There are many people all over the world who suffer from sleepwalking; It is known that these people roam the house and sometimes perform complex actions, And even household chores, being oblivious, automatically.
As a general rule, this is a problem which can be embarrassing and generate confusion and fear for those who observe it; in the worst case, the proximity of windows or doors facing the street can lead to dangerous situations.
However, sometimes the activities carried out are more bizarre: there are painters who can only create in a state of sleepwalking, or people who end up committing crimes in this state, such as rape or murder. In the latter case, we are talking about homicidal sleepwalkers.
Before we get into the details of what a homicidal sleepwalker is, let’s take a quick look at what exactly is sleepwalking.
Sleepwalking is defined as a sleep disorder included in parasomnias, Or behavioral disorders during sleep, which do not affect the amount of sleep and the state of total wakefulness. In the case of sleepwalking, we find subjects who perform motor activities in a state of unconsciousness, usually during phases 3 or 4 of non-REM sleep. These actions are usually limited to getting up and walking, sometimes even with eyes open.
It is a relatively common disorder in the population, especially in early childhood. There is an alteration of sleep cycles, Specifically between the transition from non-REM sleep to REM sleep. The motor system does not paralyze, as it would in most cases, and the body acts without the consciousness being able to take charge of the situation.
From sleepwalking to homicide
It is in this context that abnormal behavior can appear. And this is it the motor system is active while the consciousness is only partially active with which they could get to perform different actions of other people at their own will. And depending on the case, it could lead to violent behaviors in people who are under great stress, frustration, and generate aggressive responses.
A homicidal sleepwalker is someone who commits homicide without vigilance: In other words, to be asleep. The subject would not be aware of the situation and this would be foreign to his will and control. As in most cases, the sleepwalker does not remember what happened next, although he may retain a fragmented picture of the situation.
This is an unusual phenomenon, but technically possible (brain alterations have been observed during sleep in some subjects studied) and in fact on several occasions throughout history (there are more than fifty recorded cases). However, it should be remembered that these are very rare cases: most sleepwalkers do not commit such acts and are limited to walking.
Some known homicidal sleepwalkers
While this may appear to be an excuse used to claim accountability or be used as a mitigating factor in a trial, the truth is that there have been times when it has been ruled that a homicide acted asleep or in a state of semi-consciousness, which the subject declared innocent. Some of the homicidal sleepwalking cases that have been recorded in this regard are shown below.
1. Robert Ledru
The case of Robert Ledru is one of the oldest known. In 1887, this chief inspector of the French police (considered one of the best French investigators of the 19th century) was sent to investigate a murder on the beach in Le Havre. The victim was André Monet, who died from a gunshot wound. No obvious cell phones were seen, and the subject was not known in the area and kept his belongings.
The only clue found besides the bullet (which belonged to a very common weapon type at the time) was a series of fingerprints near the body. When the inspector approached, he could see that in these prints one could see the absence of a thumb on the right foot.. After a moment when he looked scared, he ordered a plaster cast removed from his footprints, which he later examined. After this examination, he reported that he already knew who the killer was.
Once at the police station, Ledru surrendered: the day after the murder, he was surprised to find that his socks and clothes were wet, and after analyzing the crime scene, he noticed that his weapon was missing a bullet of the same caliber as the one that killed the victim. And above all: he was missing the thumb of his right foot, corresponding to the prints found with his.
The inspector said he was unaware he had committed the crime, which was likely committed while he was sleeping. However, asks to be arrested as this could constitute a safety hazard other citizens. To verify this fact, it was decided to lock him in a cell with a shotgun. Once the officer fell asleep, he got up and started shooting at the guards watching him before falling back down to continue sleeping. This was taken to be true and it was decided that he would spend the rest of his life confined to a farm on the outskirts, kept under medical surveillance.
2. Kenneth Parks
One of the best known and most well-known cases is that of Kenneth Parks in 1978. This man, a compulsive gambler with many debts, left home to get in the car and go to his in-laws. Once there, he killed his stepmother with a bar and strangled his stepmother. After that, he went to a police station and surrendered. The event has the particularity that throughout the process, the subject was sleeping.
Kenneth, a long-time sleepwalker, was analyzed with the technique of encephalography and the measurement of his sleep waves reflecting that he was changing sleep cycles quickly and abruptly. Being in a period of superficial sleep, he was able to commit the acts without having a real awareness of performing them. He was found not guilty.
3. Simon Fraser
Another well-known case is that of Simon Fraser, who is sleeping dreaming that a creature was trying to murder his son. Apparently trying to protect him, he attacked the creature, and soon after regained consciousness, only to discover in horror that he had killed his son, smashing his head against the wall.
Fraser had a history of violent actions during sleep; he had attacked his father and sister, and even injured himself while he slept. On one occasion, he even pulled his wife from the bed by the legs, dreaming that there was a fire. After a series of studies, the subject was eventually declared innocent and acquitted, although it was established that he had to sleep separately from other people in a locked room.
4. Brian Thomas
Another case of homicidal sleepwalker is found in Brian Thomas, a man with a long history of parasomnia that in 2009, he strangled his wife while she was sleeping. The Briton had been stressed, after arguing with young people at a time when he and his wife were celebrating the conclusion of cancer treatment. After lying down, Thomas dreamed of one of the young men entering his room and standing over his wife, so he rushed over to the alleged young man and got into a fight with him. Soon after, he would wake up to observe that while he was sleeping he had killed his wife. He was found not guilty.
5. Scott Falater
A suspected murderous sleepwalker case can be found in the figure of Scott Falater, who in 1997 stabbed his wife up to 44 times, after which he threw her in the pool and kept the bloodstained suit in the car. After being arrested, Falater he found no explanation in the acts he considered that on the basis of the evidence he must have.
A sleep disorders expert examined the killer and ruled he was possible that the perpetrator committed it as a sleepwalker. Nevertheless it was considered that their actions were excessively complex to have fallen asleep and without planning and after being convicted he was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Given the examples we have seen, one has to ask what can cause one person to kill another while being unconscious.
As we have seen, sleepwalking it is caused by a mismatch in the activation and inhibition of different regions of the brain which follow one another throughout the different phases and cycles of sleep. Specifically, the problem lies in the third and fourth phase of sleep (corresponding to deep slow wave sleep) and the subsequent transition to the REM phase. However, the causes of this fact are unknown.
Yes, we know that sleepwalking it has some relation with the level of psychosocial stress. In adults, it can also appear in mental and organic disorders, or as a result of substance use. One factor that can have some influence on changing sleep patterns is the presence of factors such as stress or depression. In addition, in almost all homicidal sleepwalking cases, it has been seen how the perpetrator suffered or had suffered from high levels of stress or tension and some type of emotional conflict prior to the act.
For example, in the case of Ledru, the inspector was very stressed and he suffered from some level of depression and fatigue from his job, In addition to suffering from syphilis for a decade. Something similar happened with Parks (with financial and gambling problems), Thomas (a previous fight and the stressful situation caused by his wife’s cancer), and Fraser. It is also common for them to have a long history of parasomnia.
But being unconscious does not explain why in some cases this sleepwalking ends up degenerating into violent behavior or how it can lead to murder or homicide. It is assumed that in these cases, the prefrontal may be inactive and not govern people’s behavior and morale, while the amygdala and limbic system would remain active and generate an aggressive response.
The big doubt
Considering the above definitions and the cases presented, a question may arise which may seem obvious: are we confronted with real cases of murders committed unconsciously while asleep, or in the face of an attempt to justify or succeed in being declared innocent? In most cases, we have had advice from sleep experts and their sleep disorders and records have been performed to verify the possible existence of this problem, as well as brain function during sleep.
The answer to this question is not simple: as with other mental disorders, the level of consciousness of the accused must be taken into account at the time of the commission of the crime and whether at that time his affection engendered his conduct. This can only be known indirectly and with a margin of error to consider.
In fact, in some of the cases mentioned there has been a great deal of controversy: the case of Brian Thomas, for example, raised with some experts the question of whether he was truly unconscious (strangling someone takes a lot of force. and a situation of resistance or struggle of the other person) and the conviction of Scott Falater which sparked controversy by viewing the expert as ignorant but which was applied due to the jury’s consideration that his actions were too detailed to be executed without any conscience.