This week Hannah gets personal with her True Crime 101. No she hasn’t murdered anyone whilst sleepwalking but she reveals she is prone to sleepwalking which is news to the Murder Friends!
Homicidal sleepwalking is the act of killing whilst in a sleepwalking episode. It is also referred to as sleepwalking murder or homicidal sonnambulism. When we sleep we go through cycles or stages of sleep. Stage 1 is when you are dozing off, your body hasn’t fully relaxed into a sleep state and this is when you get those weird twitches and feel like you are falling – this lasts for about up to five minutes or even up to 10 minutes. Stage 2 is entering a sleep state where you get all relaxed, your muscles relax, your breathing slows, your heart rate drops and this lasts about 10-25 minutes. Stage 3 is sometimes called delta sleep or slow-wave sleep and its the period when you are at your deepest sleep. After Stage 3, we have REM sleep (rapid eye movement sleep) and this is where you dream. When we are in REM sleep and if we dream, our body kind of paralyses itself so we don’t act out our dreams. People tend to go through stage one, then two, then 3, then REM, then back to 2, then 3, then REM, then 2 etc. Your brain is surprisingly active during the sleep process and stage 3 of the sleep cycle is a very important part as its the period where we do all our memory processing and physical recuperation. It’s the bit where your brain gets fixed and replenished with its little sugars for energy. But stage 3 is also home to bedwetting, night terrors and sleepwalking. The exact cause of sleepwalking is unknown but it has been known to run in families. It’s classed as a parasomnia – a sleep behavior or a sleep disorder. It generally happens in the first three hours of sleep and episodes often last less than ten minutes. Children are more prone to it than adults – its about 29%of children aged between 2 to 10 years and then in adults, it’s probably 4%. As you don’t have a recollection of doing it, it’s hard to actually quantify how frequently people sleepwalk. Also, as you don’t remember doing it, your family are generally the ones to tell you all about your fun nighttime antics. There are triggers for it like not getting enough sleep, drinking, drugs, having a fever, a brain injury, stress and anxiety. Sleepwalking severity varies. It can be as mi-nor as sitting up in bed and looking around whereas some people get up, get out the house, drive their car, get dressed, moving things around like furniture or items, potentially kill someone.
They think the first time sleepwalking was used as a defense in trial was around 700 years but the first time it was tested in the US courts was in 1846 when Albert Tirrell was tried for the murder of his mistress, Maria Ann Bickford. Maria was a sex worker and she refused to give up her work to be in a relation-ship with Tirrell. On the 27 October 1845, she was found with her throat cut so deeply she had nearly been beheaded. Tirrell was a 22 year old aristocrat and the prime suspect for it but he claimed that he was sleepwalking when he com-mitted the crime. He was found not guilty by a jury in two hours.
Do you want to hear three stories from three different countries with three different outcomes about sleepwalking homicides?
On the 16 January 1997, police were called to the home of Yarmila and Scott Falater in Phoenix, Arizona. They had been married for 20 years and had two children. Neighbours had heard an altercation and one had also reported to the 911 operator that they had seen Scott holding his wife’s head under the water in their backyard pool. The transcript from the neighbour’s 911 call reads “the husband just threw, I believe the wife, into the pool; it looked like he’s holding her underwater… “I don’t know what the problem is, I don’t know its weird and I’m concerned”. When police arrived they found Yarmila dead, floating in the pool. She had also been stabbed 44 times with a hunting knife. Scott Falater was found in the home, sitting at the top of the stairs in his pajamas. He said he had no recollection of what happened. He was promptly arrested and when questioned he said that he had been sleepwalking. There was a month long trial where the prosecution alleged that they didn’t have happy marriage, they fought over whether to have more chil-dren and their differences in beliefs when it came to the Mormon faith. Experts battled it out over points of law, sleep science and forensics. Ultimately, the jury found him guilty of first degree murder. They found that as Scott concealed the weapon that he used, removed his bloody clothing, put on a pair of gloves before dragging Yarmila outside to the pool, berating his dog to be quiet and then tending to a cut he sustained during the attack afterwards, undermined his defense that he had been sleepwalking. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He remains incarcerated at the Yuma Prison Complex in Arizona.
Next up, we have the murder of Barbara Ann Woods. Barbara was 42 years old when she was murdered by her son in law, Kenneth Parks. The pair had a close relationship. Unfortunately, Kenneth had developed a gambling addiction which found him embezzling funds at work and taking from the family’s savings. He was fired from his job in March 1987. Later, in May of that year, he attended a Gamblers Anonymous meeting and had diarised to tell his family, including Barbara that weekend about everything that had been going on. . However, early in the morning of 24 May 1987, Kenneth got in his car, drove from Pickering, Ontario to Scarborough, Ontario where his in laws lived. He entered the house with a key he had previously been given and, using a tire iron, bludgeoned Barbara to death. He then tried to choke his father in law. He left the scene bloodied, and himself injured from the attack, and drove to a nearby police station. He told officers there “I think I have just killed two people”. Parks defense was also that he was sleeping walking There was no motive, he was consistent in interviews and he underwent four months of medical, psychiatric and sleep testing which indicated that he had high amounts of wakeful-ness and slow-wave sleep patterns. His defense team argued that at the time of the murder he was in a period of “non-insane automatism” – i.e he was un-conscious and had no control of his actions. He was acquitted of murder and attempted murder on this basis.
Lastly, we have the murder of 83 year old Edward Lowe. Edward’s brutalised body was found on the driveway of his home in Walkden, Greater Manchester on 30 October 2003. He had over 90 injuries to his body – he had been kicked, stamped on and punched. His son, Jules Lowe, who was 31 at the time of the attack admitted to the murder but claimed that he was sleepwalking. Jules Lowe had been drinking heavily during the day before attacking his grandfather at night, made a poor at-tempt to clean up and went to bed. He reported that he had a history of sleep-walking. The jury decided that Jules Lowe did not act voluntarily and was therefore given the verdict of ‘not guilty by way of insanity’. The presiding judge noted that this verdict did not mean that he was “insane” but rather that he had been subject to automatism due to his sleepwalking. The judge then ruled that he be detained under a hospital order and was placed in a secure hospital facility. He was released ten months later. Up to 2005, there have been 69 reported cases where sleepwalking has been used as a defense in murder. As sleepwalking is an official diagnosis in the DSM5 and the ICSD3 it is considered to be admissible when used as a criminal defense. It raises some really interesting questions like if you are known to sleepwalk, should you take necessary precautions to ensure that you don’t cause harm? Do you have a duty and an obligation to protect the general public if you know that you sleepwalk? Where does the burden of proof lie in a criminal case? With the prosecution for proving they were not sleepwalking or with the defendant to prove that they were. Finding proof beyond reasonable doubt in these cases is therefore a minefield and exceptionally hard. The defendant must be acquitted if there is reasonable doubt that they completed the action without intent.
The Guardian – https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2005/mar/19/janeperroneHeavy -https://heavy.com/news/scott-falater-today-now-update-2021/
NHS – https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/sleepwalking/Sleepwalking,
Criminal behaviour and evidence – https://www.apa.org/pubs/books/Sleepwalking-Criminal-Behavior-and-Reliable-Scientific-Evidence-In-tro-Sample.pdf
Sleepwalking Used as a Defense in Criminal Cases and the Evolution of the Ambien Defense – https://dsc.duq.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1017&con-text=dclj
Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homicidal_sleepwalking
Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slow-wave_sleep
Forensic Files -https://forensicfilesnow.com/index.php/tag/scott-falater