It seems like something right out of a movie like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari or Side Effects: stories of men and women who killed people while sleepwalking. But it's a very real occurrence called homicidal sleepwalking, insane automatism, non-REM parasomnia, or homicidal somnambulism, in which a person unconsciously commits murder while sound asleep.Cases of sleepwalking murder have appeared as far back as 1846 (namely, the infamous trial of Albert Tirrell). Here are several such stories, pulled straight from the headlines.
Jules Lowe of Manchester, UK made legal history in March 2005 when he was acquitted on murder charges due to be diagnosed with insane automatism. Lowe killed his 82-year-old father while sleepwalking, and numerous tests determined this violent episode did not spring from any substance abuse (Lowe had problems with alcohol, but he had never been violent while sleepwalking before).He was placed in a psychiatric institution following his acquittal.
On October 27, 1845, Albert Tirrell walked into a Boston, MA brothel to see his honey, a sex worker named Maria Ann Bickford. Ostensibly in a jealous rage over Bickford having just taken a customer, Tirrell cut the woman's throat and set fire to three rooms in the establishment.One year later, Tirrell was a free man, as the jury in his trial reached a not guilty verdict. His defense lawyers successfully argued that Tirrell was a chronic sleepwalker, and he had committed his horrendous crime during just such an episode. Whether or not this was actually true, we will likely never know.
The case of Kenneth Parks is quite famous because it's purported to be one of the most thoroughly genuine cases of homicidal sleepwalking on the books. In May 1987, Parks drove a little over 14 miles to his in-laws' home, stabbed his mother-in-law to death, nearly bludgeoned his father-in-law to death, and stopped short of killing his teenage sister-in-law, all while sound asleep.After doing so, and coming to his senses, Parks drove to the police station and, in high distress, confessed to the crimes. He was eventually acquitted, however, because numerous tests and psychological profiles revealed that Parks had suffered dissociative analgesia following the murders, due to his chronic problems with insomnia and anxiety, not to mention the stress of serious gambling debts.
It seems like the "sleepwalking defense" is all one needs to get away with murder. Such was the case with Sergeant Willis Boshears, a soldier from America stationed in England. On January 1, 1961, Boshears strangled Jean Constable in his apartment. He claimed to have woken up just after the murder and realized what he'd done. He disposed of her body in an isolated area, but he was eventually caught and arrested.On the basis he claimed to be asleep at the time of the crime, the UK court let him off the hook.