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At a Glance
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.
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.
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.
Identification of specific item; Date (if known); David Abrahamsen papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.
Materials may have been added to the collection since this finding aid was prepared. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org 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
Previously finding aid prepared by Mary B. Bowling, 1 March 1982. Papers were reprocessed with additional accessions integrated in September 2009 by Lea Osborne.
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.
History / 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.