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I discovered that John Robert Schrieffer (Nobel Prize in Physics 1972 for superconductivity theory) was in prison after a tragic car accident (1 person died, 7 were injured) where he was driving without a valid license.

Do you have more examples of scientists/mathematicians that committed crimes like these that are not related to politics or war? I would like to avoid people like Lev Landau that even if they were in prison (and have interesting anecdotes), they were there for political reasons. And in the same idea let's keep Alan Turing and Galileo out for the same reason.

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  • $\begingroup$ How famous do they have to be? Would Paul Frampton count? $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 10 at 15:49
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnRennie sure why not. $\endgroup$
    – Mauricio
    Commented Jan 11 at 9:27
  • $\begingroup$ Alan Turing maybe? $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 11 at 9:38
  • $\begingroup$ Elizabeth Holmes? $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 11 at 9:40
  • $\begingroup$ There must be hundreds of examples a Google away. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 11 at 9:40

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I think the most famous case is that of André Bloch.

André Bloch was a French mathematician who worked in the field of complex analysis and who spent most of his life confined in a psychiatric hospital. When the First World War began in August 1914, both André and his brother Georges were drafted into the army, and both were wounded during their service; André's wounds were serious and he was hospitalised several times. On 17 November 1917, André killed his brother Georges, his uncle and his aunt by stabbing them, and after the murders he was arrested without resistance. He was confined in a psychiatric hospital on the outskirts of Paris for 31 years.

Surely Bloch committed a major crime, but it is not clear if its status in the asylum can be assimilated to a stay in prison. A partial answer is in the paper of Henri Cartan and Jacqueline Ferrand Le cas André Bloch:

Déclaré irresponsable (1) A. B. fut interné à l’hôpital psychiatrique de Saint-Maurice, appelé aussi "Maison de Charenton". Il ne le quittera que 31 ans plus tard

(1) Il semble que cette pénible affaire ait été étouffée à l’époque, et que les journaux n’en aient pas parlé ; car les camarades d’études des frères Bloch eux-mêmes n’ont pas connu les détails du drame. N’oublions pas que la France était en guerre et que le meurtrier était un officier en permission.

i.e.

Declared irresponsible (1) A. B. was committed to the psychiatric hospital at Saint-Maurice, also known as "Maison de Charenton". He did not leave the hospital until 31 years later.

(1) It seems that this distressing affair was hushed up at the time, and that the newspapers did not mention it, because the Bloch brothers' fellow students themselves did not know the details of the tragedy. Let's not forget that France was at war and that the murderer was an officer on leave.


Two cases of mathematicians who were certainly confined to prison, although of less scientific value than Bloch, are those of Christopher Havens, a self-taught mathematician who solved a number theory problem, and of Theodore John Kaczynski, also known as the Unabomber, who was a mathematics prodigy, but abandoned his academic career in 1969.


Galileo Galilei also spent the last years of his life under house arrest, but I think we can nowadays consider his crime as a political one.

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  • $\begingroup$ Looking at his Wikipedia entry it seems Bloch was committed to an asylum rather than being convicted (which is what the title asks for) but it would probably require a detailed knowledge of the contemporary French legal system to confirm that. $\endgroup$
    – mdewey
    Commented Jan 10 at 14:03
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    $\begingroup$ The PO asked for people guilty of a major crime, and there is no doubt that Bloch's falls into this case. However, it is difficult to understand the legal status because I could not find the records of any trial. I will add a note to my answer. $\endgroup$
    – user6530
    Commented Jan 10 at 15:12
  • $\begingroup$ I agree the text asks for guilt but the title asks for conviction which was what I was responding to. $\endgroup$
    – mdewey
    Commented Jan 10 at 15:30
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Paul Frampton was convicted of drug smuggling in Argentina.

This appears to have been foolishness rather than criminal intent, though as always it's hard to know who to believe. Frampton is not a world famous scientist, though the case made headlines in the UK possibly because of the femme fatale aspect. I think it mainly proves physicists are human.

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Sadly, Paul Ehrenfest, before committing suicide, killed his son, who had Down syndrome (https://thereader.mitpress.mit.edu/paul-ehrenfest-forgotten-physicist/).

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  • $\begingroup$ It does not fit he was not convicted $\endgroup$
    – Mauricio
    Commented Jan 10 at 8:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Mauricio : It does not fit the question in the title, but it fits the question in the body of the OP: "Do you have more examples of scientists that committed crimes like these that are not related to politics or war?" $\endgroup$
    – akhmeteli
    Commented Jan 10 at 8:10

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