Edgar Huntly and Real Cases of Sleepwalking Murderers:

1784: Vienna Gazette publishes [maybe] an item recounting the story of a young man known in the town as a sleepwalker who murdered a girl. It's not entirely clear if this is a real case; Brown refers to it in the headnote to a his short story fragment, "Somnabulism," which was published in 1805 (though was probably written years earlier, and may in fact have been a draft of Edgar Huntly). Brown and his circle read widely and were interested in such topics, so it is possible that it actually was an article that had attracted Brown's attention. Also, note that Brown was inspired by other true-crime stories, as his novel Wieland is roughly based on the real story of the James Yates murders in 1781.

1845: Boston, Massachusetts case of Albert Tirrell, who murdered a prostitute, Maria Bickford, and was acquitted after his lawyer used the sleepwalking defense. The Smithsonian has a great recent article about the case (including some reproductions of contemporary accounts of the event): http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/history/2012/04/the-case-of-the-sleepwalking-killer/http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/history/2012/04/the-case-of-the-sleepwalking-killer/

1879: Kentucky, case of Fain vs Commonwealth, lawyers claimed that Fain "had from his infancy been afflicted with somnolentia or somnambulis." Fain fell asleep in a hotel lobby and was awakened by an unfortunate hotel porter, whom he shot and killed. The court found him guilty, but reversed the verdict on appeal.

1987: Toronto, Canada: Kenneth Parks killed his mother-in-law. Despite the fact that he had driven 14 miles to get to her home, he insisted that he was sleepwalking. Parks was acquitted; his was the first case of this defense in Canada. See a 5-minute, very informative video overview of the case (from the World Science Festival) here.

2003: England: Jules Lowe, 32, killed his father, 83. After claiming he did it while sleepwalking, he was cleared of murder in 2005.

2009: Glasgow, Scotland: John Docherty stabs his wife; pleads he was asleep, but found guilty by the jury.

2009: Colorado: Daniel Gudino, age 14, kills his 9 year old brother and shoots and stabs his mother; his lawyers argue that he was asleep at the time of the attacks.

2009: NBC's Dateline has a totally Dateline kinda story called "Deadly Dreams" that details the 2001 murder of Eva Weinfurtner. Her boyfriend, Stephen Otto Reitz, was convicted of killing her, despite his claims that he was sleepwalking. His multiple subsequent appeals have been rejected by the courts.

Sleepwalking murder cases are apparently a real thing. You may be interested in reading more from the Sleep Forensics Associates (SFA), a legal group involved with researching and documenting such cases. Also, they sell T-shirts.

You might be interested in the recent film, Sleepwalk with Me (2012), by Mike Birbilia. While he doesn't murder anyone, he does do some unexpected things in his sleep.


In Edgar Huntly, Who was sleepwalking when? What acts -- by Huntly, Clithero, or anyone else -- were affected by mental states (somnabulism or otherwise)? In moral and legal terms, what can be done about the offenses?

Consider some possible metaphorical meanings for sleepwalking.



Another Gothic motif: Doubling. Let's talk about some of the pairings of characters and action that happen (I'll note a few here that come to mind for me, but please suggest yours!):

What's going on with the doubling, pairing (OK, also, sometimes triangulating), and repetition throughout the novel? Pick a pair of scenes or characters have have resonances and explore them.


Page updated on February 18, 2015 .