Gilles de la Tourette’s strange story

As well being one of the most influential neurologists in the history of medicine, Georges Gilles de la Tourette, led a very colourful life.

The journal Clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery has an engaging article about his work on hypnotism and how he became involved in a debate over the possible criminal uses of hypnotism.

At one point, he took part in a celebrated trial where a murderer claimed she had been hypnotised to commit the crime, but most strikingly Gilles de la Tourette was shot in the head by a likely-psychotic patient who claimed he was ‘hypnotising her from a distance’.

The event was so striking it made the front page Le Pays Illustré.

On 6 December, 1893, at 18:45, at Gilles de la Tourette’s domicile, 39 rue de l‚ÄôUniversit√©, a young woman asked for him, and since he was not back from the hospital, she said she would wait for him. When he arrived fifteen minutes later, she immediately followed him and told that she had been hypnotized many times, being now without resources and asking for 50 francs. He vaguely remembered to have seen her (and indeed she had participated to several hypnotism sessions), and told her to give her name and address. Since she asked for money again, he went to the door, when he heard a shot and felt a violent shock in the back of the head.

Two new shots followed, but he could leave the room, feeling blood pouring down to his neck. This story was shortly reported in Le Progr√®s M√©dical by Georges Guinon, who arrived a few minutes later, and saw the woman quietly sitting in the waiting room, apparently satisfied. Guinon’s article was published with the purpose to stop the already spreading rumors of an assault perpetrated under hypnosis, since this would have been a major challenge to the La Salp√™tri√®re school theories that no crime could ever be accomplished during a hypnotic state.

The wound was not severe, and the same evening, Gilles de la Tourette was able to write to his friend the journalist Georges Montorgueil: “What a strange story”. Previous mentions of the event inaccurately reported that it led to a famous trial, while there was no trial at all. The woman, named Rose Kamper (born Lecoq, on 23 June, 1864, in Poissy) indeed was recognized to be insane. She had already spent time at the Sainte-Anne asylum, and was known to have written threatening letters to the administrator of the École Polytechnique Mr. Rochas. She later told that she suspected Gilles de la Tourette to be in love with her, but also that she had been hypnotized without her consent, with the consequence that her will had been annihilated.

She reported that she had been hypnotized “at distance”, and that there was another person in her, who had pushed her to shoot. She was examined by Brouardel, Ballet and Jules Falret, who concluded to what nowadays corresponds to paranoid schizophrenia, so that she was sent back to Sainte-Anne and other hospitals, from which she was intermittently released. Interestingly enough, a couple of days before the assassination attempt, Gilles de la Tourette and Montorgueil had published an article in L’Éclair on hypnotism contesting the Nancy school.

Gilles de la Tourette lived on for more than a decade after being shot although towards the end of the century his behaviour started to become a little bizarre.

In 1899 he published a famous article on recognising and treating the neurological effects of syphilis but when writing the paper he noticed the symptoms in himself, realised he had neurosyphilis and became profoundly depressed.

He was forced to leave his job in 1901 owing to his increasingly delusional behaviour and was admitted to the Lausanne Psychiatric Hospital in Switzerland when he eventually died in 1904.

Link to PubMed entry for article on Gilles de la Tourette.

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