#NonFicNov Review: Killer Instinct: Having a Mind for Murder by Donald Grant


Title: Killer Instinct: Having a Mind for Murder

Author: Donald Grant

Published: May 28th 2018, University of Melbourne Press

Status: Read November 2019


My Thoughts:

“The killer instinct is therefore alive and well—dormant and out of conscious awareness for the most part, but nevertheless exerting some influence over our attitudes and behaviour. At some deep level we are aware of our potential for violence.”

As a forensic psychiatrist, Donald Grant’s role is to assess the motives of an alleged offender and provide a report to the court on any relevant clinical issues that may affect trial, sentencing or parole. In Killer Instinct: Having A Mind for Murder, he presents ten murder cases in which he was involved, providing details of the crime/s, and his assessment of the alleged perpetrators state of mind based on case evidence and interviews.

All ten of the cases chosen for this book occurred during the last thirty years, and were tried in Queensland where Grant’s medico-legal practice is based. Given that in Australia the incidence of murder—the number of new cases per year—is relatively low (around one murder per 100 000 people) all of these cases have attracted media attention, so the reader may be familiar with the generalities, if not the details, though several were unknown to me.

Grant begins with arguably the most sensationalised case involving Tracey Wigginton, whom the media dubbed “The Lesbian Vampire Killer”. In 1989, Tracey stabbed Edward Baldock to death on the bank of Brisbane River, and claimed to have ‘fed’ on his blood. Identified and charged within days, questions quickly arose regarding Tracey’s mental health. Some months after her arrest, Grant was asked to provide his independent medico-legal opinion to the court, and shares his process as he determines if Tracey is entitled to a psychiatric defence relevant to the murder charge.

The other nine cases are presented in a similar fashion. Though the perpetrators in this book are all determined in a court of law to be responsible for the death of another, they are not all found guilty of murder. Some are ultimately convicted of manslaughter due to diminished responsibility, or are placed on a forensic order (ie. detained in a Secure Inpatient Psychiatric Service under the purview of The Mental Health Review Tribunal) due to a finding of unsoundness of mind. Grant has selected complex cases that illustrate murder committed for varying motives including Grant Meredith, who murdered at least one young woman to satisfy his sadistic sexual urges; Colin Wilson who ‘snapped’ and murdered his ailing mother before attempting suicide; and Melissa Englart who was suffering from an undiagnosed mental illness when she killed her husband.

Written in a straightforward and dispassionate manner, the author uses little in the way of jargon, though includes a glossary in case the need arises. Grant also includes some general chapters on the reasons why the public finds the details of crime entertaining (due to our suppressed killer instinct) and some information about the medico-legal distinctions of diminished responsibility and unsoundness of mind. I found these a little awkward, in both tone and placement.

However I found the cases, and Grant’s assessments, sufficiently detailed and interesting, providing intriguing insight into the actions of these killers. This book should satisfy those of us with a killer instinct, fans of the true crime genre, or those curious about the psychological motives of murder


Available from University of Melbourne Press

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Verushka, an editor (@SydneyEditor1)
    Nov 17, 2019 @ 21:08:15

    Whew. I find books like this absolutely fascinating. I like that he also doesn’t use jargon .

    Liked by 1 person


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  3. Tracey (Carpe Librum blog)
    Nov 19, 2019 @ 21:02:47

    This is really interesting, and I’m surprised he’s allowed to publish his assessments of patients and their state of mind in a book like this. Isn’t there some form of patient privacy to be observed, even if the report becomes public via the legal process? Collating and publishing them in a book to make money seems a bit crass, or have I misunderstood what a Forensic Psychiatrist is?



    • shelleyrae @ Book'd Out
      Nov 20, 2019 @ 00:09:57

      In these cases Grant is an independent forensic psychiatrist employed by the court. He has no therapeutic relationship with the person he is assessing so there is no right of confidentiality. His reports become part of public record when they are submitted, and his interviewees (and their lawyers) are aware and can refuse to participate.. He does state in some instances he has changed the names of some who are tangential to the case.
      My understanding is forensic psychiatrists employed by a lawyer on behalf of their client would be bound by patient confidentiality however, and their reports do not become public record.



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