Joan Kiger and the sleepwalking murders

By Robert Grimminck

In 1943, 49-year-old Carl Kiger was the vice-mayor of Covington, Kentucky. He lived in an upscale home with his wife, his three sons, and his daughter.

Carl was an ambitious man, but he was also paranoid. He kept several guns in his house, including one under his pillow. He always kept all the doors and windows of his family’s home locked. He even did this on the hottest nights of the summer.

On the night of August 17, 1943, Carl, his wife, and three of his four children were at home sleeping. One of his sons was away, serving in the army.

Late that night, neighbors of the Kigers were startled out of their sleep by someone pounding on their door. They opened the door and found Carl’s only daughter, 16-year-old Joan, standing in the doorway. She said that there had been a shooting at her home, and she needed help.

The police arrived at the Kiger’s home, and they found 49-year-old Carl dead in his bed. His wife, Jennie, had been shot in the hip, but she was alive and would go on to survive her wound. Sadly, their six-year-old son Jimmy had also been shot to death. Joan, and their other son, who was home that night, were unharmed.

The police searched the house, and they found $1,440 pinned behind the couch. They learned that the money was probably from illegal payoffs from slot-machines in the town. This led the police to immediately suspect that the shooting was a mob hit.

But then they started to notice unusual things about the crime scene. The first was that, since Carl was paranoid, the house was locked uptight on the night of the murders. The house showed no signs of a break-in or forced entry. Also, three guns were used in the shooting, and all of them belonged to Carl. All of this made the police think that the shooter was someone who was already in the house, and not an intruder.

The police then questioned surviving members of the Kiger family, and even had 16-year-old Joan hypnotized. While she was under hypnosis, she confessed to shooting her family members. She said she had tried to kill herself afterward, but she had run out of bullets.

Not long after Joan was hypnotized, she and her mother, Jennie, went to the police station together. Jennie told the police that she woke up when the shooting started. Jennie said that Joan was screaming that there were robbers in the house, and they were shooting everyone. She then realized that there was no one else in the house, and Joan was the only one firing the guns. Jennie claimed that moments after she figured this out, she was shot herself.

Jennie said that she then heard her 6-year-old son, Jimmy, calling out for help. She saw Joan walk towards his room, there were more shots, and then Jimmy wasn’t making any more noise. 

Joan then came back into the master bedroom. Jennie said she pulled on the gun, which woke Joan up. Joan said that the first thing she remembered was holding a revolver.

The police and the prosecutor didn’t think that scenario seemed likely. In total, 15 shots were fired, and three people were shot. They thought that was remarkably good aim for someone who was sleepwalking. Also, why didn’t the sound of the gunshots wake Joan up?

Instead, they thought that for some unknown reason, Jennie and Joan wanted Carl dead. Joan shot Jennie to make her look like the victim, instead of being involved in the murder.

They ran into a problem because the shooting woke up Jimmy, and he might have been able to talk to the police, so Joan shot him to silence him.

Both Jennie and Joan were indicted for murder about five months after the deaths. But only Joan would go to trial. She was to be tried separately for the murders of her brother and father. 

Her first trial, which was held in December 1943, was for the murder of her 6-year-old brother, Jimmy. During the trial, prosecutors said that the facts were simple. 16-year-old Joan shot her mother, father, and brother while they were in their beds. 

The prosecutors argued that the sleepwalking defense was the only semi-plausible defense, and that’s why Joan was using it. They didn’t think it was possible she could have picked up and fired three guns, shooting three people in the process, without waking up.

Joan’s defense had several people testify that her late father, Carl, used to have very vivid dreams about robbers and home invaders attacking him. Jennie, and several other people, said that Joan started to have similar dreams when she became a teenager.

Also, two doctors testified that it was possible that Joan could have picked up a gun in each hand, fired off all the rounds, picked up a third gun and emptied it as well, and hit three targets that were lying in bed, all while she was asleep.

Finally, the defense said that there was no motive behind the murder. Joan had no reason to kill her brother.

Joan was ultimately found not guilty because the jury did not think she was conscience at the time of the murder.

Joan never went to trial for her father’s murder. Instead, she agreed to a plea deal, and she spent a year in a psychiatric hospital.

After Joan was released, she moved to Louisville, Kentucky, and she became a schoolteacher. She died in 1991 at the age of 65, and her body was donated to medical science.

It is still hotly debated if Joan was sleepwalking when she shot her family members, or if she simply killed her father and brother in cold blood.

Copyright 2019 by Robert Grimminck. All Rights Reserved.

Robert Grimminck is the host of the Criminally Listed YouTube channel. He has a degree in both English Literature and Film Studies from Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario and a diploma in Broadcast Journalism from Fanshawe College.

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