Sleep Terrors

There are numerous reports of sleep terror/agitated sleepwalking episodes in which individuals try to “escape” from frightening images by breaking through or jumping from windows. There are reports of severe injury and even death. Suicides and suicide attempts may instead be sleep terror/sleepwalking episodes. There is no evidence in these cases that the individual was angry or in a rage.

R. v. Cogden (1950, Australia, unreported)—acquitted
R. v. Griggs (1859)—acquitted
R. v. Ngang (1960)—convicted but reversed on appeal
Ohio v. Hines (1993, Ohio)—acquitted
HM Advocate v. Fraser (1878, Scotland)—acquitted

R. v. Cogden (1950, Australia, unreported)—acquitted

In this unreported case from 1950, the defendant, Mrs. Cogdon, struck her daughter on the head with an axe and killed her while sleepwalking and dreaming about North Koreans.

Cogdon had a history of bizarre dreams and excessive worry about her 19 year-old daughter. The previous night she had entered her daughter’s room, apparently while sleepwalking, and had made brushing motions on her face. She reported the incident to her physician, who prescribed sedative.

The next night she dreamt that the Korean War was taking place ‘all around the house’ and had vivid images of a North Korean soldier attacking her daughter in bed.
Cogdon left the house, grabbed an axe, entered her daughter’s room and “defended her” by striking at the imaginary soldier. She instead hit her daughter twice with the axe, killing her.

The medical evidence established at trial that Cogdon was suffering from hysteria and depression, and that she was likely to fall into states of dissociation such as fugue, amnesia, and somnambulism. She was acquitted of murder.

R. v. Griggs (1859)—acquitted

In January 1859, a poor woman Esther Griggs was brought before Marylebone Police Court and charged with throwing her baby out of the window into the street, where the baby died. Griggs told police she was dreaming that her little boy said the house was on fire. She wanted to save her child from being burned to death.

According to the police account, at 1:30 a.m. they heard a woman screaming “Oh, my children! Save my children!” Police entered the building and, before reaching her apartment, heard smashing glass. They knocked on her door and Griggs answered in her nightdress, exclaiming “save my children!”

In the darkness they saw a three year-old and five-year old child in bed. Griggs was crying and asking for her baby. She then said, “Have they caught it? I must have thrown it out the window!

The window had not been opened. The child had been thrown through a plate of glass. The policemen stated in court that they believe the other two children would have been thrown out of the building had they not arrived in time.

Esther Griggs was found not guilty of murder.

R. v. Ngang (1960)—convicted but reversed on appeal

Stabbed man. Image of being attacked by evil spirit. Defended self.

Ohio v. Hines (1993, Ohio)—acquitted

In this unreported case from 1993, defendant Hines was charged with aggravated burglary and assault on the elderly resident of a home using a rolling pin and knife. He was acquitted.

Hines had an extensive history of sleep terrors and sleepwalking that had been documented in medical records prior to the incident. At the time of the incident, he had been awake for 22 hours. After consuming two or three bottles of wine, he fell asleep. He later awakened with a feeling of panic and the sense that someone was chasing him.

He left his home, ran through the woods and came upon a house and entered. He picked up a rolling pin and a butcher knife and then walked upstairs where he encountered the elderly resident walking to the bathroom. A scuffle broke out between them.

HM Advocate v. Fraser (1878, Scotland)—acquitted

On the night of April 9, 1878, Simon Fraser lifted his 18-month old son from bed and violently smashed his body several times against the door, floors and wall of his home, fracturing the baby’s skull and lacerating his brain. The baby died a couple of hours later.

Fraser pleaded not guilty and claimed that he was asleep at the time of the incident.

In the early morning hours of April 10, Fraser went to get his neighbor. He brought her back to his house, where she found Fraser’s wife with the unconscious baby in her arms. The neighbor reported that Fraser was in great distress and said he had done this to his child. Fraser said he had dreamt he had seen a wild beast jump into the bed, and he had tried to defend his son by attacking the animal.

The neighbor sent Fraser to get a doctor. The baby died about 3:00 a.m., two hours after the neighbor was brought to the scene.

At trial, Fraser’s father testified that the defendant had several episodes of sleepwalking violence as a young man and at the age of 14 or 15 had once hit him while sleepwalking. He testified that Fraser had once tried to choke his sister while asleep.

His physician testified that Fraser was subject to passing out of sleep and into fits of temporary insanity. The court would not certify him as insane but found him not guilty by reason of somnambulism, stating that he was not responsible for his actions.

Fraser was discharged after agreeing that he would sleep alone in his room in the future.