The Las Vegas Mass Murderer's Motive: A Psychoanalyst Explains

On October 1, 2017, America was stunned by the horrible mass murder in Las Vegas. The lengthy search for the murder's motive most likely ends in the bitter unconscious severe neurotic conflicts of Stephen Paddock's troubled mind. His obsessive-compulsively planned mass murder seemed intended to make his father's life of petty crime look like peanuts in comparison. Psychodynamically, Paddock’s horrendous act was an ultimate fantasied oedipal victory.  As noted by Dave Phillips and Mathew Haag’s perceptive New York Times article of October 2, 2017, Benjamin Hoskins Paddock, Stephen Paddock’s father, was a grifter, con artist, bank robber and jail-breaker who spent years on the FBI’s most wanted list.

Stephen Paddock's 2010 passport

On the surface, Stephen Paddock’s record had not a hint of criminality until his ghastly mass murder. As many narcissistic criminals do, however, Stephen Paddock thought he would get away with his record-breaking lone career -- crime. Stephen likely fantasied that his ultimate powerful crime would dwarf his father’s failed life of small-fry crimes. In his unconsciously motivated final neurotic act, Stephen would try to resolve the inner smoldering life-long shame and humility caused by his father’s more than embarrassing arrest

Stephen Paddock’s severe neurosis and neurotic character disorder was behind his horrible mass murder. Not a brain tumor, not substance abuse, not genetics, but rather, psychodynamics of a neurosis. Neurosis is not always merely mild anxiety that responds to supportive psychotherapy and tranquilizers. Neurosis can occur in CEOs of major businesses, world leaders with control of nuclear bombs, and mass murderers.

Stephen Paddock’s neurosis was an important source of his motivation to commit mass murder. A key element resides in Stephen Paddock’s relationship with his father -- or a painful lack of such a relationship. Defective, destructive fathers as role models can lead to painfully distorted internalized motivating presences. Bright perceptive sons try to connect the dots of identification to seek their strong fathers-themselves.

How a Good Father Provides for a Boy and Young Man

In contrast to fatherly absence, abandonment, psychopathic role modelling, or neglect, a psychologically healthy and loving father gives his son an adult male role model to identify with at both conscious and unconscious levels. Pat did not give such to Stephen.

If the relationship between a boy and a father (or father surrogate) is solid, the young man will learn how to develop a healthy relationship to authority. A son can avoid fixation on a bad father by insightful rejection of his father as a role model and finding another man with whom to identify. The inner confidence in one’s own authority allows a young man to be assertive but not destructive or exploitive like Stephen Paddock and his father.

The Dots Stephen Paddock Mind Gradually Connected

Stephen Paddock was seven in 1960 when F.B.I agents stunned the neighbors and local sheriff in Tucson. They arrested Pat Paddock, a jolly father of four young sons and the owner of a local garbage disposal business. Pat Paddock ironically counseled wayward youths. Pat’s real name was Benjamin Hoskins Paddock, a serial bank robber.

On the jolting day of Pat Paddock’s arrest, friends and relatives tried to protect Stephen and his younger brothers. As the F.B.I. searched through their home, a neighbor took Stephen, age seven, (“The only one of the brothers old enough to know what was going on!” according to neighbors), to a neighborhood swimming pool. According to the local paper the neighbor said, “We’re trying to keep Steve from knowing his father is held as a bank robber… Steve is a nice boy.” Nice perhaps, but bright enough to connect dots around the failed attempts at enabling Steve’s denial of paternal reality.

For years after Pat Paddock’s arrest, the Paddock boys were told their father died in an accident working on cars. The Paddock boys never knew that their dad had robbed two banks in Phoenix in 1959 and 1960. In 1961, Pat Paddock was sentenced to twenty years in prison. He escaped from prison and subsequently robbed a bank in San Francisco. Pat Paddock’s fame was found in making the FBI most wanted list.

Stephen Paddock’s youngest brother Eric told reporters that their father was largely absent from their lives. He said they never talked about their father. Patrick Paddock said that he and his brothers had anger they “had to manage.” In Patrick’s case, though, seventeen years in the USAF  apparently processed his anger via sublimation during his military service.

. Patrick said that Stephen seemed the least effected and was the most boring and least violent one!  Really?

Stephen Paddock had apparently moved on in his life to be very successful financially. He did well in jobs with the IRS and real estate, and was a highly successful gambler. His psychologically isolated but successful obsessive-compulsive mechanisms served him well in his work, his gambling and extensive gun collecting. It seems unlikely that a bright man like Paddock wasn’t curious about his father. He likely said to himself, “I will never hurt inside for the lack of money.” “I will show Dad!”


Behind the lonely, quiet, externally successful, “least violent one,” according to his brother Patrick was a neurotic time bomb. Stephen Paddock was a bright, perceptive man who never resolved his shame, rage and embarrassment about his father. He accumulated resentment, unhappiness and inner shame. Mere financial success was not enough. His obsessional mechanisms turned from ordinary gambling to the ultimate gamble of a mass murder.  Stephen Paddock acted out resentment at ordinary happy people enjoying themselves at a concert. He showed them all…especially the memory of his father whose age of death Stephen was now approaching.

The lengthy search for the murder's motive ends in the unconscious neurotic conflicts of Stephen Paddock's troubled mind. His mass murder seemed intended to make his father's life of petty crime look like peanuts in comparison. In his unconsciously-motivated final neurotic act,

 Stephen would try to resolve the inner smoldering life-long shame and emptiness caused by his father’s more than embarrassing arrest.  Paddock’s victims were the hated and resented happy normal individuals and families at a fun concert. Like some modern fantasied Icarus, Paddock flew beyond his father’s meager criminal wings to get too close to the ultimate heat of infamy’s blazing sun.

Peter Olsson was an assistant professor of psychiatry at Dartmouth Medical School and an adjunct professor of clinical psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. He retired from active clinical work to write full time in September 2011. Olsson received the Judith Baskin Offer Prize in 1980 for his paper, "Adolescent involvement in Cults and the Supernatural". Dr. Olsson is a Fellow of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and a distinguished life fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. For his publications see the Olsson website.

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