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.

Yet another person executed today, chronicled by moi

This time it’s a federal case: George Barrett, who was hanged in 1936 for shooting an FBI agent. He was the first to die for that particular offense. The agent was shot in Ohio, but Barrett fired his gun from 22 feet over the Indiana state line.

Barrett’s death was society’s gain. Before he murdered Agent Klein he was a car thief and, in all probability, a three-time killer, though the jury waffled at every homicide trial.