Von Junzt (vonjunzt) wrote in williamseabrook,
Von Junzt

Your Weekly Seabrook: "Murder by Morpheus"

This week's installment of "Your Weekly Seabrook" is from 12 February 1944:


A Gentle, Loving Daughter
When Awake, Pretty Jo Ann
Became a Blind-Raging Killer,
When Her Mind -- AND

In this article, Seabrook explores homicidal sonamublism, or sleepwalking killing, focusing on the then-recent acquittal of Jo Ann Kiger, who killed her father and brother. The topic remains an important one -- in 1996 The New York Times ran an article on the subject, citing some of the same cases Seabrook does, and every so often someone is acquitted of some serious crime on the grounds of sleepwalking. Just this January a Scottish man was cleared of rape using this defense.

Seabrook cites several cases in addition to the Kiger case. Often they're not as cut-and-dried as they might seem; for example, Alfred Morrison killed his wife in 1899 and was exonerated, but the court heard he was a bigamist, and it is unclear (to me, at any rate, and in admittedly hasty reading) from the contemporary newspaper accounts whether he was asleep or "startled" awake.

The most famous case is that of Robert Ledru, a French inspector who discovered he'd committed a murder himself while sleepwalking in the late nineteenth century. Little is available on the web, but an earlier American Weekly article also detailed the case. In 1966 Frederick Oughton published a book about the case entitled, The Two Lives of Robert Ledru: an Interpretative Biography of a Man Possessed.

Seabrook and the other American article both cite the bizarre 1920 German Expressionist silent film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, yet another important, forgotten piece of cultural history. If you haven't seen it, I recommend you do (though I can't pretend to understand it myself!).

Some idea of the interest Seabrook's articles generated can be seen by the fact that they were advertised ahead of time. Here's an ad for "Murder by Morpheus" that ran in the Reading Eagle.
Tags: murder by morpheus, sleepwalking, weekly seabrook
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