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Jack the Sleepwalker?

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  • Jack the Sleepwalker?

    Excerpted from Murder Most Foul:

    “An eye in sleep is an eye in Innocence.”
    - George Herriman

    Or is it? On the face of it, somnambulism – sleepwalking – seems a rather ludicrous reason to explain the Whitechapel Murders, but even in late Victorian times, it had already been proposed as a possible explanation for the crimes:

    “In Lewis Carroll's diary for 1891 he mentions that Dr. Dabbs of the Isle of Wight, Lord Tennyson's attending physician, apparently had a theory that the murders were committed by a somnambulist (sleepwalker).”
    - Christopher T George10

    Such a thing has typically been found only in fictional works, and seems about of the category that the murders were committed by an innocent man under hypnosis. However, the following case histories may serve to change this attitude, as they involve violent crimes or murder committed, apparently, during sleep.

    Sleepwalking as Automatism21

    A recent murder prosecution in Queensland, Australia has put in relief the issue of sleepwalking and particularly the question whether it can form the basis for a defence of automatism.

    Violence performed while in a state of somnambulism has been referred to as a self-evident example of acts not accompanied by the will of the actor.

    "Can anyone doubt that a man who, though he might be perfectly sane, committed what would otherwise be a crime in a state of somnambulism, would be entitled to be acquitted? And why is this? Simply because he would not know what he was doing."

    "Another case in which the will does not go with the deed is where a man is unconscious and acts in that state. There are numerous examples of that; for instance, unconsciousness in sleepwalking. An act done during that time carries no criminal responsibility."

    "There have been several occasions when during the course of judgments in the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords observations have been made, obiter, about the criminal responsibility of sleepwalkers, where sleepwalking has been used as a self-evident example of non-insane automatism."

    The contrast in the nature and quality of the evidence between Burgess and Parkes is interesting. Burgess was charged with wounding with intent. During the night, he had hit a woman on the head with a bottle, then with a video, and grasped her by the throat. She suffered some wounds. He claimed he lacked mens rea because he was sleep-walking at the time.

    "We accept of course that sleep is a normal condition, but the evidence in the instant case indicates that sleepwalking and particularly violence in sleep, is not normal. That case apart, in none of the other cases where sleepwalking has been mentioned, so far as we can discover, has the court had the advantage of the sort of expert medical evidence which has been available to the judge here."

    "On the evidence available to me, and subject to the results of the tests when they become available, I came to the same conclusion as Dr. Nicholas, a consultant psychiatrist, and Dr. Eames, a consultant neuropsychiatrist whose report I have read, and that was that Mr. Burgess' actions had occurred during the course of a sleep disorder."

    Dr. Fenwick's evidence was that this was not a sleep-walking episode at all but he described the features of sleepwalking as commonly including violence - although extreme violence is rare; the propensity for severe violence to recur is there.

    The Court of Appeal accepted that evidence (taken with the other defence psychiatrist, Dr. Eames) as properly leading to a conclusion that Burgess was:

    ".. suffering an abnormality or disorder, albeit transitory, due to an internal factor, whether functional or organic, which had manifested itself in violence. It was a disorder or abnormality which might recur, although the possibility of it recurring in the form of serious violence was unlikely."

    Parks, on the other hand, had been charged with the murder of his wife's parents. He had, apparently, driven 23 kilometres by car to another town one night and both beaten and stabbed one of them to death and badly wounded the other in what he claimed was a somnambulistic episode. This exchange is taken from his evidence:

    Q. Is there any evidence that a person could formulate a plan while they were awake and then in some way ensure that they carry it out in their sleep?

    A. No, absolutely not. Probably the most striking feature of what we know of what goes on in the mind during sleep is that it is very independent of waking mentation in terms of its objectives and so forth. There is a lack of control of directing our minds in sleep compared to wakefulness. In the waking state, of course, we often voluntarily plan things, what we call volition - that is, we decide to do this as opposed to that - and there is no evidence that this occurs during the sleepwalking episode. There usually is - well they are precipitated. They are part of an arousal, an incomplete arousal process during which all investigators have concluded that volition is not present.

    Conclusion – if the Ripper were a somnambulist, then he would never have realized what it was that he was doing, no matter how gruesome the action. If so, then he must not have remembered these ‘dreams’, as has often been the case, or surely he would have been alerted by news in the daily press. In this case, the murders themselves, the mutilations, and the subsequent abandoning of the victims where they lay would have all been dictated by the subconscious, and we are left with only a reason, and not a motive. Since nearly all of the Whitechapel Murders were committed during times when most folk were still sound asleep in their beds, there is no real conflict here. Explanation for the murders, their grisly nature, and their public display might then be for a reason as simple as indigestion from what the man had to eat before bed that particular night, in which case he might become known as the Rarebit Fiend as well as the Whitechapel Fiend.


    1. Badal, James In the Wake of the Butcher

    2. Bloch, Robert Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper

    3. Crime SuspenStories, The Giggling Killer
    EC Publications

    4. Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan The Complete Sherlock Holmes
    5. Futrelle, Jacques The Thinking Machine
    6. Jesse, F. Tennyson Murder and its Motives
    7. King, C. Daly The Curious Mr. Tarrant
    8. Maples, William Dead Men Do Tell Tales
    9. Rumbelow, Donald The Complete Jack the Ripper
    10. Ryder, Stephen
    11. Scott, George A History of Torture
    12. Sledge, Eugene With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa
    13. Smithsonian Magazine, The Shadow of a Gunman from World War II
    September 1993

    14. Spitz. Werner, Medicolegal Investigation of Death, Second
    and Fisher, Russell Edition

    15. Styron William The Confessions of Nat Turner

    16. Sugden, Philip The Complete History of Jack the Ripper

    17. Ubelaker, Douglas Bones: A Forensic Detective’s Casebook

    18. von Krafft-Ebing, Richard Psychopathia Sexualis













  • #2
    I would buy all other theories, before this one.


    • #3
      “In Lewis Carroll's diary for 1891 he mentions that Dr. Dabbs of the Isle of Wight, Lord Tennyson's attending physician,"....................................... ....

      Hey ! Thats' Ivor's doctor too !---------I concur with my phantasmagorical sidekick and aficinado of pugilistic way,Jose.
      To Join JTR Forums :


      • #4
        A real sleeper of a theory

        Yes, I admit that it is pretty unlikely, but we mentioned the possibility in the article because of Dr. Dabbs's opinion, AND the fact that an Australian court had ruled that a man was innocent of a crime because he had committed it while asleep.

        But youse guys really need to read Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend before coming to such harsh judgments.


        • #5


          • #6
            I myself being a night owl, and having worked with fellow night owls for many years, believe that Jack was also a night owl just by his behaviors and the times of the murders. It is an interesting theory about the somnambulism, but I have to doubt it.


            • #7
              Debbie....if we wuz married, I'd be sleepwalking all the time and take Carmine with me and wind up in another state and you know where he would wind up.

              Who loves ya?
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              • #8
                Originally posted by How Brown View Post
                Debbie....if we wuz married, I'd be sleepwalking all the time and take Carmine with me and wind up in another state and you know where he would wind up.

                Who loves ya?
                Actually I think it would be Carmine who would be walking YOU to another state and leaving you behind!