Criminal. Key figure in a murder case that marked the first time in German legal history an insanity defense was used. Born into poverty in Leipzig, Woyzeck led an unsettled life, drifting through such professions as barber, soldier, tailor, bookbinder, and manservant. On June 13, 1821, he was arrested for the murder of his common-law wife, a 46 year-old widow named Woost, whom he had stabbed to death the night before in a fit of jealous rage. At his trial the defense argued that Woyzeck suffered from diminished mental capacity and introduced witnesses to corroborate this. He was found guilty and condemned, but the court stayed his sentence and ordered a thorough investigation of his sanity. An eminent forensic expert, Dr. J. A. Clarus, examined Woyzeck over a three-year period and concluded that, in spite of "peculiarities" in his behavior, he understood right from wrong and should face punishment. Woyzeck was beheaded in Leipzig on August 27, 1824. That same year Dr. Clarus published his findings, which now make clear that Woyzeck was a borderline paranoid schizophrenic who in modern times would not have been executed. His story was made famous by Georg Buchner's play "Woyzeck" (written in 1836 but not performed until 1914), which in turn inspired Alban Berg's opera "Wozzeck" (1925) and several film versions.
Bio by: Bobb Edwards