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Classification: Homicide
Characteristics: Somnambulism
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: April 10, 1878
Date of birth: 1851
Victim profile: His 18-month-old son
Method of murder: Smashing his head against a wall
Location: Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom
Status: The details of the 'special arrangement' were never made public

Simon Fraser was a happily married man and a devoted father. He was 27-years-old and doted on his 18-month-old son. At 1am on the morning of 10th April 1878, in their home in Lime Street, Glasgow, he got out of bed and lifting his son out of bed he then swung him around smashing his head against a wall. He did not deny what he had done but told the police that he thought he had been defending himself and his family from a savage creature which was trying to harm his son.

Simon Fraser suffered from somnambulism. This was not the first time that Simon had experienced problems in his sleep, in fact nightmares were a normal occurance. Witnesses at his trial at Edinburgh High Court gave evidence of previous injuries he had caused while fighting off the visions in his nightmares. His father recounted how he had awoken one night to find his 14-year-old son on top of him beating him. His sister also told the court how one night Simon had almost strangled her.

The court was also told about one occasion when Simon had to be pulled out of the sea where he had gone to try and rescue his sister from drowning. She was, of course, safe in bed at home. On another occasion he had pulled his wife out of bed by the legs because he thought he was saving her from a fire.

The foreman of the jury intervened to say that he and his colleagues thought there was little point in hearing any more evidence and that they considered that Fraser was not responsible for his actions. It was then decided that testimony should be heard to determine whether Fraser was sane or not. This would decide whether he went free or spent the rest of his days in an asylum.

Expert testimony was heard from Dr Yellowlees, who considered him insane and from Dr Clouston who though he was not. The jury did not even retire and after a minute or so of whispering amongst themselves returned the verdict that Fraser was not responsible for his actions and that he was sane.

However, even though he had been found not guilty there was still some concern about the fact that Simon may commit yet another serious crime and no-one wanted that. It was rumoured that a compromise was reached over a 'special arrangement'. The details of the 'special arrangement' were never made public but it was reported that during the day Fraser was a free man. At night he slept alone, in a room locked from the outside. His wife kept the key.

This is a very sad case but not as uncommon as one would think. Through the years murders have taken place by people who are locked within a dream or nightmare as are living completely different circumstances. The worst of it is that normally the only people in the same room or house as the sleeper are close relatives or loved ones. The effect on the person when he wakes up is normally devastating.


Homicidal somnambulism, literally homicidal sleepwalking and colloquially known as sleepwalking murder, is the act of killing someone during an episode of sleepwalking. Occasionally, sleepwalkers kill people, usually a family member, during their sleepwalking act. There have been several rare cases in which an alleged act of homicide has occurred, and the prime suspect may have committed the act while sleepwalking. About 68 cases to date have been known. These cases have fared in various ways in the judicial system.

Historic cases

Polish physician Jan Jonston reported a case which occurred around 1630 where an inhabitant of Paris while asleep got up, took his sword, swam across the river Seine and killed a man he had planned to murder the day before. After that, he crossed back the river to his home, eventually getting to his bed, without awaking.

Parks case

In 1987, Kenneth Parks was a married 23-year-old man with a 5-month-old daughter. He had a very close relationship to his in-laws, with his mother-in-law referring to him as "her gentle giant." The summer before the controversial events, he developed a gambling problem and fell into deep financial problems. To cover his losses, he took funds from his family's savings and then began to embezzle at work. Eventually, in March 1987, his actions were discovered, and he was fired from his job. On May 20, he went to his first "Gamblers Anonymous" meeting. He made plans to tell his grandmother the following Saturday (May 23) and his in-laws on Sunday (May 24) about his gambling problems and financial difficulties.

In the early morning hours of May 23, 1987, Parks reportedly got up (not awoke) from his sleep, drove roughly 23 km to his in-laws' home and broke in, assaulted his father-in-law and stabbed his mother-in-law to death. After all this, he managed to drive himself to the police station. Aside from a few isolated events, the next thing he could recall was being at the police station asking for help, saying “I think I have killed some people…my hands.”

Parks’ only defense was that he was asleep during the entire incident and was not aware of what he was doing. Naturally, nobody believed it, even sleep specialists were extremely skeptical. However, after careful investigation, the specialists could find no other explanation. Parks’ EEG readings were highly irregular even for a parasomniac. This combined with the facts that there was no motive, that he was amazingly consistent in his stories for more than seven interviews despite repeated attempts of trying to lead him astray, that the timing of the events fit perfectly with the proposed explanation, and that there is no way to fake EEG results, Parks was acquitted of the murder of his mother-in-law and the attempted murder of his father-in-law.

  • all information was taken from a study conducted by R. Broughton, et al

Falater case

In 1997, Scott Falater was accused of murdering his wife by stabbing her 44 times. According to an eyewitness, Falater was also seen holding his wife’s head under water. When he was tried, the prosecution claimed that after the murder had been committed, Falater changed his clothes, put the murder weapon in a Tupperware container, put the container in a trash bag with his boots and socks, stashed the bag in the spare tire well in the trunk of his car, and took and hid all the items that showed that he was the person who killed her. On June 18, 1999 a prosecution expert testified that that Falater's actions were "too complex" to have been carried out while sleepwalking. A week later, Scott Falater was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without chance of parole.

Lowe case

On October 30, 2004, the body of 83-year-old Edward Lowe was found on his driveway in Manchester, England. His son, Jules, admitted that he caused his father's death, but did not remember committing the act. He has used "automatism" as his defense. He was not convicted, but he was confined indefinitely to a mental institution.

Steven Reitz

Steven Reitz killed his girlfriend, Eva Weinfertner and used a sleepwalking defense according to Dateline. His defense was rejected, and he was convicted of first degree murder

Cases from the Book of Lists 3

In the Book of Lists 3 there is a list of eight people who were recorded as having killed in their sleep, including use of firearms, fighting, or mishandling infants. Their names were "A. F." (only his initials were recorded), Willis Boshears, Simon Fraser, Wasyl Gnypiuk, Esther Griggs, Jo Ann Kiger, Robert Ledru, and William Pollard. (Contributor to The Book of Lists 3: John M. B. Edwards.)

"A.F." case

"A. F. " was a gun fancier and a hunter, and kept loaded firearms in his room. His father, with similar interests, slept in the adjoining room. Hearing a bump against the connecting door early one morning, "A.F.", still asleep, hollered "You dog, what do you want here?" and fired the gun near to his hand. The intruder turned out to be his father.

Boshears case

Willis Boshears was an American Army sergeant stationed in England, drinking in a British pub on New Year's Eve. After a while he returned to his apartment with a young couple. He went to sleep on the floor, where the woman was already asleep. When he woke up he found he had killed the woman; terrified, he hid the body miles from the apartment.

Fraser Case

Simon Fraser, of Glasgow, Scotland, often dreamed that a beast had invaded his home at night. One time, he dreamed that a white beast had come up through the floor. He seized it and dashed it to the ground. He woke up to find he had killed his infant son.

Gnypiuk Case

Wasyl Gnypiuk, a Polish immigrant (to England) had suffered Nazi internment, which caused him to have nightmares; in one of these, he dreamed of fighting back. In fact, he was in the home of his landlady, and when he woke up it turned out he had beaten her to death.

Griggs case

Esther Griggs, resident of London and a mother of three, dreamed one night her house was on fire. Screaming "save my children!" though asleep, Ms. Griggs threw her baby into the street.

Kiger case

Jo Ann Kiger, a teenager, was asleep when she took a revolver in each hand, poised to defend her family against a "monster." She fired, and fatally shot her brother and her father.

Ledru case

Robert Ledru, a French police detective, was asked to investigate a murder on the beach. Examining the evidence--the fatal bullet and some footprints--he decided he had been sleepwalking on the beach and fired the fatal shot. He turned himself in.

Pollard case

William Pollard was a farmer whose neighbors knew him well as a sleepwalker and sleepworker--doing his chicken-farm chores while fast asleep. One night he dreamed he was fighting with a marauding stranger. When his wife awakened him, he found he had killed their daughter.

How the law dealt with these eight

The volume says how the law dealt with them, adding that Western law recognizes sleepwalking as a defense but is otherwise not consistent. "Griggs and Pollard were never charged; 'A. F.,' Kiger, and Boshears were acquitted; Fraser and Ledru were acquitted but ordered by the court to sleep henceforth only by themselves, in locked rooms; while Gnypiuk, denied an appeal to the British House of Lords, was hanged."

In the first season of the Perry Mason TV series, one episode was titled "The Case of the Sleepwalker's Niece."


It has been suggested that sleepwalking and other forms of parasomnia occur from deep non-REM slow wave sleep. It is caused by an inappropriate physiological event where the brain tries to exit SWS and go straight to wake. In normal sleep, the brain transitions from sleep either from stages 1 or 2 of NREM or REM sleep, but almost never from SWS. As a result, the brain gets “stuck” between a sleep and wake state.

In the case of Kenneth Parks, his EEG showed that his brain tries to wake from SWS 10 to 20 times a night. Needless to say, this is an incredible number compared to normal sleepers who almost never experience this. Nobody is sure why some people will commit murders in their sleepwalking episodes, but it seems reasonable to assume that many conditions must be met. Using Kenneth Parks as an example again, he was planning to go to his in-laws’ residence the next day, he was stressed and depressed from marital and financial troubles, and he had been sleep deprived because he couldn’t get any sleep the night before.



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