IV. Homicide is not unfrequently committed by epileptics. Epilepsy is not the equivalent of insanity. Many persons suffer from epileptic fits for years, yet mix in society and discharge the duties of sane and responsible people. But it has been asserted, and not without good grounds, that the mental condition of an epileptic is not thoroughly sound. “All authors are agreed,” says Baillarger,* “in admitting the fact that epilepsy, before leading to complete insanity, produces very important modifications in the intellectual and moral condition of certain patients. These sufferers become susceptible, very irritable, and the slightest motives often induce them to commit acts of violence; all their passions acquire extreme energy.” An act of murder may be committed by an epileptic in the furious mania with hallucinations and delusions which follows a fit or succession of fits. It may also be done in the period which precedes a fit, a period during which especially some patients show strangeness of mind and manner, or in the state of unconsciousness which takes the place of, or follows an attack. And the convulsion may be exploded, as it were, in the act of violence, the fit not occurring as it otherwise would have done. Murder may also be committed by patients rendered weak-minded by fits. In 1869, Bisgrove, an epileptic, was tried and found guilty of murder, but afterwards removed to the Broadmoor Asylum. He saw a man lying asleep in a field; he did not know him, but took a big stone that was lying near, dashed out his brains, then lay down by his victim’s side and went to sleep. From epileptics generally we may expect acts of sudden and unaccountable violence, whether they occur in close connexion with fits or take the place of, or follow them.

V. Murder may be committed during a paroxysm of insanity, brief, but furious, which, from its duration, we may call transitory mania. Here, while it lasts, the insanity will be recognisable; but as it rapidly passes off, and possibly has never occurred before, the difficulty will be to discover any traces of unsoundness of mind a few days after the event. Such attacks are really for the time paroxysms of acute mania. The patient afterwards may not be conscious of what he has done, and by his expressions at the time may or may not indicate the feeling or delusion that prompts him. Frequently mania occurs in patients suddenly waking out of sleep, and is of the character of a nightmare, probably a continuation of some horrible dream. The act is often committed in a state of panic rather than rage, and the committal may thoroughly bring the patient to his waking senses, and the contemplation of what he has done.

Source: Fielding Blandford, "Insanity and Its Treatment: Lectures on The Treatment, Medical and Legal of Insane Patients" (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1892), 198-199

Return to parent page