Friday, September 19, 2014

If You Do the Crime, Don’t Talk in Your Sleep

I've heard you talking in your sleep,
While researching some other things, I came across these two stories, and since they were so similar, I realized they needed to be put together. The first story is from 1906 and the second one from 1911. They both involve people whose crimes were discovered because they talked in their sleep.

People do talk in their sleep, that’s certainly true. However, these stories sound just a little too good to be true. More like a scene of someone talking in his or her sleep in a cheap comedy. You know, the sort of movie where the protagonist falls asleep and mumbles some embarrassing detail in the earshot of the wrong person. It always feels somewhat pat and contrived when it happens in a movie, so how ready are we to believe when someone tells us it happens in real life?

The first is from the Salt Lake Tribune, on September 20, 1906.
Farm Hand Who Married Widow Revealed He Poisoned Husband.
SIBLEY, Iowa, Sept. 19.—Because he talked in his sleep and told about a murder which he committed, Charles Rocker was sentenced today to life imprisonment. There was no evidence against the man until the story he told in his sleep was investigated, when sufficient evidence to convict him was found.

August Schroeder was murdered two years ago. Charles Rocker, a farm hand, married Schroeder’s widow some months later. Mrs. Rocker informed the County Attorney that her husband, while talking in his sleep, had told of poisoning her first husband, even telling where he had purchased the poison he had administered.

The story was investigated and the purchase of the poison traced to Rocker. Schroeder’s body was exhumed and traces of the poison were found.
A little further research showed that the Tribune was repeating a really old story.[1] By the time they printed the story, Rocker had already been to trial. In fact, it’s not even clear why they datelined the story September 19. The trial was over by the point. It might be a misprint for September 10, which is the date other papers give to the story.

The Tribune gets a few other things wrong too. Mr. Schroeder was not murdered two years before the date of the story (which would be some time in 1904), but in 1900, specifically, June 13, 1900. It makes it tough to believe that they got the bit about Rocker talking in this sleep right when they got so much else wrong. But, the other news reports make it clear that Mrs. Rocker alleged that Mr. Rocker talked in his sleep, confessing the crime.

There does seem to be some confusion as to the murdered man’s surname, as I’ve seen three variants; this does not make for easy research. It’s a pretty lurid tale and I should probably come back to it.
The 1911 story is much milder. It’s from the New-York Tribune, September 9, 1911.
Escaped Convict Caught After Five Years of Freedom.
Oklahoma City, Okla., Sept. 8.—Talking in his sleep, Walter Hamilton revealed that he was an escaped convict, and he was arrested to-day. He escaped from the penitentiary at Huntsville, Tex., five years ago, and has been living here two years under the name of “Jack” Rogers. A year ago he married.

Recently Hamilton slept at the house of a neighbor, and talked in his sleep of his experience as a convict. The neighbor told the police, and Hamilton’s arrest resulted.

Hamilton shot two guards when he escaped and had the fingers of one hand shot off. He was identified partly by the crippled hand.
Yeah, I don’t believe this one either. It seems even less credible than the story told by Mrs. Rocker (who, I should belatedly add, came up with the story after she had been indicted for the murder of her husband).

In any case, after you read this, when you finally go to sleep, I wish you pleasant dreams. And if you’ve committed some heinous crime that haunts your dreams nevertheless, I’d advise you to keep your mouth shut.

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  1. Which, admittedly, is exactly what I’m doing.  ↩

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