Can You Hypnotize Person To Murder?
Saturday, December 6th, 1969
LOS ANGELES, Dec. 6 – Can a person under hypnosis be persuaded to commit murder?
A sampling of expert opinion, including that of a psychiatrist retained by counsel of one of the defendants in the Sharon Tate murder case, indicates:
1. No one can be hypnotized into doing anything that normally would be repulsive to them.
2. But they can be brainwashed — through fear, deprivation of food or by the use of “mind-bending” drugs such as LSD — to a point where they will do what they do not normally do.
The question of the power of hypnosis arose Friday when an attorney for Susan Denise Atkins, 21, claimed she was temporarily insane at the time actress Sharon Tate and four others were slain because she was “under the hypnotic spell” of Charles M. Manson, leader of a hippie-type group under investigation in the killings.
The possibility of such a line of defense in the bizarre case prompted a survey of psychiatrists and psychotherapists who have used hypnosis in their practice.
Said Dr. William J Bryan, head of the American Institute of Clinical Hypnosis, Beverly Hills, who said he has been retained by council for Linda Kasabian, 20, one of seven arrested or sought for investigation in the Tate case:
“If the defense is going to be hypnotism, I don’t think the defendants have a chance. No one can be forced under hypnosis to commit murder unless that capacity was already in their essential nature.
“But there is another, far more powerful influence which may be seen here — brainwashing. Under long-term confinement, deprivation and brutality, which I understand may have been operative in this case, suggestive influence may be brought to bear which will completely change a personality.
A victim of such treatment can be forced to commit a crime under duress.”
Bryan, a psychiatrist, said he had not yet talked with Mrs. Kasabian, but added: “If she were subjected to such conditions they could diminish her capacity to resist evil influence.”
Dr. John Woodbury, psychotherapist practicing in Granada Hills, a Los Angeles suburb, recalled that some of the defendants have been quoted as saying the group used LSD and said:
“This drug has been proven to have a powerful effect in deterioration of the personality. People who have used it are more likely to express any antisocial wishes buried in their unconsciousness. The user tends to think in a primordial, atavistic manner which may lead to behavior that society finds horrible and savage.”
Dr. Robert Litman, a Los Angeles psychiatrist, said news accounts of the case recalled the classical story of the evil Dr. Svengali who forced a hapless Trilby to do his bidding under hypnosis.
“It is a generally accepted conclusion that no one under hypnosis will go against his essential nature,” he said, but instead will come out of the trance. But if it is his essential nature, he may go along with suggestions to commit violence.
“We discount the Svengali influence these days, but it is entirely possible that a Trilby might somehow let a Svengali know of suppressed hatred for society and then excuse her actions by blaming them on him.”
Dr. Alexander Sweet, Beverly Hills psychiatrist, said “if a person has never committed violence, it is highly unlikely that he could be forced to do so under hypnosis.
“But if it is his nature to do violence he might easily do it again, perhaps impulsively, just to please the hypnotist, especially if the hypnotist has assumed the role of the father figure.”
By RALPH DIGHTON