You're Not My Real Mother (Part 2)

Murder, delusions and Capgras Syndrome

Posted Oct 12, 2015 used with permission
Source: used with permission

“I didn’t shoot my mother.  I shot the Frenchman.  I had been thinking of doing it for some time because I am Jesus Christ and was sent into the world to deliver evil.  My brain is a computer and my thoughts are transmitted to others through the air.  Once people pick up on them, they realize my divine nature and give me their trust and support. 

Except for the bandits, the evil creatures who are led by the Frenchman and who try everything possible to annihilate me.  The bandits are led by the Frenchman, who can take on the appearance of other people whenever he wishes.  Because of Not everyone did so, however, some whom he defined as “bandits” had not trusted in him and did everything possible to annihilate him.  These evil creatures were led by “the Frenchman” whom Mr. E described as a powerful and handsome man who was able to take on the appearance of other people whenever he wished. 

About a month ago, I realized that, since birth, my mother has been replaced by the Frenchman.  I couldn’t believe it.  I’ve been cohabitating with evil right from the start and I knew right then that I had to save the world from his influence.  That’s why I shot her in the back and killed her when she was standing at the kitchen sink doing dishes. Sure, he looked like my mother, but we both knew who he really was.”

While I created the above dialogue, it is an almost exact account of the story told by a man who murdered his mother while under the influence of a Capgras delusion. 

Are Capgras Sufferers Dangerous?

It depends.  First of all, as we saw in Part 1, Capgras delusions are relatively rare; most people with schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, or illnesses associated with these symptoms do not develop them.  Second, most people who do develop them may express hostility, suspicion or confusion towards the “imposter” but very few resort to physical harm.  Third, there seem to be some pretty good red flags that can predict such violence and pave the way for early intervention.

For example, research has suggested the following indicators that should be paid attention to when assessing potential danger in a Capgras sufferer:

  • The Capgras sufferer believes the “imposter” is tormenting, taunting, or stopping him (for example, believes the “imposter” can read his mind or insert thoughts into it)
  •  The Capgras sufferer believes the imposter is “evil” or that s/he poses a great danger to the sufferer or to the world in general.
  • The Capgras sufferer expresses ongoing agitation and hostility toward the “imposter.”
  • The Capgras sufferer has easy and ongoing access to the “imposter” (for example, the Capgras sufferer lives in the same household as the “imposter.”)
  • There was a pre-existing problematic relationship between the Capgras sufferer and the “imposter” before the onset of the delusion.
  • The Capgras sufferer has a substance abuse problem.  There is considerable research that suggests a greater increase for violence among patients with dual diagnoses of delusional disorder and substance abuse
  • The Capgras sufferer has recently withdrawn from the family unit or group of friends affected by the delusion.

The Bottom Line

It’s hard to imagine how distressing it would be to believe that someone you love has been replaced by a duplicitous double.  Throw in the idea that this imposter has control over your mind, is plotting to take over the world, or has kidnapped your beloved and the only way to “free” her is by killing her duplicate. In such a case violence can be a logical, albeit tragic, response.  

As seen at the beginning of this article, the person who murders while under the influence of Capgras delusions doesn’t believe that s/he is hurting a loved one or even committing a crime; often, the deed is done out of what is believed to be a noble motive.  Which is why it is so important for mental health professionals to investigate and monitor the nature, content and emotional intensity accompanying the delusional beliefs.  It is only by understanding the subjective meaning of these beliefs that professionals can recognize a risk of violence when it arises and intervene.