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Weapon Usage in Attempted and Completed Parricides in Nineteenth-Century America: An Archival Exploration of the Physical Strength Hypothesis

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The “physical strength hypothesis” (PSH) predicts that where there is the greatest discrepancy in size and strength between offenders and victims, the former will use superior weaponry (e.g., firearms) to overcome structural imbalances against the latter. Using archival data from the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune, 1851–1899, this paper examines the weapons used in attempted and completed parricides in nineteenth-century America. Findings indicate that parricide offenders used firearms most frequently against their fathers while intimate contact methods were used against mothers. When gun usage was combined with level of intent in male offender patricides, where the greatest discrepancy in strength was expected, results indicate that spontaneous gun usage outnumbered premeditated gun usage, thus challenging the assumptions of the PSH. The data suggest that cultural factors such as methods of dispute resolution, weapon carrying, and alcohol consumption may be important factors in understanding parricides.
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Keywords: forensic science; matricide; parricide; patricide; physical strength hypothesis; weapon usage

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Criminology & Criminal Justice, Indiana State University, 242 Holmstedt Hall, Terre Haute, IN 47809.

Publication date: 2010-01-01

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