The Richard Dadd Case
In Victorian England, single-victim murders rarely became sensational events – unless they involved sexual intrigue or featured a famous victim or perpetrator. The Richard Dadd case made headlines for the second reason. Though he might be largely forgotten now, in his day, Dadd was one of Britain’s most famous artists. He earned both wealth and prestige from his works and was praised by high society. All of which made his descent into madness and the brutal murder of his own father all the more shocking.
Dadd was born in 1817 and, by the age of 20, he had been admitted to the prestigious Royal Academy of Arts. In 1840, he was employed as a draftsman for an expedition of British explorers through Greece and Egypt. It was while cruising the Nile that Dadd, by all accounts, underwent a severe personality shift. Under the Egyptian sun, he became short-tempered and delusional. He even believed himself to be guided by the Ancient Egyptian god Osiris. His worried family insisted he spend some time in the Kent countryside to recover upon his return to England. Dadd agreed, though he got worse rather than better.
On the evening of August 28, 1843, Dadd was strolling through a park with his father. All of a sudden, Dadd attacked: he slashed his own father’s throat with a razor and then stabbed him in the chest repeatedly as the older man tried to fight back. Still in a daze, Dadd fled to Dover and caught a ferry to France. Though he made it to Paris, he carried on moving and then attacked a coach passenger with a razor. The man survived and Dadd was overpowered and apprehended. He was soon sent back to England, where he had already been labelled a mad man and judged to be criminally insane.
The authorities agreed with the popular verdict, especially after Dadd told them that the god, Orisis, had told him that his father was in fact the devil in disguise and needed to be killed. He was sent first to the Bedlam asylum and then to the secure Broadmoor Hospital. He continued painting and receiving visitors right up until his death in 1886. It’s now believed that Dadd suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and, despite his crime, examples of his work can still be found in galleries around the world.