Rare Book & Manuscript Library
 

David Abrahamsen papers, 1906-1990

Summary Information

Abstract

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 .
Access You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

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.

Arrangement

Arrangement

This collection is arranged in three series.

Description

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.

The papers relate primarily to the research and interviews which Abrahamsen conducted while writing Nixon vs. Nixon: An Emotional Tragedy, and to his close relationship and correspondance with convicted multiple murderer David Berkowitz. There are over 140 letters to Abrahamsen from Berkowitz, who was known as "Son of Sam" and the "44-Calibre Killer" for the succession of killings of young people in New York City in the mid-1970s.

The papers also reflect Abrahamsen's interest in psychologist Otto Weiniger, in politics (particularly Adlai E. Stevenson's 1952 campaign) and in other famous crimes such as the Leopold/Loeb kidnapping and murder of Bobby Franks.

  • 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

You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

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.

Accruals

Materials may have been added to the collection since this finding aid was prepared. Contact rbml@columbia.edu for more information.

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

Previously finding aid prepared by Mary B. Bowling, 1 March 1982. 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.

Genre/Form

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

Subject

Heading "CUL Archives:"
"Portal"
"CUL Collections:"
"CLIO"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
"ArchivedGRID"
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.

External users and Columbia affiliates may view materials on-site at RBML. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, only Columbia affiliates may view materials on-site at Avery, Starr, and Burke. After clicking 'Submit Request', users will login with their UNI and password (Columbia affiliates) or their special collections account (external users). Appointments are required and will be arranged according to each individual repository's policy.


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.


Berkowitz, David



Box 1 Folder 1 1979 February-July


Box 1 Folder 2 1979 August-1980 February


Box 1 Folder 3 1980 March-1981 January


Box 1 Folder 4 1981 February-August


Box 1 Folder 5 B, 1945-1947


Box 1 Folder 6 E through G, 1938-1949, 1957-1958, 1967, 1938-1949, 1957-1958, 1967


Box 1 Folder 7 L, 1945-1965


Box 1 Folder 8 M through O, 1945-1952


Box 1 Folder 9 S through T, 1945-1952, 1974, 1945-1952, 1974


Box 1 Folder 10 West, Jessamyn, 1974-1976

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.


Box 1 Folder 11 Columbia University Forum for the Study and Prevention of Crime, 1949


Box 1 Folder 12 Stevenson, Adlai, 1952-1953


Box 1 Folder 13 Weininger, Otto, 1906, 1929-1947, 1978, 1906, 1929-1947, 1978

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.


Subseries III.1: David Berkowitz, 1979

Interviews of David Berkowitz along with writings by him are held in this subseries.


Box 1 Folder 14 Childhood, 1979


Box 1 Folder 15 Starkweather Excerpts with Notes, 1979


Box 1 Folder 16 Interview, 1979 May 17


Box 1 Folder 17 Notarized Affidavits, 1979 May 17


Subseries III.2: Jack the Ripper, 1944-1990

The majority of the records in this subseries are drafts of Abrahamsen's manuscript. These drafts are heavily edited and illustrate the process Abrahamsen went through in order to create the final product. Correspondence with research institutions and medical doctors in England, research notes, and articles regarding personality and crime (many written by Abrahamsen) are also in this subseries.


Box 1 Folder 18 Articles, 1944-1952, 1982, 1944-1952, 1982


Box 1 Folder 19 Correspondence, 1988-1989


Drafts


Box 1 Folder 20 to 21 Chapters 1 through 3, undated, 1984, (2 Folders)


Box 1 Folder 22 Chapter 3, undated


Box 1 Folder 23 Chapter 4, undated


Box 1 Folder 24 Chapter 5, undated, 1989


Box 1 Folder 25 Chapter 6, undated


Box 1 Folder 26 to 27 Chapters 6 through 8, undated, (2 Folders)


Box 1 Folder 28 Chapter 7, undated


Box 1 Folder 29 Chapter 8, undated, 1990


Box 1 Folder 30 Footnotes, undated


Box 1 Folder 31 to 32 Research Files, undated, 1981-1990, (2 Folders)



Box 2 Subseries III.3: Nixon vs. Nixon , 1960-1977

Subseries III.3 is composed of research files with accompanying notes, correspondence with individuals who had some connection with Richard Nixon, early photographs of Nixon's family, and a draft of the manuscript with edits. Of interest are a series of interviews conducted by Abrahamsen with people who knew Nixon as a child and an adult, including a White House correspondent and Nixon's longtime campaign manager.


Box 2 Folder 1 Correspondence, 1975-1976


Box 2 Folder 2 to 4 Draft, 1977, (3 Folders)



Box 3 Nixon Film: 5 Five minute spots, undated, 1 film reels (16mm); 1-800ft reel, color, sound



Box 2 Folder 5 Interviews, 1975-1976


Box 2 Folder 6 Photographs, undated, 1960s-1970s, undated, 1960s-1970s


Box 2 Folder 7 Research Files, 1970s