Early life and education
Abrahamsen was born in Trondheim, Norway in 1903. He studied medical science at the Royal Frederick University in Oslo and was graduated in 1929. He eventually relocated to England, taking positions at the Tavistock Clinic and the London School of Economics.
He moved to the United States in 1940 and joined the staff at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, D.C. Later he served as a psychiatrist and criminal psychopathologist at two major prisons in the U.S., first the Illinois State Penitentiary in Joliet, and then the Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, New York. He also worked for the New York State Psychiatric Institute at Columbia University, and served as a teacher and research associate at Columbia's College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Abrahamsen belonged to one of the oldest families of Jewish settlers in Norway, and his heritage informed the writing of his first book, I Am a Jew, which described and compared the traditional Norwegian and Jewish ways of life.
Abrahamsen's paper, A Study of Lee Harvey Oswald: Psychological Capability of Murder, was published in the Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, in October 1967. His book, Our Violent Society, came out in 1970, a Funk & Wagnalls' publication.
Abrahamsen's expertise in psychopathology was enlisted by authorities during the notorious Son of Sam serial murder case: when the killer, David Berkowitz, was finally in custody, Abrahamsen was directed by the Brooklyn District Attorney to evaluate his ability to stand trial. He deemed him competent, but Berkowitz never went to trial, pleading guilty instead and receiving multiple life sentences. Abrahamsen continued to examine Berkowitz in jail, and ultimately documented his life in Confessions of Son of Sam (1985).
Abrahamsen suspected Prince Albert Victor and James Kenneth Stephen worked as a collaborating team to commit the Jack the Ripper murders. The book was criticized for providing no solid evidence.
Columbia University Library maintains a trove of research notes, drafts, correspondence and articles written by Abrahamsen on topics of criminals and criminality.
- Crime and the Human Mind (1944)
- The mind and Death of a Genius (1946)
- The Psychology of Crime (1967)
- Our Violent Society (1970)
- The Murdering Mind (1973)
- The Mind of the Accused: A Psychiatrist in the Courtroom (1983)
- Confessions of Son of Sam (1985)
- Murder and Madness: Secret Life of Jack the Ripper (1994)
- Honan, William H. (May 22, 2002). "Dr. David Abrahamsen, 98; Wrote About 'Son of Sam'". The New York Times. New York: The New York Times Co. Retrieved March 13, 2016.
- The Murdering Mind, David Abrahamsen, Harper & Row, 1973, 21.
- "Murder and Madness: The Secret Life of Jack the Ripper". Publishers Weekly.
- "Murder and Madness: The Secret Life of Jack the Ripper". Casebook.
- Newton, Michael. (2013). The Texarkana Moonlight Murders: The Unsolved Case of the 1946 Phantom Killer. McFarland. p. 149 ISBN 978-0-7864-7325-0 "An odd hybrid theory, published by forensic psychiatrist David Abrahamsen in 1992, cast Eddie and Stephen as collaborating team killers... [However] Dr. Abrahamsen failed to produce any solid evidence connecting either suspect to the Ripper's crimes."
- "David Abrahamsen papers, 1906–1990". Columbia.edu. Columbia University Libraries. 2016. Retrieved March 13, 2016.