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Karpman, B. (1951). A Psychoanalytic Study of a Case of Murder. Psychoanal. Rev., 38(2):139-157.

(1951). Psychoanalytic Review, 38(2):139-157

A Psychoanalytic Study of a Case of Murder

Ben Karpman, M.D.

It is entirely strange that so important a form of human behavior as murder should have received so little, virtually no, attention in the psychoanalytic literature. Here and there one finds occasional comments on a newspaper murder or a murder in fiction, but all very superficial, and nothing substantial. Explicit case material is lacking. So far as I know, the psychoanalytic literature does not record a single well authenticated, detailed analytic study of a case of murder. In indexing of psychoanalytic journals, the word ‘murder’ is practically missing.

Common Motives in Murder: The motives commonly assigned in the commission of murder are simplicity itself. They are usually given as being of two types: murder for profit and murder from passion. A little reflection, however, will show that the situation is not as simple as that. There are a great many people in the world who find themselves in the same acute emotional situations as those who have committed ‘passion’ murder; yet something within has deterred them from committing the crime. Equally, many murders seem so obviously committed for mercenary reasons; yet, here too, under like circumstances, many people, indeed most people, fail to resort to the use of a lethal weapon. There are further many instances when the situation is not clear cut, it being difficult to determine with anything like a degree of precision whether it was a predatory or a passion murder. Finally, there are murders which seem to be completely motivationless as in the case of the man who woke up in the middle of the night from a nightmare and discovered he has shot his wife. He claimed that he got along well with her, there were never any quarrels, and he could give no reason at all for his act.

Murder in Psychoses: All this is in the case of murders where the offender appears to be mentally normal, however disturbed he may have been emotionally at the time of the murder. But murders are often committed by the so-called frankly insane.

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