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Electroconvulsive therapy, frontal lobe lobotomy, brain scrambling and the mysterious death of Carl Webb

‘American surgeon Walter Freeman had invented his own form of Lobotomy, ‘The Trans Orbital Lobotomy’. This lobotomy technique used an ice pick to stab through the skull behind the eye socket and scramble the frontal lobe on both sides of the brain. Often the patients weren’t administered an anaesthetic for this procedure, they would just be given E.C.T until they were in a catatonic state and then operated on. This procedure was known to have been used at Parkside Lunatic Asylum.’


I wonder if the possible hidden wound on the bridge of Carl’s nose (and covered with a piece of paper as confirmed by Paul Lawson) was caused by a seizure during an attempted frontal lobotomy? I think I have read that patients were roped down and may have had been rendered unconscious with insulin shock therapy.’ Byron Deverson.


According to Dr. Colleen Fitzpatrick, Carl Webb may have been a little unstable and was possibly ‘spiralling down.’ No doubt Fitzpatrick would have seen a few examples of this in her occupation as one of America’s leading forensic genealogists. Lots of messed up people on her job list and here we are with Carl Webb done and dusted, almost. The problem we all have is that we still don’t know how he died.

Take your pick: suicide, murder or accidental death.

Murder and suicide have been argued for and against extensively over the years with no clear consensus so what better time to introduce the new player – accidental death – the committee thinks it has legs and have instructed me to pursue this new theme with vigour.

Carl Webb was found to be suffering from a variety of conditions which, in Professor Cleland’s learned view, did not provide an argument as to whether they were the cause of his death.

I quote :

“I have read the account of the post-mortem, and there is nothing to indicate death from natural causes.”

According to Dr. Dwyer, Carl Webb suffered from many medical infirmities.

(1) He had a massively oversized and congested spleen.

Medical term – Splenomegaly.

“Splenomegaly is a rare but potentially life threatening occurrence that can lead to splenic rupture.

The condition can develop due to several underlying medical conditions, ranging from blood disorders to liver disease.

If a person suspects that they have splenomegaly, they should see their doctor and take steps to protect against abdominal injury.”


(2) He had acute gastritis haemorrhage

Medical term – Acute Hemorrhagic Gastritis.

“Gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding is a symptom of a disorder in your digestive tract. The blood often appears in stool or vomit but isn’t always visible, though it may cause the stool to look black or tarry. The level of bleeding can range from mild to severe and can be life-threatening.


(3) He had extensive congestion (clogging) of the liver.

Medical term – Congestive Hepatopathy.

“Congestive hepatopathy is suspected in patients who have right-sided heart failure, jaundice, and tender hepatomegaly.”


(4)  He had congestion (clogging) of the pharynx.

Medical term – Pharyngeal Congestion (Pharyngitis)

“In some cases, medical treatment is necessary for pharyngitis. This is especially the case if it’s caused by a bacterial infection. For such instances, the doctor will prescribe antibiotics. According to the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionTrusted Source (CDC), amoxicillin and penicillin are the most commonly prescribed treatments for strep throat. It’s important to take the entire course of antibiotics to prevent the infection from returning or worsening. An entire course of these antibiotics usually lasts 7 to 10 days.”


(5) He had a deeply congested stomach. 

Medical term – Indigestion

“There are many possible causes of indigestion. These can range from dietary and lifestyle habits to the side effects of medications and serious underlying conditions.”


(6) He had congestion in the 2nd half of the duodenum.

Medical term – Duodenal Obstruction.

“Intestinal obstruction is a blockage that keeps food or liquid from passing through the small intestine or large intestine (colon). Causes of intestinal obstruction may include fibrous bands of tissue (adhesions) in the abdomen that form after surgery; hernias; colon cancer; certain medications; or strictures from an inflamed intestine caused by certain conditions, such as Crohn’s disease or diverticulitis.”

“Without treatment, the blocked parts of the intestine can die, leading to serious problems. However, with prompt medical care, intestinal obstruction often can be successfully treated.”


(7) He had congestion of both kidneys.

Medical term – Renal Congestion.

“Hospitalizations due to heart failure are increasing steadily despite advances in medicine. Patients hospitalized for worsening heart failure have high mortality in hospital and within the months following discharge. Kidney dysfunction is associated with adverse outcomes in heart failure patients. Recent evidence suggests that both deterioration in kidney function and renal congestion are important prognostic factors in heart failure.”


(8) His liver contained a great excess of blood.

Medical term – Blood Vessels Disorder of the Liver

“Inadequate blood flow—into or out of the liver—may result from heart failure or disorders that make blood more likely to clot (clotting disorders). In clotting disorders, a clot may block the portal vein or a hepatic vein, slowing or blocking blood flow.”


(9) He had congestion in the blood vessels of the brain.

Medical term – Cerebral Venous Sinus Thrombosis.

“Cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) occurs when a blood clot forms in the brain’s venous sinuses. This  prevents blood from draining out of the brain. As a result, blood cells may break and leak blood into the brain tissues, forming a hemorrhage”.

“This chain of events is part of a stroke that can occur in adults and children. It can occur even in newborns and babies in the womb. A stroke can damage the brain and central nervous system. A stroke is serious and requires immediate medical attention.”

~~~~ ~~~~

Parkside Lunatic Asylum.

Parkside Lunatic Asylum – South Australia’s home of Electroconvulsive Therapy. The distinguished WC Cleland its first Resident Medical Officer and his son Professor John Burton Cleland, who was deposed as an expert witness into the inquest of the mysterious death of Carl Webb, was very angry he was denied the opportunity to examine Webb’s brain: his purpose for doing so not disclosed.

Parkside Insane Asylum used all sorts of experiments on their patients as was noted in an earlier post. Perhaps that was the reason for all the secrecy when Lawson was working on the bust, Parkside being such an important Adelaide establishment and unwilling to be exposed as a place where some of its residents were killed during treatment. Better they be buried quietly in an unmarked plot in the asylum grounds, a method of disposal successfully used in orphanages and children’s homes for decades.

‘Over 100 children’s bodies were re-interred at the site of the former Randwick Asylum for Destitute Children. The bodies were discovered during the rebuild of the psychiatric ward at Sydney Children’s Hospital. An archaeological survey was able to identify 40 of the bodies.’

~~ ~~

If he (Carl) lost he would be sullen and rude to me, or anyone else, if he lost at cards, he would become unpleasant to everyone,’ Mrs Webb said in documents.

She described him as living a quiet life and being in bed by 7pm each night and that he sometimes ‘refused’ to speak to her.

Dr Colleen Fitzpatrick suspected Mr Webb had mental health issues and would ‘spiral down’.

~~ ~~

Intraparenchymal hemorrhage after electroconvulsive therapy {link at end of post}

A 46-year-old woman with a history of medically refractory depression experienced a tonic-clonic seizure shortly after electroconvulsive therapy for severe depression. The patient was stabilized, diagnostic imaging was performed to exclude an underlying vascular lesionresponsible for the hemorrhage, and the patient underwent decompressive hemicraniectomy and evacuation of hematoma. Despite aggressive measures, however, the patient ultimately died of cardiopulmonary complications of the inciting hemorrhage. This report highlights a rare but potentially devastating complication of electroconvulsive therapy.

1. Introduction

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a safe and well-tolerated treatment paradigm for patients with medically refractory depression. In one large series involving 20,000 ECT procedures administered over a 3-year period, there were four fatalities [3]. These included a case of coronary occlusion, one case of aspiration pneumonia, a case of pulmonary embolism, and one case of intracerebral hemorrhage, which was attributed to venous occlusion. Other well-documented complications of ECT include intra-abdominal hemorrhage caused by mesenteric injury [2] and ruptured viscus. Intracranial hemorrhage is a rarely reported complication of ECT, but is generally subdural in nature, likely caused by rupture of bridging veins during administration of shock [4]. A case of ischemic stroke after administration of ECT has been reported [1]. Patients undergoing ECT are not routinely subjected to imaging of their brain to rule out underlying structural defects or intracranial pathology such as tumor. We present a case of a fatal intracerebral hemorrhage in a patient after ECT for severe depression.



Intraparenchymal hemorrhage is bleeding into the brain parenchyma proper.

Parenchymal is the functional tissue of an organ as distinguished from the connective and supporting tissue.

Hemorrhage we all know.

Cardiopulmonary complications examples include hypertension, arrhythmias, ventricular dysfunction, pulmonary edema, shock, and sudden death.

Coronary occlusion is the partial or complete blocking of the coronary artery.

Aspirational pneumonia is the inflammation (swelling) and infection of the lungs or large airways. Aspiration pneumonia occurs when food or liquid is breathed into the airways or lungs, instead of being swallowed.

Pulmonary embolism is a blockage in one of the pulmonary arteries in your lungs.

Intracerebral hemorrhages occur as a result of bleeding from an arterial source directly into the brain substance.

Venous occlusion is most often caused by hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) and the formation of a blood clot.

Mesenteric injury is an injury to the fold of membrane that attaches the intestine to the abdominal wall and holds it in place.

Viscus is an internal organ of the body especially : one (as the heart, liver, or intestine) located in the large cavity of the trunk.

Eschemic is the lack of blood supply to a part of the body. Ischemia may cause tissue damage due to the lack of oxygen and nutrients.

Strokes occur when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts (or ruptures).

There you have it  .. perhaps you could tick some boxes and decide for yourself.

13 Comments Post a comment
  1. Clive #

    You can understand why Prof. Cleland was so anxious to examine Webb’s brain and, possibly, why others were also anxious to ensure he never got his hands on it.

    October 3, 2022
    • I wonder who was on the asylum’s board of directors in late 1948. Clive, you’re the best burrower around here, fancy a ferret around the records?

      October 3, 2022
      • Clive Turner #

        Only information I have come across was in “The Advertiser”  7 Sep 1948 
        Page 5:  Medical Superintendent was a Dr M.H. Birch.

        Another source states that he built the first ECT machine in South


        October 3, 2022
  2. Byron Deveson #

    I wonder if the possible hidden wound on the bridge of Carl’s nose (and covered with a piece of paper as confirmed by Paul Lawson) was caused by a seizure during an attempted frontal lobotomy? I think I have read that patients were roped down and may have had been rendered unconscious with insulin shock therapy.
    Maybe Carl had tried to commit suicide with an overdose of digitalis recently obtained from Freeman’s pharmacy. He is discovered, taken to a hospital or a doctor’s surgery and his stomach is pumped out. The doctors then try a combination of insulin shock therapy and a frontal lobotomy. While the ice pick was being inserted above Carl’s left eye Carl has a seizure and the ice pick causes some damage at the bridge of Carl’s nose. Carl dies as a result of the combined effects of the residual digitalis poisoning and the insulin shock treatment. This treatment is going to be hard to justify to a coroner so Prosper is contacted to dispose of Carl’s body. I note that this medical treatment could have been carried out at a private clinic or even a doctor’s surgery in 1948. This could explain Jessica’s involvement and phone number.
    This may a “melodramatic thesis” in the same vein as Alf Boxall’s comment, but it could explain and be supported by a number of facts.
    – Carl’s mental state (suicidal depression)
    the wound on the left hand side of the bridge of Carl’s nose (confirmed by Paul Lawson). The ice pick was often inserted above the eyeball.
    Prof. Clelland wanting to examine Carl’s brain.
    The disposal of the ROK outside the pharmacy where Carl had just bought the means for his suicide.
    The wounds between Carl’s fingers possibly from rope burns during a fit.
    The signs of Digitalis poisoning but the lack of vomit suggesting Carl’s body had been moved after death.

    Frontal lobotomies were carried out in doctor’s surgeries in a very cavalier fashion in the later 1940s. From memory there were competitions to see who could perform the quickest lobotomy. And these “competitions” were openly and unashamedly recorded in the US medical journals.
    From memory the “record” was 15 seconds. Fifteen seconds to jab an ice pick into the patient’s brain, wiggle the ice pick around to sever the connection between the two halves of the patient’s brain and remove the ice pick.

    October 3, 2022
    • Byron, do you think that sort of damage to a brain would be discernible even after six months?

      October 3, 2022
      • Byron Deveson #

        Yes, pathologists examining crime scene bodies deal with these sorts of injuries all the time but it may have escaped notice during the autopsy IMHO.

        October 4, 2022
        • Or perhaps Leane wasn’t the only one to know what was going on. Was the slip planted when the code imprint was unfortunately found? And the brain would be a devastating exhibit A unless it was to become “misplaced” soon after.

          October 4, 2022
  3. Byron, could you please point me to where I can find Lawson’s confirmation that a small wound was found hidden on the bridge of Webb’s nose?

    October 4, 2022
    • Byron Deveson #

      Pete, some time ago I asked Clive (?) to ask Paul and Clive (?) reported back that there was a wound and that it was covered with a piece of paper. The reply is either in Nick’s or your site.

      October 4, 2022
  4. Clive #

    Sorry Pete, looked back on my notes, only information I have found was that, on 17 Oct 2017, I asked Paul about a scar on the SM’s nose. Paul replied there was no scar and, he didn’t see any mole on the cheek. Other notes are that Cowan examined the SM’s brain, but didn’t inform Cleland about this. Interesting that Paul had to report everyday to Cleland from Day 1 up to the funeral.

    October 5, 2022
  5. Clive #

    Pete, check your post 19 Feb 2022, Byron mentions PL was evasive when he contacted him about the nose.

    October 5, 2022
  6. Thanks Clive, though why Cleland wanted to examine an unpreserved brain six months old is difficult to answer.

    October 5, 2022

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