Gilles de la Tourette was one of the most influential neurologists in the history of Medicine; however, beyond his recognized scientific contributions, the truth is that he developed other experimental activities and his own life was very interesting.
Few yeras ago the journal Clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery has published a very curious article about his work with hypnosis and how he found himself involved in a heated debate on the use of hypnosis for criminal purposes!
The truth is that Gilles used to take part in trials where he questioned whether a person could commit suicide due to hypnotic suggestions. Later he himself would come to experiment with hypnotic suggestions, asking his patients to poison or shoot one of the inmates.
Of course, no one was ever hurt by these experiments, but these curious ideas earned Gilles the nickname of “expert in criminal hypnosis.” Gilles’ conclusions after evaluating various criminal cases, and after his experiments, were that a person cannot kill another by hypnotic suggestion unless the subject is in a laboratory envirnoment. But … these studies played a trick on him …
He would still have one more judgment: his; where the alleged murderer claimed that she had committed the attack under a state of hipnosis, but what was much more curious was the fact that this psychotic patient shot Gilles himself in the head claiming that she had been hypnotized in the distance by the neurologist. The event was so impressive that it made the cover in the newsaper Le Pays Illustré and an article was dedicated to him in Le Progrès Médical.
In December 1893 a young woman asked for Gilles at his own home, but since the neurologist had not yet returned, she prepared to wait for him. When Gilles arrived a few minutes after her, the young woman told him that she had been hypnotized by him on several occasions and since she was currently without resources, she asked him for 50 francs.
Actually the face of the young woman was familiar to Gilles as one of the participants in the hypnosis sessions so he asked for her address and name. But the young woman refused to give him this information asking him once again the money. Then Gilles tried to reach the safety of the interior of the house but when he turned around he felt a shot and a blow to his head. Two new shots followed this first but by that time the neurologist had already taken shelter.
Fortunately, Georges Guinon arrived a few minutes later and could see the woman who was still sitting in the waiting room with an attitude of apparent satisfaction. The shot, obviously, was not fatal and by the afternoon of the following day Gilles was already quite recovered but the incident unleashed a strong controversy about hypnosis (remember that this procedure was still in its early days and had fervent practitioners but also many detractors).
The young woman who shot him was Rose Kamper and it was later recognized that she had been interned in the Sainte-Anne asylum on the occasion in which she had written several threatening letters addressed to the administrator of the site. Later Rose confessed that she suspected that Gilles was in love with her and also accused him of having hypnotized her without her consent, annihilating all her willpower.
In her defense, she alleged that the day she shot him she had been hypnotized in the distance, so that her body was occupied by another instance that forced her to violence. From her psychiatric analysis was reached the diagnosis: paranoid schizophrenia and she was admitted for several periods in different psychiatric hospitals.
Gilles lived for more than a decade after the unsuccessful assassination attempt, but his behavior began to deteriorate, becoming increasingly bizarre. In 1901, due to frequent delusions that he suffered, he was forced to abandon his job and entered the Lausanne Psychiatric Hospital where he died in 1904.
Bogousslavsky, J. & Walusinski, O. (2010) Gilles de la Tourette’s criminal women. The many faces of de siècle hypnotism. Clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery.
Lees, A. J. (1986) Georges Gilles de la Tourette. The man and his times. Revue Neurologique; 142(11): 808-816.