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In the extracts that I have given from prison officials’ reports we learn that a considerable number of epileptics are detained in prison as criminals. During 1910-11 the figures for three prisons were as follows: Liverpool 92; Wakefield 53; and Parkhurst 10. In three prisons only we had, then, during one year 155 proved epileptics undergoing imprisonment, ten of whom were sentenced to penal servitude. I call particular attention to this matter, for it demands attention; 155 unfortunates, for whom out of sheer pity we ought to provide loving care, were thrust into prison, tabulated as criminals, and compelled to undergo the wearying monotony of prison life.

Undoubtedly epilepsy produces many serious crimes. This dread affliction, half physical and half mental, can induce a state of mind from which not only crimes of violence and of homicidal tendency may be the result, but crimes of almost any character.

Mental stupor, and sometimes complete aberration, follows or precedes epileptic seizures. [49]Assaults, wilful damage, attempted murder, attempted suicide, thefts, indecency and criminal assaults, as well as murder itself, are quite likely to be committed. I have, in fact, personally known such crimes committed, some of them repeatedly, by well-known epileptics. I have been a frequent visitor in houses where some member of the family was an epileptic. I had, perhaps, met the sufferer in the cells, or the friends had been to consult the magistrate, and I had called upon them in consequence. The public generally have no idea of the extent to which epilepsy prevails. I have no figures or statistics to give; I do not know whether or not it is on the increase, though, if I had to give an opinion, I should say it was.

I know it is very common. I know an epileptic is one of the most woeful objects on earth; I know the anxiety and sorrow of families who have one such in their homes. I know that many, very many serious crimes and a world of suffering might be saved if we had registration of, and proper provision for epileptics.

The provision made for these unfortunates is miserably insufficient. Their neglect by the State is a national scandal, but it is also a public danger. People who can pay may have their epileptics cared for. But the epileptics of the poor are cared for by short periods of confinement in prison, workhouse or asylum. We have a right to ask for some large, considerate and humane method of treating epileptics, for a wise nation [50]would protect them against themselves, and would protect society against them; and would remove that dreadful anxiety that depresses so many people who have an epileptic among them: the fear of “something happening.”

One would think it impossible in these days for a man to be continually sentenced to imprisonment because he suffers from epilepsy, yet such is undoubtedly the case. I have no personal knowledge of the 155 epileptics detained in the three prisons I have quoted; but I have personal knowledge and prolonged experience of many sufferers whom I have seen sent to prison for offences committed in the throes of their frightful affliction.

One of the finest fellows, physically, I have ever known was a hopeless epileptic. He had served with distinction in a famous cavalry regiment in India; he suffered from sunstroke, and as the affects were serious and prolonged he was invalided from the Army. He recovered somewhat, and married, but when children were born to him epilepsy developed. I have seen the horror that ensued in his home: the fears of his wife, the terror of his children, but I realised most of all the pitiful condition of the man himself. Many times I have in his own home taken part, at some risk to myself, in restraining him from violence, and when sometimes our efforts have been unavailing, the police have been called in, and I have seen him conveyed to the police station, and from there to the police court. When [51]in the dock, standing charged with violence and assaults, I have seen a fit come upon him, when half a dozen policemen would be required to straighten him out upon the floor and to hold him till stupor supervened, when his spell of violence would give way to insensibility and heavy, stertorous breathing.

I have seen his wife and children standing weeping in the court. Out of sheer pity I have known a kind and wise magistrate sentence him to six months’ imprisonment without hard labour: for he felt that for six months at any rate the man, the wife and children would be protected.

None the less the poor fellow felt the indignity and cruelty of his position, and whenever committed to prison he never failed to communicate with the Home Secretary, and petition for release. In the pigeon-holes of the Home Office I have no doubt many of this man’s letters and appeals are carefully stored.

But unfortunately when epileptics marry the evil and suffering does not end with them, for when children are born, they often prove very strange beings.

I have watched the growth of such children; I have seen their strange whims and their oft-times irresponsibility. I have known the girls become hopelessly immoral and cleverly dishonest even at their school age. One of the cleverest thieves I ever knew was a girl of fourteen, whose father was an epileptic. She looked the picture [52]of confiding innocence, but she robbed and cheated all sorts of people: doctors and clergymen were her special prey.

She was charged repeatedly; no reformatory would receive her, for she was flagrantly immoral. At sixteen she was a drab and a sleeper-out; at eighteen she became an inmate of a lunatic asylum, but at twenty her life came mercifully to an end.

I have watched the progress of boys born to an epileptic mother or father, and again, they are strange beings. I have not found them to be the equal of girls in lying or dishonesty, but I have found them to be idle and shiftless; incapable of giving sustained attention to study or work; sometimes becoming drunkards and vagrants before the days of full manhood were reached.

So far as my experience goes, I have not found that the children of an epileptic suffer from “fits” or manifest seizures. They do not bear on their bodies the cuts, wounds and bruises that are often found on the bodies of those who do suffer, but I have found, and certainly my experience does not stand alone, that they are often irresponsible creatures possessing strange minds, clever in certain directions and those directions not for good; capable of serious crime, but never exhibiting any sorrow, fear or remorse when convicted of any offence. They generally insist upon their absolute innocence, but go to prison just as unconcernedly as they would go elsewhere.

Not very long ago a wealthy gentleman wrote [53]to me about his daughter, a beautiful and accomplished woman of twenty-two. He told me that she had been in prison and was again in the hands of the police, charged with fraud. His letter led to an interview; he candidly told me that his daughter had been untruthful and dishonest for many years, but now he was ashamed to say that she was grossly immoral.

He had been compelled to remove her from every educational establishment in which she had been placed, for her lies and dishonesty could not be tolerated. He had placed her with more than one private governess, but while she made excellent progress with her studies, and especially with music, even for liberal payment no one could be found to give her a home and supervision beyond a very short period.

The grief and shame of both father and mother were apparent; their daughter being in the hands of the police, they knew that I could not save her; but they wanted some hope and some guidance for the future. “Can nothing be done?” they repeatedly asked. I could give them but little comfort; I dared not create hope, for I had learned during our conversation that the mother herself suffered at intervals, sometimes longer and sometimes shorter, from epileptic “fits.” In my heart I felt sure that this was the real cause of the daughter’s strange behaviour; I did not, however, add to their sorrow by telling them what I thought.

My experience of epileptics has been much [54]larger than the ordinary run of my life would lead any one to imagine, for outside my police court and prison experience I have had frequent opportunities for gaining knowledge and forming judgment. Probably few men have a more varied post-bag than myself; rightly or wrongly, large numbers of people believe that I can give them advice or help in family and other matters.

So all sorts of difficulties and sorrows are placed before me. But most of my correspondents consult me about some member of their family who is at once their despair and shame. Under such circumstances, I have always been ready to give such guidance and comfort as was possible. But being of inquiring mind, I always wanted to know the cause of the evil and sorrow. So I made inquiries regarding family history, etc., and was often brought face to face with the fact that father or mother, sometimes grandfather or grandmother, suffered from “fits.”

Some years ago, after writing in the daily press upon the dangers of epilepsy, I received a large number of letters from friends of epileptics. Every post brought me letters which came from various parts of the country.

Most of my correspondents were in good financial positions, but their letters formed pitiful reading. A more dolorous collection it would be impossible to imagine. But they taught me a great deal, for I realised that this terrible affliction prevailed to a greater extent than I had dreamt of. I realised how respectable people cover and [55]hide the fact of epilepsy as long as possible, and that when the fact can be no longer hidden they cower with shame, as if their sorrow was in itself a disgrace and a scandal. I had ample confirmation in those dolorous letters that not only pain, suffering, injury and hopelessness dwelt in the home of an epileptic; but also that shame, crime, imprisonment, strange actions and more than strange minds were some of the resultant effects. I need not dilate upon the danger to the public when large numbers of persons suffering from this malady are at liberty amongst them, for epileptic seizures may occur at any place and at any time. In a crowded street, or on a busy railway platform they might easily be attended with disaster. To any one who thinks upon this matter the danger will be apparent. But the dangers arising from the many individuals who have inherited a dread birthright, because they are born of epileptic parentage, are not so readily seen. None the less, those dangers are real and tangible, and I verily believe that if the truth could be ascertained regarding the large number of motiveless crimes for which the perpetrators have not been brought to justice, it would be found that very largely they were the outcome of epilepsy.

I take the following from the daily press of November 11, 1911—

“Murderer’s Lost Memory

“Unconscious of Crime for Four Days

“Strange Defence.

“Complete loss of memory was the unavailing defence at Nottingham yesterday, when Victor Chapman, a smart young ex-Lancer, was sentenced to death for the murder of Ralph Hill, whom he had shot in the Market-Place.

“Giving evidence on his own behalf prisoner declared that from nine o’clock on the morning of the crime, till he found himself at Divine Service in gaol four days later, he had not the faintest recollection of what had happened to him. He denied that he had the slightest desire to harm Hill, or that he had threatened him. Prisoner further stated he had a similar seizure last Whitsuntide.

“He left work at Nottingham at midday, and the next thing he remembered was looking at the Corn Exchange at Grimsby. He had no money, and walked back to Nottingham, reaching home three days later, exhausted and with bleeding feet.

“Nor could he recollect that two days prior to the crime (as a witness had sworn) he went to the river side, fired a shot into the air, and declared that he was going to shoot Hill and his (prisoner’s) sweetheart.

“Dr. Owen Taylor, police surgeon, said when arrested prisoner had a strange expression, and appeared utterly indifferent to everything going on around him. “He betrayed no excitement, and during the whole of the time witness questioned him he stared witness straight in the face with a fixed and vacant expression.”

“Two days later his condition vastly improved, he answered more quickly and brightly, and knew that he was accused of murder.

“Witness tested him in every possible way, but he had not the slightest remembrance of anything that happened on the fateful day.

“Pressed by the Judge to give an opinion, witness said it was possible that while suffering from an epileptic seizure, prisoner did not know what he was doing.

“The jury found prisoner guilty, and sentence of death was passed.”

Instances similar to the above can easily be multiplied, but I content myself with one more case of recent date. The following appeared in the daily press of November 15, 1911—

“In charging the Grand Jury at the Stafford assizes yesterday, Mr. Justice Pickford referred to the case of Karl Kramer, who was arraigned for the triple murder at Kidsgrove. His Lordship pointed out that during the magisterial inquiry there seemed to be considerable doubt as to prisoner’s sanity, and the magistrates adjourned the case sine die. A verdict of “Wilful Murder” was returned against him by the Coroner’s Jury, and he did not think the jury would have any hesitation in finding that there was a prima facie case against the prisoner. When, later, Kramer was carried into court, he seemed in a state of collapse.

“Sir Richard Brayn, Home Office expert, in his evidence, said he examined the prisoner in Stafford Gaol on September 28. Questions were put to him, but no response could be elicited. Kramer’s body and head were bent forward, and the only movement was a twitching of his right forefinger. He was in a state of rigidity the whole time.

“He had examined Kramer several times since, and had applied a test as to his sensibility, but the results were entirely negative. He formed the opinion that the prisoner was quite incapable of exercising his mental faculties in any way.

“Dr. Smith, medical officer at Stafford Prison, confirmed Sir Richard Brayn’s evidence.

“The Judge: ‘I suppose you both looked carefully to see if the prisoner was shamming?’ ‘Oh, yes, I am entirely of the opinion that he was not shamming.’

“Kramer was found to be insane, and was ordered to be detained during his Majesty’s Pleasure.”

In addition to epileptics and the insane there exists a number of people, male and female, who present to those who know them a more pitiful and hopeless problem than the altogether mad, for the altogether mad are at any rate restrained and protected.

The men and women of whom I now speak suffer from some kind of mental disease that has not yet been classified, but which prevails to a much larger extent than the public is aware.


This disease does not prevent them following their ordinary occupations. Indeed, many of them are regular and indomitable workers, and it is probable that the great interest they have in their occupations prevents them becoming certifiably insane. Such men and women continue for years at their places of business or in their situations, conducting their affairs in an efficient manner; to their companions they appear quiet and decent people, though a little sombre.

But very different is the impression produced on those who unfortunately know them at home! Released from the engrossing interest of business, their mental and moral condition becomes apparent. Of all the sorrow and misery that I have seen in the sorrowful world in which I have lived and moved, I have seen no more woeful spectacle than the sight they present—objects at once pathetic, terrifying and hopeless. While all sorts of imaginings occupy their minds, some great delusion seems to dominate them and to destroy every atom of home comfort. Place them under authority, surround them with medical officers, question them and cross-question them, examine them and re-examine them, watch them unceasingly and they defy every member of the faculty to find traces of insanity.

Under such circumstances they can control their thoughts and speech; to a certain extent they can make the worst appear the better reason.

Only at liberty, when free of all control, is their [60]condition made manifest. Sometimes they appear to have a feeling that mentally all is not quite right with them, but this feeling is but momentary, and soon disappears in the overmastering belief in the altogether imaginary wrongs they suffer at the hands of their friends.

I have known a not inconsiderable number of such men, and I have been worried for years with the imaginary troubles of such women. Argument is of no avail, no amount of proof convinces them of their error. Years go on, during which they hug their delusion and terrify their families and friends. Sometimes the delusion appears but a little harmless eccentricity, nevertheless it dominates and damns the man’s domestic life. At other times the grievance is more serious, often taking shape in the belief of a faithful and devoted wife’s infidelity. The horror and suffering in an otherwise good home, when this delusion is the master-belief of a husband and father, cannot be portrayed, for it is past the power of words. I have seen it again and again, and have felt my impotence when I tried to comfort and protect the innocent wife, and still more when I have tried to argue with and dissuade the husband.

The behaviour of such men is both maddening and heart-breaking; sometimes it continues for years, and the home gradually becomes a hopeless hell. Sometimes when a spell of passion and violence has been particularly exhaustive, I have known it followed with a period of almost stupor, forgetfulness and absolute irresponsibility. Crimes [61]of violence, suicide or attempted suicide sometimes result. In the latter case the law has no scruple in doing what ought to have been done years before, for then it proclaims the man’s irresponsibility. It is, however, but cold comfort to the wife or friends to find the law, which had refused to acknowledge the man’s irresponsibility while he lived, so ready to proclaim it when he was dead, for the fact might with some advantage have been discovered much sooner.

I have said that sometimes in a lucid moment the possibility of becoming insane dawns upon them; when it does, their horror is great and their suffering intense.

I have sat beside such men as they lay in bed, I have watched the expression on their faces, and I have listened to heavy breathing, for words they had none. I have seen them rise from bed in a state of stupor and do some foolish or childish thing. I have been ignored as if I were not present, and I have been made aware of the strange fact that maddening excitement had been followed by the suspension of mental faculties. I have known men in this condition wander from home into the streets, where a special Providence seemed to care for them and protect them from serious accident. Frequently men of this description are arrested by the police and charged with violence or disorderly conduct. Sometimes the magistrate, noticing their strange behaviour, remands them and asks the medical officer at the prison to examine and report upon them. [62]Invariably the report is to the effect that the prisoners have shown no indication of insanity. The detention during remand is generally considered sufficient punishment, but an admonition from the Bench on the evils of drink very often precedes the prisoner’s discharge.

Back to their homes they go, confirmed in their delusions and made more bitter by their arrest and detention. Especially is this the case when a long-suffering wife has herself appealed to the police for protection. It is small wonder that some of these unfortunate men are eventually executed for wife murder.


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