Archival Collections
Rare Book & Manuscript Library

David Abrahamsen papers, 1906-1990 

Creator: 
Abrahamsen, David, 1903-2002.
Phys. Desc: 
1.26 linear feet (1.26 linear feet 3 document boxes)
Call Number: 
MS#0004
Location: 
Rare Book & Manuscript Library
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Biographical Note

David Abrahamsen was a forensic psychiatrist, author, and psychoanalyst who was known for his books analyzing the personalities of major criminals, such as Jack the Ripper and David Berkowitz (Son of Sam). Abrahamsen was born on June 23, 1903 in Trondheim, Norway. He received his medical degree in 1929 from the Royal Frederick University in Oslo. After working at several clinics in Europe, Abrahamsen immigrated to the United States. In 1942, he began working as a lecturer and research associate at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University. He also maintained a private practice. From 1949 to 1953, Abrahamsen was Chair of the Columbia University Forum for the Study and Prevention of Crime. Throughout his long career, Abrahamsen was affiliated with a number of institutions such as the New School for Social Research, Yale Law School, the Foundation for the Prevention of Addictive Disease, and multiple hospitals. He was also a prolific writer, penning over ten books and many articles on criminal behavior. David Abrahamsen died in May 2002 at the age of 98. Abrahamsen is perhaps best known for this involvement in the Son of Sam trial. In 1977, David Berkowitz was arrested for committing a series of six murders in New York City. David Abrahamsen was called in to assist the Brooklyn district attorney in determining whether or not Berkowitz was mentally fit to stand trial. Abrahamsen concluded that Berkowitz was competent and the trial moved onward. Berkowitz was sentenced to 365 years in prison and corresponded with Abrahamsen through two of those years. This correspondence allowed Abrahamsen to publish several scientific papers analyzing Berkowitz's personality. Abrahamsen also researched and psychoanalyzed Jack the Ripper which resulted in the book Murder and Madness: The Secret Life of Jack the Ripper (1992). Using police reports and medical records, Abrahamsen attempted to deconstruct the motivation behind the killings as well as to point toward potential suspects. Nixon vs. Nixon is an analysis of former president, Richard Nixon. Relying primarily on interviews with individuals who knew Nixon at various points in his life, Abrahamsen presented a portrait of a very troubled individual. Although unable to actually interview Nixon in person, Abrahamsen used secondary research to supplement his analysis.