Published: July 23, 2022

Eric Brown

From September 1940 until May 1941, the people of England lived with the near-constant specter of death from above, as the German Luftwaffe dropped tons and tons of bombs, killing more than 40,000, inuring tens of thousands more and damaging or destroying two million homes. While you never get used to such horror, the skin does thicken. Still, it came as a shock two years on when an explosion on Hockley Road rocked the town of Rayleigh, England.

Archibald Brown was involved in a terrible motorcycle accident when he was 24, one that cost him the use of both of his legs, thus leaving him confined to a "Bath chair" (no, it's not it's nothing you'd used to sit in your bin on a hot day, or for the purposes of getting clean, rather it was akin to a wheelchair, and got its name from the town of Bath, where it was invented). Over the years, Archibald had grown progressively bitter, angry and abusive; his wife, Doris, and their two sons, Eric and Collin, lived in constant fear of his increasingly violent temper.

On July 23, 1943, one of Archibald's nurses fetched his Bath chair so she might take him for a spin around the neighborhood to get some fresh air. After a while, they stopped so that he might fish a fag out of his dressing gown, and the nurse came around to light it. They then carried on down the road, but a moment later there was a horrible explosion. Archibald had been blown to bits, his left leg stuck fifteen feet up in a tree, his left leg 48 feet away in someone's garden, his Bath chair just a twisted bit of metal. By some miracle, the nurse has been sufficiently shielded from the blast and she survived, though she lay screaming on the ground. Enemy aircraft was quickly ruled out as the cause--so WTAF had happened?

It turns out that Eric had had enough. Stationed at a nearby army base, he was frequently granted leave to visit his family. One day, he stole from the base a number 75 Hawkins Grenade, an anti-tank landmine. Eric tweaked the firing mechanism so that the weight of a person, as opposed to a tank, would be enough to trip it, and had tucked it under the cushion of his father's Bath chair.

During his confession, Eric would explain that he'd "decided that the only real way in which my mother could lead a normal life and my father to be released from his sufferings was for him to die mercifully."

Eric, it turned out, had a history of mood swings, and shortly before being called up to the Army had been pushed out of a position at Barclays Bank due to his erratic behavior. His defense tried to call into doubt his sanity, with one doctor diagnosing him as schizophrenic. A doctor at the prison where Eric was being held believed him to be sane, but noted that he had tried to cut his own throat while in custody.

Eric was eventually found "guilty - but insane" and "detained at his Majesty's pleasure" in an asylum, where he stayed for 32 years, until his release in 1975, at the age of 51. What became of him remains a mystery.

Related Articles