Six Adoptees Who Murdered: Neuropsychiatric Vulnerabilities and Characteristics of Biological and Adoptive Parents

D. O. Lewis, C. A. Yeager, B. Gidlow and M. Lewis,
Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law 29(4): 390-397, 2001.
This article is the first to document the perinatal trauma and neuropsychiatric impairment of a sequential sample of male adoptees who committed murder. It also is the first to report objectively verifiable psychopathology and violence in their biological and adoptive parents. It explores the interaction of these variables in the genesis of violence. Subjects were six adopted murderers on whom data regarding biological and adoptive parents could be obtained. In all six cases, central nervous system (CNS) development was compromised in utero or perinatally. In adolescence and/or young adulthood, three met DSM-IV criteria for Bipolar Mood Disorder, one for Schizophrenia, and two for Schizoaffective Disorder. All subjects had at least one psychotic biological parent. In five cases, subjects were adopted into psychotic or violent households. There was no evidence of a specific "bad seed" for violence. Adoptees' intrinsic vulnerabilities to psychoses and to the impulsiveness and emotional lability often associated with early brain trauma, coupled with maltreatment, predisposed them to homicidal violence. As such, these subjects were similar to other extraordinarily violent, nonadopted, offenders. Conscious feelings regarding adoption did not contribute to the subjects' homicidal rages, so much as did conscious rage toward abusive, rejecting adoptive families.