Rare Book & Manuscript Library

David Abrahamsen papers, 1906-1990

Summary Information


The David Abrahamsen Research Files consist primarily of drafts and notes for Abrahamsen's studies on Jack the Ripper and Richard Nixon. Correspondence with David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam serial killer, is also held in the collection.

At a Glance

Call No.: MS#0004
Bib ID 4078348 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Abrahamsen, David, 1903-2002
Title David Abrahamsen papers, 1906-1990
Physical Description 1.26 linear feet (3 document boxes)
Language(s) English .

This collection has no restrictions.

This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.



This collection is arranged in three series.


Scope and Content

The David Abrahamsen Research Files document analyzes conducted by Abraham on the criminal mind, in particular Jack the Ripper, Richard Nixon, and the Son of Sam killer, David Berkowitz. The bulk of the records are research notes, drafts, and articles written by Abrahamsen. There is a small amount of correspondence.

  • Series I: Correspondence, 1938-1981

    Most of the letters in Series I are from David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam serial killer. Written while incarcerated in Attica, Berkowitz corresponded regularly with Abrahamsen over a two year period. Much of the subject matter consists of Berkowitz trying to self-analyze about why he committed crimes. Abrahamsen continuously asked questions about Berkowitz's family, his upbringing, and his relationships with other people. There are a few letters from Jessamyn West, a distant relative of Nixon who assisted Abrahamsen while he was working on his book Nixon vs. Nixon.

  • Series II: Subject Files, 1906-1978

    This small series contains documents with related correspondence concerning Adlai Stevenson's presidential run, articles written by psychologist Otto Weininger, and printed material from a conference sponsored by Columbia University for the study and prevention of crime. Abrahamsen presented at the conference and there are copies of his talk.

  • Series III: Research Projects, 1944-1990

    Series III is the largest series of the collection and is comprised of files regarding three research projects: Nixon vs. Nixon: An Emotional Tragedy, Confessions of Son of Sam, and Murder and Madness: The Secret Life of Jack the Ripper.

Using the Collection

Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Restrictions on Access

This collection has no restrictions.

This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. Permission to publish material from the collection must be requested from the Curator of Manuscripts, Rare Book and Manuscript Library (RBML). The RBML approves permission to publish that which it physically owns; the responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); David Abrahamsen papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

Ownership and Custodial History

Gift of Dr. David Abrahamsen, 1982.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

Papers were reprocessed with additional accessions integrated in September 2009 by Lea Osborne.

Revision Description

2009-10-01 File created.

2009-10-06 xml document instance created by Lea Osborne

2011-04-21 xml document instance updated by Catherine C. Ricciardi

2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Drafts Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Personal correspondence Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Photographs Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Abrahamsen, David, 1903-2002 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Berkowitz, David Richard, 1953- Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Criminal psychology Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Murder -- Case studies Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Nixon, Richard M (Richard Milhous), 1913-1994 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Psychiatrists Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Biographical sketch

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.