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Sexual Murder: Catathymic and Compulsive Homicides

2003 Edition, August 26, 2003

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Active, Most Current

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ISBN: 978-0-8493-1130-7
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Product Details:

  • Revision: 2003 Edition, August 26, 2003
  • Published Date: August 26, 2003
  • Status: Active, Most Current
  • Document Language: English
  • Published By: CRC Press (CRC)
  • Page Count: 417
  • ANSI Approved: No
  • DoD Adopted: No

Description / Abstract:


When I received my doctorate in clinical psychology in 1981, I was already enamored with the world of criminal forensics. The popular television fare of "Investigative Reports," the "New Detectives," "Forensic Files," and "CSI" were still years away, but I picked up a book that profoundly shaped my intellectual journey: Psychopathology of Homicide by Eugene Revitch and Louis B. Schlesinger. It was a classic.

Drs. Revitch and Schlesinger had set aside descriptive diagnoses and instead developed a motivational model to help understand why people intentionally kill each other. The reasons for murder are always overdetermined, but here were two gentlemen who proposed an elegant schematic that ranged from purely situational causes for killing to the unconscious psychodynamics of certain murders which appear, at first glance, to be inexplicable. I soon came to learn that Dr. Revitch was a distinguished forensic psychiatrist and had pioneered some of the earliest investigations of the sexual killing of women. One of his first papers, "Sex murder and sex aggression," was printed in 1957 in the Journal of the Medical Society of New Jersey.

I was equally impressed with the work of Dr. Schlesinger, a student of Dr. Revitch's, and my propensity to idealize authorities in the field as a young psychologist was bolstered by his subsequent work, particularly in the area of "catathymia," a word quite foreign to me at the time. Dr. Schlesinger does not know this, but I was deeply honored when I finally met him several years ago when he attended a workshop I was giving. We are great sources of intellectual stimulation for each other, and our mutual respect continues.

Sexual Murder: Catathymic and Compulsive Homicides will take its place alongside Cleckley's Mask of Sanity, Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis, and Ressler et al.'s Sexual Homicide: Patterns and Motives as a classic in our specialized field of criminal forensic psychology. This is not marketing hyperbole, and as an expert witness, I hope the foundation for my opinion is persuasive.

Unlike most contemporary forensic psychiatry and psychology research, which is largely descriptive and behavioral, Dr. Schlesinger is interested in the inner life of the sexual murderer. Although his internal world may be populated by sexually violent and bizarre fantasies that are anathema to the conscious sensibilities of most individuals - although they are readily sought by many of these same people in their local cinema - an in-depth understanding of the sexual murderer depends on our ability to tolerate and explore his subterranean landscape. If we have no understanding of his drive derivatives, affects, defenses, and compromise formations, how can we fathom his acts?

Our present psychological operations, however, do not function in a vacuum. They are a product of history and development, and this is another area in which Dr. Schlesinger finds answers to questions that disturb and frighten most people: Why would anyone be sexually aroused by violence? How could anyone contemplate, let alone commit, such horrendous acts? We live our histories, whether we are the products of healthy parents who do not abuse, neglect, or sexually titillate, or we are the products of so-called parents who do.

Dr. Schlesinger also emphasizes the importance of psychological testing and measurement among those who commit sexual murder. Although sometimes derided, particularly by some forensic psychiatrists who may find test data threatening, standardized measures provide for us an objective reference point with which to compare the results of our individual subject. This is the only truly scientific way in which we can speak to abnormality as deviation rather than moral failing. One of our Rorschach discoveries when we studied a large sample of sexual murderers was the inordinate number of feral movement responses they would give. These responses have been validated as measures of nonvolitional ideation in response to physiological arousal in other populations, but it became for us another way of defining obsessional thought in response to aggressive and sexual feelings among sexual murderers. We thus discovered, quite serendipitously, the first standardized psychological data that supported the clinical finding which had been noted over the past century of obsessional thinking in some sexual murderers.

Data without a theory, however, are just numbers. Dr. Schlesinger's writing in this book also emphasizes the importance of theory in understanding sexual murder. Theory shapes the pursuit of data, and data in turn modify theory. This is the scientific dynamic that is kept alive by nurturing a theory of mind along with the collection of empirical measures. Dr. Schlesinger and I share the same perspective. The most comprehensive theory for understanding sexual murder is psychoanalytic, which in its many contemporary forms still acknowledges two fundamental tenets of Freud: human behavior is overdetermined and often motivated by unconscious aspects of the mind. How can we understand sexual murder if we assume all human behavior is rational and cognitive?

Throughout this book, Dr. Schlesinger underscores the importance of case studies . The individual case study holds an honored position in psychiatry and psychology, and most of the important discoveries in our field began with the observation of one individual doing something that caught a researcher's eye. Comparative group studies usually follow, but now most of our journals err in relegating the case study to a "letter to the editor." As Hans Eysenck, the great British psychologist, noted a half century ago, idiographic and nomothetic approaches share equal importance in the study of human behavior. Without the case study, we cannot appreciate the uniqueness of each individual. In my forensic evaluations of sexual murderers over the years, I have always been struck by how different each case is, yet how homogenized the public perception of the sexual murderer is. The brilliance of Anthony Hopkins notwithstanding, most sexual murderers would not stand out in a crowd, yet they each bring their own unique and private fantasies and perversions to the crime.

The final aspect of Dr. Schlesinger's work that is most enviable is his development of a motivational model for understanding sexual murder, which depends on his earlier work with Dr. Revitch on compulsive and catathymic homicides. This book, Sexual Murder: Catathymic and Compulsive Homicides, is a brilliant integration and application of previous theory and research, and advances the field of criminal forensic psychology. Amidst the words and images that follow, we move closer to grasping the mystery posed by William Shakespeare over four centuries ago: "One sin, I know, another doth provoke; murder's as near to lust as flame to smoke" (Pericles, I, 1).