WORMWOOD FILES : “Poor Edward…the Curse of Mordrake”
By Dr. Abner Mality
As you may have guessed by now, I have some interest in human strangeness and abnormalities. I have pondered the cases of genetic anomalies like Joseph Merrick, the famed “Elephant Man” and Prince Randian, the “human caterpillar”. But in all my studies of the abnormal, I have never encountered anything quite as chilling and fantastic as the tragic story of Edward Mordrake, the “human Janus”.
I’ve often wondered what the life of a conjoined twin…known in non PC speak as a “Siamese twin”…would be like. What would it be like to share a body with a distinct personality? It boggles the minds of us so-called “normal” people to think of that life. Yet many people with a conjoined twin have survived to live happy and even prosperous lives, with “both” twins maintaining separate identities. But the case of Edward Mordrake surpasses even the physical challenges of conjoined twins.
Edward Mordrake was a man with two faces, one in the front and “normal” position on his skull, and a second, deformed face sprouting from the back of his head. In all other aspects, Mordrake was said to be a normal, even handsome man. But the face on the back of his head was a grotesquery he could never escape. It finally claimed his life and drove him to suicide.
Mordrake’s story is shrouded in legend and mystery. Many doubt he really existed. The popular photo of him that has circulated around the internet and which you see here is actually a wax recreation of what he was said to look like. Was it possible for a man to actually live with this condition? Did Mordrake’s second face exert a diabolic influence over him? Could somebody else with this condition live?
Those are the questions we shall explore in this edition of the Wormwood Files, my curious friends.
We don’t have any concrete dates to work with concerning Edward’s date of birth or death , but he was definitely a man of the 19th century and a rather well-off one, at that. He was said to be of noble blood and born into a wealthy family. Except for his one grotesque deformity, he was a healthy and well-formed man, described by some as “handsome”. That is, only if he was seen from the front. For on the back of his head was “the other”…a shriveled and deformed human face. Despite the deformity, the second face had eyes, a nose and a mouth. This leads to the questions: could the eyes see? Could the mouth speak?
For Mordrake, the answer to those questions seemed to be: yes.  And not in a positive way. He claimed that “the other” would speak to him, especially at night, gibbering and laughing. The Other’s personality often seemed diametrically opposed to whatever Edward was doing. When Edward wept, the Other would laugh. When Edward was happy, it would mutter and sneer. Mordrake claimed it would whisper evil suggestions to him that no one could ever hear.
The challenge of living with such extreme deformity would be daunting to even the stoutest soul. But to share your skull with a malevolent “twin” would put one’s sanity to the ultimate test. Mordrake fought against not only the shocked reactions of normal persons but against the evil he felt inhabited his very body. It was a draining and ultimately unwinnable fight. The Mordrake story ends with “Poor Edward” committing suicide to escape The Other and its whispering. Most accounts put his age at 23 when he ended his own life.
So ends the sad story of Edward Mordrake. Is there any truth to it? Could there be any truth to it? That’s what we’re going to look at now.
On the face of it (OK, an awful pun, I know), it seems absurd when you think about it. Now there are certainly many grotesque human deformities…just think about The Elephant Man, for one…but a fully functioning second face on the back of someone’s head? Let’s think about what this would entail, first. Do the eyes of the second face function the same as the “main” face? Surely Mordrake had a single brain. Was he getting visual impressions from both front AND back of his head? How would he be able to process such visual chaos? Or was it more likely that the Other was blind, with just vestigial eyes?
And then, how about speech? Again, the Other and Mordrake shared the same brain. Did the Other have fully formed vocal chords…or even semi-active ones? If Mordrake’s brain was in control, wouldn’t the Other simply repeat what the “front” face was saying? These are questions that have to be considered when we examine Edward’s case.
Much of the Mordrake case sounds like legend or tall tale. And it may very well be a complete falsehood. After all, no one knows when Edward was born or when he died. More importantly, there is no real medical record of such a person ever being examined. The one real mention of Mordrake in a medical context comes in the 1896 book Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine. Everything else is second hand. But behind every legend lies a grain of truth. The most important question is: COULD some one with Edward Mordrake’s condition really exist.
Surprisingly, the answer is yes. There are known cases of human beings having two faces…or at least, the vestigial traces of a face. So it is not impossible that someone was born in the 19th century that may have had a deformity resembling a second face. Let’s look at two more well-documented examples of “double faced” men.
Chang Tzu Ping was a Chinese peasant named “Two FacedChang”. His case was well documented and he was even featured on the old TV show “That’s Incredible”. Chang did not have an entire second face like Edward Mordrake, but his appearance was certainly grotesque. The left side of his “normal” face sprouted a a second mouth complete with lips, teeth and tongue as well as vestigal traces of a nose and other facial features. The second mouth could not speak or eat, but when Chang spoke, the second mouth moved. Chang’s fellow villagers shunned him, but American soldiers brought him to the States in the early 80’s so an operation could be performed. The operation was considered a success and Chang’s “second face” was removed, although he retained heavy scarring in the area. He returned to China and likely lived the rest of his days in peace. This happened only a few decades ago but if not for his appearance on “That’s Incredible” and medical records of his surgery, few people would ever believe that such a man was real. Think, then, of Edward Mordrake…born more than 100 years ago in a time without TV and with imperfect records.

The other famous case of a “two-faced” man is that of Pascal Pinon, a railroad worker of Mexican extraction who was exhibited in the early 1900’s in traveling circuses as “The Man With Two Heads”. Pinon  appeared to have a large mass jutting out of his forehead, covered with hair and featuring a strange frozen face like that of an old man. For years, Pinon was one of the most famous “freaks” on the freakshow circuit. The truth was, he had a massive benign cyst growing out of his head and the carny showmen of the Sells-Floto circus doctored it up with a false face to make it look even creepier. The deception looks obvious now, but in its day, it fooled thousands. Wearying of both the growth and the carnival life, Pinon eventually had an operation to remove the cyst, after which he returned to Texas and a life of obscurity.
Chang’s case is more clearly that of actually having a second face more than Pinon, but both men demonstrate that obscenely large deformities of the head are not only possible…they have happened.
So where does that leave us regarding our friend Mr. Mordrake? I can’t answer with certainty that he DID exist…but I cannot categorically state that he DIDN’T exist, either. There may very well have been a man born in the 19th century, likely in England, who had an extreme deformity giving people the impression that he had a second face.  Perhaps it was not a full blown face as legend would have it, but something similar to what Chang Tzu Ping had.
It should also be noted that the condition of being born with two faces is medically recognized and identified as diprosopus, also known a craniofacial dislocation. Many of us have heard of animals like cats or dogs being born with their head split into two distinct faces…photographs and official case histories of such creatures exist. Usually the animal afflicted with this deformity dies quickly…but not always. And there is one recorded case of a human being having this “double face” disorder…an Indian child named Lali Singh who was born on March 10, 2008, having 3 functioning eyes, two noses and two mouths. Lali died at the age of two months but her death was due to a heart condition, not the diprosopus. That is a modern case that is well documented.  However, Lali had two faces sharing the front of her skull, not a completely formed face on the back of her head as Mordrake had.
If Mordrake did exist and had a second face on the back of his head, he was more likely to have suffered from a super-rare condition known as craniopagus parasiticus.  This occurs in every 6 out of 10,000, 000 births. And of those cases, almost all died immediately. It’s a variation of conjoined twinning where a parasitic twin is partially formed during birth, usually in the form of facial features duplicated on the head of the surviving dominant twin. An example of a known survivor of this deformity was a child known as “The Two Headed Boy of Bengal”, born in 1783. The child had an entire second head attached to the top of his skull. The boy died due to a cobra bite in 1787 and his malformed skull remains in the collection of the Royal College of Surgeons in London.
Could Edward Mordrake have been a man with craniopagus parasiticus that survived past infancy with a second face on the back of his skull? He would have been the only man to do so. It would be extremely strange if medical science did not have a record of him beyond the brief mention in the book Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine.  But then again, Mordrake was said to be a man of privilege, born into a wealthy family. Perhaps that wealth shielded him from unwanted attention while also providing some necessary medical care.
It is certain that Edward’s case has been romanticized and probably greatly exaggerated over the years. The story of a man with a second face that harassed him into suicide sounds like a classic tale of Gothic horror. But is that, too, impossible?
If Mordrake had a second face, it would almost certainly be unable to speak, unable to think. But imagine what the mere thought of having a second face would do to the mind? What would the mental state of someone born with such a deformity be? Perhaps Mordrake’s own tortured mind imagined the Other speaking to him, giving voice to the dark thoughts he himself did not dare to express. Is it so hard to imagine suicide as the logical result of such a life and such thoughts?
So is Edward Mordrake a complete fabrication? Maybe…but maybe not. His legend has gripped those who have heard it and it’s safe to say in this internet age that more people know more about this macabre fellow now than at any time in the past. For example, eccentric singer Tom Waits did a song “Poor Edward” dedicated to the Mordrake story. And just this year, Canadian black metal band Hollow did a whole concept album “Mordrake” based on the tale.
So think kindly of Poor Edward, dear humanoids, and remember…there but for the grace of God go I.
This is Dr. Abner Mality, turning out the lights.