staff privileges at Mt. Carmel Hospital. He also had a successful private practice. He was a dutiful husband and father of two daughters. He had even helped establish a crime block watch program in his neighborhood. Many people who knew him found it hard to believe that he was capable of committing the assaults.

There was, however, a prior arrest that presaged the one in 1982. In 1971, Jackson was arrested behind an apartment. He was wearing a surgeon’s mask and carrying burglary tools. He told the police that he “fantasized” committing burglaries but had never acted on his fantasies. At that time, he was an intern at Mt. Carmel Hospital in Columbus.. Dr. Jackson was required to seek psychiatric help for voyeurism. He then did a stint in military service. Eventually, the charges were dropped, and he started working at the hospital again.

Local media coverage was intense and interfered with the case. Prior to the trial, the Columbus Dispatch obtained and published psychiatric reports. The defense pled unfair pretrial publicity and asked that Dr. Jackson be tried in another city.  The request for a change of venue was granted. The case also drew national attention, with short articles in the New York Times and the Boston Globe. A Time magazine article by Maureen Dowd, entitled “Rape: The Sexual Weapon” (September 5, 1983), mentioned Dr. Jackson.

Jackson pled not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity. Because of a change in Ohio’s insanity law in 1978, he faced two trials. Prior to that change, the law said the prosecution must prove the sanity of the defendant. After the change, the law stated that the defense must prove insanity.

The first trial began on August 22, 1983, in Akron, Ohio, and covered charges from November 1, 1978 forward. The prosecution called Dr. Jackson a “sexual sadist,” who planned the rapes and knew what he was doing was wrong. The defense did not deny that he committed the crimes, but stressed the question of why. Why would a man of Dr. Jackson’s status commit such crimes? They argued that he had a mental disorder that caused him to act “obsessively, compulsively.” Testimonies by victims told of the sadistic nature of the attacks. He bound and gagged the women, sometimes choking or smothering them into unconsciousness, then resuscitating them. The jury rejected the insanity plea, finding Dr. Jackson guilty of 21 rapes and 39 related felonies. He was given a sentence of 191 to 665 years.

The second trial took place in Cincinnati, Ohio, in July 1984. Jackson was found guilty of 13 rapes and 17 related felonies occurring prior to November 1, 1978.  He began serving his sentence in September of 1983.

The convictions were appealed in the Hamilton County Court of Appeals with claims of unfair publicity. The verdicts were upheld.

On October 1, 2009, the Ohio Parole Board turned down his request for parole and recommended he serve another 10 years in prison. In 10 years, Jackson will be 75 years old. He is now incarcerated at the Madison Correctional Institution in northeast Ohio.

To borrow a phrase from T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” the “overwhelming question” is why. Regardless of the outcome of the trials, this is what still comes to mind about the case. Why did this prominent physician become a sexual predator? Varying views from psychiatry, the media, the defense, the prosecution and Jackson himself offer clues, though no definitive answers.

In a Columbus Monthly article (“Dr. Edward Jackson: The Man Nobody Knows,” April 1983), writer John Maher explored the doctor’s background in depth. He characterized Jackson as a studious youth – a loner who eschewed social activities. His parents were divorced and Jackson lived with his mother, a nurse, and two younger brothers. He graduated from high school near the top of his class in 1961 and entered a program that allowed him to complete a college degree in three years at Ohio State University. Shortly after that, his mother was killed in an automobile accident, leaving Jackson in charge of his two teenage brothers. Despite this trauma, Jackson was able to complete his degree in 1964, with a major in anatomy, and enter the OSU School of Medicine. While at OSU, Jackson met and married Alice Hansen, a white coed from Bellevue, Ohio. In 1968, he graduated from the doctoral program.

Maher believes that Jackson’s isolation and complete devotion to his studies were important factors in the development of his pathology:

The story of Edward Franklin Jackson Jr. is a black success story. But Jackson’s climb carried a high price tag, one that even he might not have been fully aware of. His rise to the status of respected physician and to the security of the winding, tree-lined streets of backyard-barbecue suburbia cost him more than endless hours of hard work. He also paid in alienation – the alienation that a bookworm feels toward and from his more carefree classmates. The alienation of a black in what was destined to become an increasingly white world. (CM, April 1983, p. 56)

In a psychiatric report published by the Columbus Dispatch, Jackson was reported to view himself as “having a disease which has not yet been identified ... [like] alcoholism … pointing out that, 20 years ago, this was not viewed as a disease as it currently is.”(May 15, 1983, B4) Jackson believed that his childhood had been generally happy, and he had not suffered any abuse. He had engaged in “voyeuristic behavior since he was 14 years old.” Jackson was “preoccupied” with control issues, and, later, in trial testimony, he said he felt sorry for himself after committing his first rape because he had prided himself on having self-control. (CD, July 23, 1984, 1A)

The psychiatric report concluded that he had “adequate awareness of the wrongfulness of his alleged conduct, and he acknowledged he knew the behavior was illegal.” (CD, May 15, 1983, B4) Though he had strong fantasies, he had been able to resist acting out the fantasies if “logistic” circumstances were not right (e.g. being on vacation with his family). A diagnosis of “sexual sadism” was given.

This diagnosis informed the case against Jackson. To the prosecution and law enforcement authorities, he was a dangerous man who could have easily killed one of his victims. His assaults had become increasingly brutal. They were less concerned with why he committed the rapes than with obtaining justice for the victims and incarcerating Jackson so that he would not be able to commit further crimes.

While there is no doubt that Jackson was guilty of the charges against him, the why remains elusive. Perhaps a quote, provided by Jackson himself in psychiatric examinations, best sums it up: “The heart is unknowing and unknowable.” (CD, May 15, 1983, B4)

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