The 19th century French neurologist Georges Gilles de la Tourette is best known for Tourette’s Syndrome, but a fascinating article in European Neurology traces his interest in the criminal uses of hypnosis.
It is full of surprising facts, like that he was shot in the head by a delusional patient who believed that she had been hypnotised against her will, and that he eventually died in a Swiss asylum after developing psychosis caused by syphilis.
We now know that hypnosis cannot be used to make people do things against their will, but at the time it was widely believed that women could be hypnotised to be easy prey to sexual predators, and even that otherwise innocent people could be hypnotised to be killers against their will. Sort of like a 19th century Manchurian Candidate.
The murder of a public notary by Michel Eyraud and Gabrielle Bompard in 1889, in which Bompard said she was hypnotised to be a murderer, made headlines around the world (you can still read The New York Times coverage online) and also served as a public battle over whether hypnosis could be used for criminal ends.
France was the centre of hypnosis research at the time and many experiments were carried out where hypnotised people were asked to ‘kill’ people with prop weapons to test their compliance. Neurologists Gilles de la Tourette and Jean-Martin Charcot were famous for their work on hypnosis and hysteria and weighed into the heated legal debate.
The patient who shot Gilles de la Tourette was not hypnotised, however, although was delusional and believed that she was. Hypnosis is a common theme of psychosis even today and your average inpatient psychiatric ward may well contain a patient or two who believe they are being ‘controlled’ or ‘mesmerised’ by hypnosis.
In Gilles de la Tourette’s case, the incident is notable not least because he suffered a bullet in the brain, had it yanked out, and was writing to his friend about the experience later in the day.
…he was shot – for real – at his home in Paris by Rose Kamper-Lecoq, a 29-year-old former patient from La Salp√™tri√®re and Sainte-Anne who later claimed that she had been hypnotized from a distance…
Rose asked him for some money, claiming that she was without resources because her hypnotism sessions had altered her will, and shot him when he refused. There were three shots, with only the first one reaching its target. Fortunately for Gilles de la Tourette, it resulted in only a superficial occipital wound, and he was even able to write to Montorgueil about the event the same evening.
The article has a copy of the letter with the description “The writing is uneasy, but Gilles de la Tourette reassures Montorgueil and explains that the bullet has been removed, ending the letter with the comment ‘What a strange story’ (‘Quelle dr√¥le d’histoire’)”.
Anyway, a fascinating article, freely available, and full of fantastic images and illustrations from newspapers of the time.