Arnold Sodeman

An obscure Australian serial killer was hanged seventy-seven years ago today, and I’ve profiled his life and crimes on Executed Today.

Arnold Sodeman’s murders were pretty ordinary and his crime spree not all that impressive — four victims in five years — but what I found interesting is the issue of diminished capacity. Sodeman was an alcoholic with a history of mental instability both in his family and in himself, and he had previously suffered a serious closed-head injury. The autopsy turned up evidence of fairly extensive brain damage. It turned out he also had leptomeningitis. When a person with leptomeningitis drinks — and Sodeman was drunk at the time of all four murders — their brain becomes inflamed and the resulting symptoms include irrational behavior and poor impulse control. In other words, was he responsible for his actions? One Australian forensic psychologist doesn’t think so.

I told my boyfriend about the case and asked his opinion re: leptomeningitis. Sodeman didn’t know he had the condition and they didn’t discover it till autopsy. Michael thought about it for awhile and said he didn’t think leptomeningitis was a good enough reason to cut the guy a break. He reckoned this: maybe Sodeman didn’t realize he had a degenerative brain disorder, but he knew he was a mean drunk. He knew the kind of person he turned into when he had a couple in him. And he continued to drink, consequences be damned. I had to concede that Michael had a point.

2 thoughts on “Arnold Sodeman

  1. Idyla (@idylarocks) June 2, 2013 / 11:44 pm

    I think that given his disorder, the brain damage, and the alcoholism that even if he knew he was an “angry drunk” he’d still be unable to control his impulses. Especially considering that back then alcoholism wasn’t really a recognized disorder that was treated (along with his other problems), I’m not sure there would have been a good ending even if he had been able to say “Hey, I think I have a problem” and sought help.

    A rational human being would realize that they have a problem and stop, however an alcoholic is not a rational person and I’d have to think an alcoholic with extensive brain damage and poor impulse control would be even less so.

    • Meaghan June 3, 2013 / 7:35 pm

      You do make some valuable points. I don’t think Alcoholics Anonymous existed back then. Excessive alcohol use itself causes brain damage — I once drank so much that I’m reasonably sure I had a seizure — and the ability of alcoholics to control themselves is open to question. There are plenty of people who get sober, stay that way for years, then, whoops, fall off the wagon, just like that.

      However, Michael would say: It’s one thing to be the kind of drunk who says nasty things to his friends and starts bar fights. It’s quite another thing to be the kind of drunk who deliberately goes out and murders a child.

      Alcoholism is kind of an iffy thing for me. Yes, I agree it should be treated as a disease and alcoholics should be given treatment rather than ostracized. At the same time, though, it’s hardly the kind of disease that you get standing next to another alcoholic on the train. If you become an alcoholic you have only yourself to blame. I don’t have much pity for them.

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