Domestic Violence Lust Murder

A Clinical Perspective of Sadistic and Sexual Fantasies Integrated into Domestic Violence Dynamics

By Vernon J. Geberth, M.S., M.P.S.
Former Commander, Bronx Homicide, NYPD

Law and Order Magazine, November 2000 Vol. 48 No. 11

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In a sex related homicide inquiry the investigator examines the actions and activities of the offender with the victim during the crime to determine and interpret his “signature” and attempt to understand how the individual person’s mind “played-out” the sexual act. Clinically speaking, there is a very thin line between sexual fantasy and reality.


Sexual perversions are premeditated in the obsessive fantasies of the offender.  An offender who is not psychotic may experience a “psychotic episode” relating to a temporary condition brought on shortly or in response to an extreme stressor.  Sex is a stressor.


It is the author’s opinion that “When an individual becomes thoroughly vested in sexually sadistic fantasy and begins to draw and script these fantasies an insidious amalgamation develops in which fantasy and reality become blended.”




Domestic violence homicides are those murders that occur between men and women, husbands nd wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, boyfriends and boyfriends and girlfriends and girlfriend relationships.  In fact, any murder between intimate partners would be considered a domestic violence homicide.  They may also involve third party relationships, such as "love triangles" former husbands and/or wives, and jilted lovers.


The author classifies Domestic Violence murders as Interpersonal Violence Oriented Homicide.  They are the most prevalent form of sex related murder.   The rationale for classifying domestic violence as sex related is due to the fact that murder serves as the ultimate form of sexual revenge.  And, in many instances the homicides will include sexual assault or wound structures manifesting a sexual orientation.  (See LAW & ORDER Vol. 46 No. 11 November, 1998)


It is important to note that the motivation in an interpersonal violence oriented dispute may be obscured by what was done to the body of the victim, or how the crime scene was staged or changed.  Originally, what appeared to be a rape-murder, the work of a sexual psychopath, or a lust murderer is oftentimes based on interpersonal violence. The case cited in this article is a classic example of this phenomena.




Police Response

A thirty-seven year old woman named Susan was discovered murdered in her home by police who had responded to an emergency call.  Uniform police officers forced entry into the house, which was locked.  They determined that the female victim was in fact dead.  She had suffered numerous stab wounds to the frontal portion of her body.  While “clearing” the house to assure that there were no other victims or offenders, officers discovered her forty-three year old husband, named Frank in an upstairs bedroom. He was suffering from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound fired from a .25 Caliber automatic found next to his body.  He was nude from the waist down and had blood on his legs and genitals as well as his arms and hands.  He was rushed to a hospital where he died three days later from the head wound.


Susan had been shot four times in the chest with a .38 caliber handgun found at the scene and had been stabbed fifty-seven times with a large hunting knife, which protruded from her chest. She was pronounced dead at the scene.


According to the police report, Susan’s co-workers had become concerned when she failed to show for work.  They went to her house and after receiving no response looked into the front window and saw her nude body on the floor with a large hunting knife in her chest


Detective Investigation


This case presented as a Murder/Suicide. The murder weapon was a .38 Caliber revolver.  Apparently, Frank had shot his wife with the .38 revolver and then used a .25 Caliber semi-automatic to shoot himself.  Police recovered the murder weapon and the gun that the husband had used to shoot himself in the head.  In addition to these weapons Frank had a  .22 Caliber semi-automatic,  .380 and a .45 Caliber semi-automatic.  The police also recovered hundreds of drawings and paintings of nude women.  Frank had set-up an art studio in one of the bedrooms where he apparently would spend his time drawing and painting his fantasies.  According to friends and other family members the couple seemed happy and there was no history of domestic violence. However, clearly depicted in the crime scene photographs was Frank’s wedding ring jammed onto Susan’s nose.


Description of the Crime Scene


Susan’s body was in a supine position with her right arm extended above her head. North of her body was a chrome .380 Caliber semi-automatic.   Her legs were crossed and she was wearing high heel shoes.  However, the rest of the body was totally nude.  She suffered a number of stab wounds into her chest and breast. The stab wounds continued down her chest into her pubis and pelvic area and her throat was cut. Telephone cord had been wrapped tightly around her neck. The extensive blood around the victim’s body had been smeared. There were palm prints in the blood on the floor around the victim’s body.  There were also footprints through the blood from the husband’s feet and it was apparent that Frank had positioned his wife’s body in a pose similar to some of the drawings police recovered. Approximately eighteen of the stab wounds actually perforated her chest. The knife had literally been drilled into the linoleum floor after passing through her chest.


The hundreds of drawings and painting that police recovered depicted women with gunshot wounds and/or knife wounds to the breast and chest.  He also had a number of centerfold photos in which he had stabbed or cut through and then added blood marks with a red ink pen.  The injuries and mutilation of his wife’s body as well as the large knife protruding form her chest bore an eerie resemblance to the drawings and paintings that the police recovered from the scene.


Frank was in an upstairs bedroom.  His body was located between the right side of the bed and the wall.  He was nude from the waist down. Blood on his genital area, which later was determined to be Susan’s blood, would lead the consultant to conclude that he also attempted to engage in sexual activity with his wife.  He had an injury to the right side of his head from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.


There was a .25 caliber semi-automatic handgun found close to his body. This was the weapon he had used to shoot himself. One expended .25 Caliber casing was found on the floor west of the bed.  The .25 Caliber projectile was lying on the bed.  The phone in the bedroom was off the hook, lying in a puddle of blood.


There was a .38 Caliber revolver found approximately three feet from the foot of the bed. It was lying in a piece of glass and had four empty .38 Caliber shell casings with it.  Above the gun on the wall was a large poster-picture of a semi-nude woman dressed in a short black slip with one arm extended up and the other arm on her hip in a provocative pose. 


This poster-picture had been shot 15 times with both a .38 Caliber and a .380 Caliber through the chest area.  The bullets traveled through the wall of a bedroom closet. Detectives recovered a total of eight shell casings from a .380 Caliber semi-automatic, as well as, spent rounds from a .38 Caliber revolver and projectiles from the .380 Caliber semi-automatic in the immediate vicinity of this bullet punctuated poster-picture.  This indicated that this poster had been shot at prior to this event.  Investigatively speaking the most current shooting into the poster-picture most likely preceded the homicide.  In either event it certainly provided some insight into the pathological dynamics of the marriage.


Additional shell casings were found on the bed, floor and dresser.  To the right of the headboard was the .25 Caliber semi-automatic handgun.  Detectives also discovered a black briefcase.  This briefcase contained two additional weapons.  There was a .45 Caliber semi-automatic and a .22 Caliber revolver along with numerous unexpended rounds of ammunition.  To the north of the first bedroom (Northwest corner of the house) was a second bedroom.  This room was undisturbed.  In the Northeast corner of the house was the husband’s art studio.  On a dresser was an empty knife sheath consistent with the knife used on Susan.




Susan was thirty-seven years old and married for the second time.  Frank was forty-three years old.  He had been married twice before.  Susan had a full-time job and worked everyday to help support her husband.  Frank drifted from job-to-job working as a male model and dance instructor.


Susan had been married to Frank for approximately three years.  Family and friends were seemingly unaware of any problems or incidents of domestic violence.  Susan had lived in the house prior to her marriage to Frank.  Following their marriage, Frank and Susan took over the mortgage on the house.


Friends described Susan as totally opposite from Frank.  She was very down-to-earth and quiet, perhaps somewhat passive.  Frank was very hyperactive. He wasn’t afraid to state his opinions and was considered as flashy.  Frank taught dancing lessons. Susan attempted to assist her husband by also working with him in an effort to assist him in his business. Detectives interviewed one person who stated that Frank was extremely intense about the dancing lessons and would chastise his wife severely if she made an error while dancing.  This witness told police that Frank controlled Susan, who acted subservient.




Opinions of Interviewees

Police interviews of family and friends presented contradictory personalities.  Some persons who were interviewed considered him a passionate and emotional man. Others described Frank as angry.  Susan provided him much affection.  Based on further investigation it was learned that neither his second wife nor his mother provided Frank with much love or nurturing. Ironically, Frank never got over his emotional attachment to his second wife. In fact it was a known fact that Frank considered her “The love of his life.” He had often expressed this to his wife, Susan.


Several others who were interviewed found him to be effeminate due to a display of many feminine mannerisms.  One acquaintance described Frank as having a “Hollywood” life style.  He was very open-minded concerning sexual matters, outgoing and talkative.  Other individuals who were interviewed stated that Frank drank excessively.  He did not have a criminal record but did have a complaint lodged against him by his former wife for domestic abuse. The charge was dismissed when they were divorced.


It was also learned that Frank boasted that while he was at Kent State the CIA had recruited him.  He told people that he had been part of a CIA Assassination Team operating in South America. He told others that he had martial arts training and owned a number of guns.  He bragged about owning a .25 Caliber Baretta, a .45 or 9mm semi-automatic and a .38 Caliber or .357 Caliber revolver as well as shotgun and an assault rifle.  He also proclaimed he could kill someone and get away with the murder without getting caught.


Frank, who claimed to be a model, also boasted of other exploits, including his appearance in an episode of “Miami Vice.”  In fact, he had held four separate jobs.  He also tried to form his own company with his wife’s assistance.  As a result of his unsuccessful business ventures the couple was experiencing financial difficulties.


Family members, interviewed stated that Frank was a fairly good artist who concentrated on drawing well-endowed naked women.  According to a female friend, Frank had told her he was beginning a project with another person. The project was to include drawings of various homicide scenes for a detective magazine. None of this was a reality.


Susan remained the primary breadwinner while Frank spent his days drawing pictures of nude women fantasizing and claiming he would soon be hired as a commercial artist. He also had taken over the second bedroom of the house as an art studio.


Susan’s father related the following to investigators.  Four days before the murder, Frank and Susan had a fight.  Frank told his father-in-law that Susan slapped him.  Frank slapped her back and she left the house.  Frank told him that they had been having financial problems and were behind on the house payments.  Investigation revealed that the couple was two months behind in their mortgage payments.  Frank also disclosed that he and Susan had been sleeping in separate bedrooms for approximately five months. 


Frank explained that he and Susan were having problems.  He mentioned that they were thinking about selling the house in the Spring.  It should be noted that Susan had lived in the house prior to marrying Frank and the house had been hers.


On the day of the murder Susan’s father received a call from Susan’s mother, his ex-wife.  She asked him to go and check on Susan.  She thought there was something wrong.  When he got to Susan’s house the police were already there.  The investigators interviewed Susan’s mother.  She stated that she had called Susan’s house 10 to 12 times and received a busy signal.  She then went to the house and knocked on the door several times.  She picked up the newspaper and placed it by the front door. She stated that she then walked around the house and looked in the window.  She observed a body on the floor, but thought it was Frank sleeping on the floor.  She then went to work and called Susan’s co-workers and her ex husband.     




The police investigation revealed the following information about the subject. As a child, his mother physically and sexually abused Frank.  He also witnessed domestic violence in his household as a child.  His father deserted him leaving the family because he couldn’t deal with his wife, who was domineering and psychologically abusive to him.  Frank worked from age 11 taking over his father’s position as the target of abuse. His mother basically controlled his life.


He was previously divorced and had remarried twice.  His first marriage lasted 10 to 11 years.  His first wife was a high school teacher.  This marriage ended in divorce. During these years, Frank had a drug problem necessitating hospitalization. His first wife denied any abusive behaviors.  However, Frank was controlling by nature, always wanting things his way. It was his idea to divorce.  Frank had told her that he no longer wanted to be married and wanted to date other women.  This is a prime example of an inability to commit to one individual in an intimate relationship.


He then began an eight-year relationship with his competitive ballroom dance partner Wendy.  After they married he discovered she was having an affair with another woman.  She was bisexual.  Their marriage lasted only eight months.


He had a serious drinking problem during most of his adult life. Frank used alcohol to numb out his thoughts and deal with his many losses. His best friend of fifteen years left the area.

His father died and the family estate was tied up. He lost contact with most of his friends when his ex-wife left.


He felt isolated and abandoned and once again betrayed.  He was eventually hospitalized for an attempted suicide.  He then married Susan, who had been married once before.  She was an old acquaintance.  During the three years they were married Frank started several business ventures.  He had even attempted to form his own company with his wife’s assistance but was unsuccessful.


The consultant reviewed numerous notes written by the subject as well as correspondence from his ex-wife that he secretly kept with his “art work.”  The subject would write out lists of his symptoms on notepaper. He kept these with his drawings.  He complained of insomnia, nervousness, general depression, disorientation, anxiety and fear, as well as nightmares and flashbacks.  The notes and lists, as well as the written correspondence he had had with his ex-wife display behaviors of a Mixed Personality Disorder.


His pathology is consistent with Child Abuse victims as they experience feelings of abandonment, betrayal, lack of trust, rage, chaos and isolation.  Frank’s psychosocial history would reveal a fragile individual, with a low self-esteem as well as grandiose patterns of behavior.




Wendy stated that they dated and lived together for about seven years before she married him.  She stated that Frank was the kind of man that needed and thrived on being well liked.  She described Frank as having a “Love-Hate” relationship with his mother.  Wendy stated that they were married only eight months.  She left him after he attacked her in their apartment.  She stated that they had had an argument over her going to school.  She walked away from him into another room.  She stated that he followed her and had a strange look in his eyes. 


Wendy stated that he appeared to be staring off into space.  Frank hit her and then began choking her.  He hit her again and she kicked him and ran from the apartment. She was treated at a local hospital and made a police report. Following this explosive episode, she moved out.


She stated that Frank had numerous pornographic tapes including bondage. She also stated he liked to take nude pictures of her, which she agreed to pose for.  She did not know that he had secretly videotaped them making love or that he secretly videotaped her she was taking a shower and getting dressed afterwards.


She was shocked when the detectives presented her with a photo of herself with numerous holes in it along with red paint on the holes simulating blood.  She told the detectives that she thought she had taken all of her photos when she divorced him. She stated that when they were together she didn’t remember any pornographic magazines in the house and Frank did not do any drawings like those found at the crime scene. However there were porn tapes featuring bondage scenarios.  She thought that he started getting stranger because he had a fascination with “slasher” type and bondage movies.  According to Wendy he was constantly watching them. 


She described her ex-husband as being dangerous and explosive. She said she was afraid of him.  Later on, after their divorce, Frank would call her and complain that he was having problems with Susan.  He stated that Susan wouldn’t talk to him and she would overreact to everything he did.




Frank had an art studio set up in the house containing hundreds of drawings and paintings.  In addition to these paintings he also had various fantasy stories on notepaper dealing with the CIA and sexual exploits.  He had also scripted some of his drawings revealing his psychosexual attributes.  In the opinion of the consultant, when someone begins to script his fantasy drawings they have become “vested” in the fantasy and have effectively created an engram, which allows them to reinforce a specific sexual fantasy.  (Geberth, 1996).  Furthermore, it is also the author’s opinion that if an individual has vested in sexually sadistic fantasies the fantasy drawings and scripts merge into an insidious relationship in which fantasy and reality become integrated into their everyday lives.


The constant theme that Frank scripted was one of sexual sadism with the infliction of pain and suffering on his models accompanied with their scripted pleas.  Much of his artwork was on poster paper measuring 2X 3 Foot.  The subject spent many hours with his hobby, which most probably caused a great deal of friction between him and his wife.


The police discovered 115 drawings and 105 photographs of nude women.  There were also 83 men’s magazines, including “High Society,” “Gallery,” and “Penthouse.” Many of the magazines had loose pages removed, including pictures of centerfolds with stab marks. Frank also maintained an extensive collection of VHS and BETA pornographic videotapes as well as 16-mm movies.


The numerous photographs of nude women from men’s magazines with knife holes and simulated bullet holes through the pictures obviously displayed his obsession of sexual mutilation of women.  He then added red magic marker as “blood” marks on the models.  He literally had stabbed through these photographs with a large knife. This very well could be the same knife, which was found in his wife’s chest. 


The drawings depict women with very large breasts, who have been shot or stabbed in the breast area.  The violence increases and progresses with multiple shots and cuttings. Inserted into the breasts he would draw knives, arrows, swords and darts, which represent phallic-like symbols.


In one of the more elaborate posters, a 2x3’ poster, he presents a series of 10 panels depicting a nude woman sitting in the tub; getting out of the tub; drying herself off; and dressing while a “shadow picture” of a voyeur is standing outside the bathroom window watching her.  The consultant’s opinion is that the shadow figure is actually the subject fantasizing about his own voyeuristic activities.  Remember, Wendy, wife #2, was secretly videotaped showering and getting dressed following the shower.


Some of the drawings have been scripted to satisfy his fantasies depicting women as whores being punished and killed.  There is a ritualistic and ceremonial context to the drawings, which indicate his rage and his desire to seek vengeance.  There is also a very prominent lesbian theme in the fantasy stories. 


The consultant found it extremely revealing that his drawings of the women for the lesbian theme were “true” blondes.  His former wife, who turned out to be bisexual, was also a “true” blonde. Many of his illustrations reflected his obsession with women who were “true” blondes represented by coloring the pubis area yellow. Two to three of the drawings and paintings of a woman with black hair being stabbed and or shot in the chest could have been Susan as they were depicted in the same way as her body was positioned and posed in the crime scene. 




The wound structures clearly indicate a psychosexual orientation consistent with anger, lust and rage. In fact, after the body was posed, in the position in which it was found, Frank then forced his wedding ring on to Susan’s nose. Although there wasn’t any official history of domestic violence, this behavior is a classic example of interpersonal violence. 


Based on my extensive experience as a homicide and forensic consultant, I am of the opinion that one cannot separate the sexual component from a domestic violence episode.  It is a manifestation of ownership and possession coupled with power and control.


Susan’s murder was a sex-related homicide with classic “overkill” injuries directed to significant sexual parts of the body.  The stabbing injuries into the breasts, chest and vagina along with the evisceration and slashing of the throat are consistent with the psychodynamics of sexual sadism. (Geberth, 1996)


The Consultant had the opportunity to review various pieces of the correspondence between Frank and his ex-wife as well as written materials and some personal papers.  In addition, I reviewed all of the photographs, drawings, paintings, sketches and fantasy stories that the authorities retrieved from the crime scene.


Frank’s psychosocial history coupled with the psychodynamics of the crime scene indicates that Frank could have been diagnosed with a Personality Disorder, which featured Obsessive-Compulsive Personality traits and Narcissistic traits.  Individuals who are obsessive-compulsive tend to display a preoccupation with mental and interpersonal control at the expense of their own flexibility, openness and efficiency.  They are compulsive, repetitious in behavior and practice rituals with lists etc. 


They are often self-critical. Frank had an obsession with nude women, which he drew and painted hundreds of times over.  He also kept all of his drawings. He could not set priorities.  He was prone to becoming angry, exploding when he felt he was unable to maintain control of his physical and interpersonal environment.  A prime example was the discovery of the poster-picture with the bullet holes fired through the wall. He was also narcissistic which were evident in the patterns of grandiosity in fantasy.  He had a grandiose sense of self-importance, exaggerated achievements and talents indicated by his several business ventures.  He also had the ideal love, Wendy, who he labeled “The love of his life.”  In fact, he had told Susan how important Wendy was to him.


 Frank was unable to hold on to one job and succeed.  He told people that he was recruited as a member of the CIA’s assassination team.  He also claimed that he was going to be hired as an artist to draw covers for a detective magazine etc.  He had a preoccupation with his fantasy of “power over women”.  He required excessive admiration.  He was unwilling to neither recognize the needs of others nor could relate to the feelings of others.  Frank was unwilling to accept responsibility for his failures and most likely considered Susan to be weak.


Frank dominated Susan and demanded complete control of the family finances.  Susan worked full-time and had a responsible position.  Overtly, Frank probably appeared to respect his wife’s ability to provide a steady income, which assisted him to launch his businesses and pay the bills.  Internally, Frank probably resented his wife’s stable position particularly in view of his lack of steady work.  Susan most likely complained about her husband’s unemployment and grandiose ideas of becoming a commercial artist.


It would be safe to say that when Susan came home from work and found her husband engrossed in his drawings and painting pictures of nude women there would most likely be an exchange of angry words.


I also speculate that Susan’s mother was aware of her daughter’s distress and was concerned about her safety and went to the house to check on her daughter. Actually, the investigation revealed that Sudan’s mom had gone to the house earlier when she did not receive an answer on the telephone.  (The newspaper had been picked-up and brought to the front door.) .  I believe that when Susan’s mom didn’t receive an answer at the door she looked in the window and saw what Susan’s co-workers had seen.  She most probably went into both shock and denial .   She immediately raced home and called Susan’s co-worker and beseeched them to go to her house.


Frank was discovered nude from the waist down with blood on his legs and genitals.  Susan was stripped of her clothing, with extensive and multiple stab wounds into her chest, breasts and genitalia.    

In reconstructing the crime scene with an analysis of the victimology and history of the participants I

would suggest that there was a sexual confrontation. 


Frank attempted to force his wife, whom he had not been sleeping with for months, into sexual relations.  Susan denied his demands. When she refused he became enraged and angry initiating his displeasure by firing the eight shots into the poster-picture.  Firing the gunshots “set the stage” for the escalation of his rage and anger.


In my opinion, during the course of this domestic argument with his wife Susan, Frank became

“out of control” and extremely agitated resulting in a Brief Psychotic Episode.  This acute psychotic reaction would clinically be described as a temporary break from reality. During this break Frank acted out his most primal and perverse sadistic fantasies.  These actions were apparently predicated upon a perverse fantasy system fueled by his involvement with his drawings and his sadistic pornography and reinforced by the scripted fantasy stories depicting sexual sadism.


Under certain conditions an otherwise “normal” individual may “act-out” his most bizarre and primal fantasies on a victim. The sexual mutilation of the genitalia and breasts of the female victim are typical occurrences in lust murders.  What is not typical is a domestic violence lust murder in which an offender acts out his most perverse and primal sexual fantasies on his wife’s body.  The crime scene was typically disorganized and the sexual mutilation of his wife’s body suggested a “Brief psychotic Episode.”  At some point thereafter, upon coming out of this state and returning to normal consciousness, he comprehended what he had done to his wife’s body and encountered the reality of his rage and anger. He then made a conscious decision to take his own life.  He took a gun and shot himself in the head.



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