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Adoption and Murder (From Advances in Psychology and Law, P 274-280, 1997, Santiago Redondo and Vicente Garrido, et al., eds. -- See NCJ-175532)

NCJ Number
P D Jaffe
Date Published
7 pages
This paper examines the links between adoption, psychopathology, and crime, notably an adopted child's killing of one or both parents.
Adopted children not only tend to come from and go to parents that typically are wrestling with debilitating psychological problems, but the adopted child faces, even in the best possible scenario, a lifelong task of integrating complex issues regarding personal identity. These factors may help explain why adoptive families and adopted children are frequent consumers of psychotherapy and psychiatric treatment services. Two influential studies make a case for genetic factors as influential in the behavior of adoptees. First, on the link between adoption and crime, research by Mednick, Gabrielli, and Hutchings (1984) shows that if neither the biological parents nor the adoptive parents are criminal (as defined by court convictions), 13.5 percent of adopted sons turn out to be criminals. If the adoptive parents qualify as criminal but the biological parents do not, this figure increases slightly to 14.7 percent; however, if the biological parents, but not the adoptive parents, qualify as criminal, 20 percent of their sons turn out to be criminal. The rate is even higher (approximately 24 percent) if both the biological parents and the adoptive parents qualify as criminal. These findings are significant only for property crimes, not for violent crimes. Using the same adoption data, Moffit (1987) investigated adoptees whose biological parents suffered from a mental disorder and had been convicted of criminal acts as well; findings are similar to the previous study. Various study findings show that the killing of adoptive parents by an adopted child is a rare event, as is parental homicide by biological children. Apparently, however, patricide and matricide by adopted children is a more frequent phenomenon than suspected. Kirschner (1992), among other researchers, implies that a disproportionate number of adoptees commit generic homicides. He also contends that a disproportionate number of multiple and serial killers are adopted. The author of this paper advises that although adopted children commit murders more often than commonly believed, there is resistance to making an issue of this fact. This may be because of the secrecy associated with many adoptions and the failure of criminal justice agencies to record the nature of an offender's family background. From a legal posture, an adopted child is simply the child of his adoptive parents. This paper includes a case study of a boy who killed his adoptive father and almost did the same to his adoptive mother; it illustrates how the psychodynamics of adoption are easily overlooked in forensic mental health evaluations. 5 references