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Paul Coates -- Confidential File, April 30, 1959

April 30, 2009 |  2:00 pm


Murdering Your Wife a High Misdemeanor

What Makes Man a Wife Murderer?


What makes men murder their wives? Perhaps you don't think the matter is especially pertinent to you personally, but let's talk about it anyway. After you finish reading, you can always draw your own conclusions.

It's usually taken for granted that such husbands are either insane or such dyed-in-the-wool criminals that they deserve to be executed.

Maybe their unfortunate wives were dutiful, loving women who stood by their husbands through all their troubles and tried to make men of them. And for all this, the wives were repaid for their sacrifices by finally being strangled or bludgeoned to death.

That's the common story and it's sometimes true. Psychiatrists, however, wondered whether it was the whole story. Two of them decided to try to find out.

Dr. Jacob Morgenstern and Dr. Albert A. Kurland, both with the state of Maryland, began to study the wife murderers and the wives they murdered. The psychiatrists sought out the relatives, the friends and neighbors of the victims to testify.

Most of these wives, they found, seemed at first sight to be admirable women who were putting up with unreliable, brutal, violent, or irrational husbands.

Further study, however, revealed that the husbands weren't like that before they married. Prior to their marriages, they had led sober and normal lives.

There were certainly great weaknesses in their personalities, but these might have been kept from coming to the surface if the marriages had been different. Indeed, the psychiatrists decided in these cases the husbands and wives were pretty well suited to each other.

They simply didn't know how to manage their marriages.

In many instances, the wives would depend on nagging instead of using [illegible] methods to repair [illegible]. They [illegible] ... resented this, the more martyred the wives became. Still the wives kept after the husbands. The men would resort to drink; the women would become increasingly frigid and hostile.

Things went from bad to worse. Feeling themselves to be failures, the husbands struck back at their wives by impulsively asserting their own power. And the net result would be swift and violent murder.

This may be an oversimplified picture of what these psychiatrists found and it may not apply to your marriage.

But the general conclusion of these psychiatrists applies to every marriage, namely, that when a marriage isn't going well, the couple should find a competent marriage counselor and get help in heading in the right direction and staying on the right track.

In a large number of cases, such a procedure could prevent divorce; sometimes it could even prevent murder. At least, that's what the two psychiatrists had to say. As I mentioned earlier in the column, you must draw your own conclusion.

In the meantime, I'll be glad to supply any reader with the name of a thoroughly competent marriage counselor near the reader's home. To get this information, simply send your request to me, c/o The Mirror News, Los Angeles, but please enclose a stamped return envelope.
Dr. Paul Popenoe, a colleague of mine whose wisdom appears regularly in the family section of this newspaper, has gone and done it.

In yesterday's editions he trod boldly on a topic which has been banned from respectable parlour conversation since as long as I can remember.

Which shows how keen my memory is. My family never even had a parlour. (And, if they did have one, they would have spelled it parlor, not parlour. They weren't folks to put on airs.)

In his usual breezy, frank, intimate manner of expression, the doctor discussed the pros and cons of murdering one's wife.

In an article headed "What Makes a Man Murder His Wife?" he began by pointing out that the questions is vital to every one of us.

"Perhaps you don't think the matter is especially pertinent to you personally," he prefaced his observations. But then he added, ominously:

"After you finish reading this article, then you can draw your own conclusions."

I was almost afraid to read on. But I did.

His point, as I get it, is that maybe my marriage, or your marriage, has had the symptoms all along and we've just overlooked them. Taken no positive action, if you know what I mean.

And don't give me that high-and-mighty look. You know what I mean.

The basic symptom, according to the doctor, is a nagging wife.

A study made by two psychiatrists whom he quoted revealed that most men who rub out their spouses were sober, likable individuals before they took the vows.

Average Joes just like you an me.

"There were certain great weaknesses in their personality," he admitted, "but these might have been kept from coming to the surface if the marriages had been different."

Trouble was, the wives simply didn't know how to manage their husbands. Instead of using constructive methods to improve them, they nagged.

Day in, day out.

Until finally, PFFT! No wife.

When I got that far along in Dr. Popenoe's frank discussion, I began to realize that he was performing a perilous but necessary public service.

If those were the only symptoms, it's time people were made aware.

In my personal case, fortunately, there's no problem. I'm not the type of man who lies around the house and lets his wife nag him.

In fact, I seldom go home.

But you. I'm worried about you. Any one of you is liable to have a murder rap hanging over you head tomorrow.

And this thing could spread into a very unpleasant epidemic.

Dr. Popenoe obviously deserves our thanks for bringing this touchy matter into the open.

How You Can Beat the Rap

And he's gone a step further. He also points out that not all husbands with nagging wives end up doing time. Some just slip out and drive to Reno. It's up to each reader to figure out his own solution.

But while you're thinking it over, Dr. Popenoe generously offers to supply you with the name of a thoroughly competent marriage counselor near your home. Write care of The Mirror News and enclose a stamped, self-addressed envelope.

And if that doesn't work, get in touch with me. I know a guy who knows a guy from out of town who works fast and clean and cheap and keeps his mouth shut.