No. VI (1974)

Homicide in Poland in the Years 1951-1971 and the Offenders in the Light of Court Records (Summary of the Investigation)

Published 1974-09-01


  • homicide,
  • Poland,
  • offenders,
  • court records

How to Cite

Janowska, H. (1974). Homicide in Poland in the Years 1951-1971 and the Offenders in the Light of Court Records (Summary of the Investigation). Archives of Criminology, (VI), 179–187.


Summary of the Investigation


  1. This study is devoted to an analysis of homicide in Poiand during the 20 years 1951-1971 as compared with the pre-war period. This part of investigation is based on data taken from the police and prosecutor’s office statistics from before the war and for the years 1951-1971. The analysis deals also with the court records’ data on 308 offenders convicted for homicide throughout the country in the year 1961. The offenders represented almost all the persons convicted during that year for crimes covered by Arts. 225, paras 1 and 2 of the Penal Code of 1932. As many as 75 per cent of them were convicted for committed and 25 per cent for attempted homicides.
  2. The incidence of homicide was during the pre-war period more than five times that during the 25 years after the war. The social reasons for this phenomenon undoubtedly involve the important socio-economic and cultural transformations which have taken place in the country since the war. The diminished frequency of acts of homicide was brought about by changes in the social structure, an increase in the range of values made universally accessible, a rising level of culture and education, and changes in certain behavioural patterns.
  3. As between pre-war times and the last few years, a significant dynamic aspect in the territorial distribution of homicide has been noticeable; fundamentally, this is a change in the trend of dependence between the rate of homicide and the level of industrialization and urbanization.

In the years 1935-1937, this dependence was negative, the greatest rate of homicide being recorded in the economically backward regions of eastern and southern Poland.

In the years 1956-1962, this dependence persisted but at the same time the highest coefficient of homicide was noted in areas with an extremely high level of industrialization. In the years 1963-1965 there was an interdependence between the homicide rate and the low level of industrialization and urbanization; the highest coefficient of these crimes appears at that time in voivodeships marked by a high ‒ or an extremely low ‒ level of industrialization and urbanization.

In recent years, 1969-1971, the dependence between the homicide rate and the low level of industrialization and urbanization further decreased, but the dependence of the high coefficient of homicide on the high level of industrialization became still more obvious.

  1. The highest homicide rate before the war in markedly agricultural areas of what was then called Poland “B” is to be linked with, above all, the influence exerted by such factors as: low level of economic development of these regions, low level of culture and education, the local type of social bonds, favouring ‒ in the then existing conditions ‒ lynch law, the spread of models called “subculture of aggression”.

The fact that after the war (with a coefficient of homicide less than one-fifth of the former) a relatively higher coefficient of homicide remained unchanged in the eastern voivodeships is to be connected, above all, with residues of the pre-war situation which were of a cultural nature and whose influence ‒ because of the urbanization of rural culture ‒ was expected to diminish. This hypothesis finds confirmation in the results of the analysis of statistitical data for the years 1956-1971 related to the dynamic changes in the territorial distribution of homicide.

Analyzing the reasons for a greater homicide rate in the western voivodeships, and even of tendencies indicating increase in the homicide coefficient in these areas, primarily taken into account should be the enormous intensification of social migration processes and the rapid rate of industrialization and urbanization of these regions.

As regards the first of these factors, it should be borne in mind that the coefficient of homicide in the various voivodeships is greater in voivodeships with a higher percentage of people frorn those areas of Poland which before the war were known for a high coefficient of the crime of homicide.

  1. In conditions inevitably giving rise to social frustrations, there is an increased probability of homicide by people with certain psycho-social features. It should be emphasized that the offenders examined were in the majority of cases individuals marked by serious personality disorders and not having had even primary school education or any professional qualifications. Not without significance seems to be the fact that the overwhelming majority of such came from environments where aggressive behavioural patterns had been widespread.

The indirect influence of social factors on the frequency of homicide seems to be insignificant in the case of people who commit such a crime in states of mind definable as psychotic, giving rise to irresponsibility. This assumption found confirmation in data from some other countries indicating that during a period when there is an increase in homicide, no increasing number of homicides by mentally ill people is to be observed. There seems, however, no doubt as to the influence of factors of a social nature on homicide by people who are not mentally sick but suffer from psychic anomalies. Among offenders examined by court psychiatrists (70.4% of the total in the court record material studied) 69.8 had psychic anomalies of various kinds; this fact is to be connected with their difficulties in social adjustment as well as with violent, extremely aggressive reactions to frustrating situations.

  1. Analyzing by comparison with the years before the war, the structure of motives for homicide, on the basis of court records, it was found that in the categories of motives differentiated in pre-war works by P. Horoszowski, the following changes have taken place as regards the number of convictions for homicides with given motives. The annual number of convictions for homicide with economic motives decreased five times (by approximately 300 cases); homicides for erotic motives less than two and a half times (by approximately 100); in defence of honour and person ‒ five times (by over 500); and infanticide ‒ also five times (by about 70).

Examining the structure of motives for homicide ‒ i.e., the proportional share of convictions appropriate to the various categories ‒ it was found that the number of convicted offenders decreased by 7% as regards economic motives and defence of honour and person, and increased by about 14% in the category of homicides with erotic motives, while the percentage of convictions for child murder remained in the general structure of motives unchanged.

Although the results of research on court records of one year are in principle insufficient as a basis for generalization in regard to a longer period of time, nevertheless we feel justified in generalizing the basis of statistical data supplied by the police. Such data enables the statement that there is a similarity between the average annual number of cases of homicide in the various categories of motives for the years 1962-1964 and 1968-1970. Since, moreover, the all-over number of cases of homicide for those years also reveals similarities, it may be concluded that the structure of motives for homicide in those periods was relatively stable.

Changes in the structure of motives for homicide since the war period may, as compared with the pre-war period be attributed primarily to the changes in the structure of classes and strata in Poland and to changes in the hierarchy of socially accepted values.

  1. The typology of motives for homicide followed F. Horoszowski’s typology, which served as a basis for analysis of court records before the war but had to be extended for the purpose of this work. An effort has been made to find out whether offenders prompted by different motives differ essentially in respect to socio-demographic and psycho-social features.

It was found that offenders, whether prompted by economic or erotic motives, or acting in defence of their personal dignity, etc., did not differ essentially as regards the features indicated above. But such differences can be observed when in the grouping of cases account is taken of, in addition to the motive for a crime, the objective situation on the background of which such motive took shape.

Typotogy of the material examined, developed as indicated, led to the establishing of the following groups:

(1) homicide in defence of personal dignity, arising out of a serious, developing conflict between the offender and the victim (26 cases);

(2) homicide in defence of personal dignity, arising from a momentary, trivial conflict caused by the insobriety of the offender (40 cases);

(3) homicide in defence of personal dignity during a brawl arising out of a trivial, passing conflict, caused by the insobriety of the offender (21 cases);

(4) homicide for erotic reasons, arising out of the victim’s failure to satisfy the slayer’s emotional expectations (excluded are marital conflicts, caused by the slayer-husband’s alcoholism) ‒ 32 cases;

(5) homicide with erotic motives connected with marital conflict, arising out of the slayer-husband’s alcoholism (32 cases);

(6) homicide with erotic motives, to eliminate someone who constituted an obstacle to the offender’s realization of a plan to marry (18 cases);

(7) homicide with economic motives arising out of claims to property (36 cases);

(8) homicide with economic motives with intent to rob (29 cases);

(9) homicide in self-defence or in defence of intimates (27 cases);

(10) homicide to eliminate a witness to another crime committed by the offender (6 cases);

(11) child-murder, as a rule of illegitimate infants, for various motives (23 cases), (a) by women (17 cases), (b) by men (6 cases);

(12) homicide with pathological motives, arising out of a pathological reaction to intoxication (12 cases);

(13) murder with pathological motives, arising out of a pathological way of achieving sexual satisfaction (6 cases).

Note that the homicide category with the largest number of cases is that in defence of personal dignity (over 28%), including homicide for trivial reasons, a momentary confiict, arising out of the slayer’s being intoxicated (in police statistics such homicides figure as “hooligan”' killings; in literature ‒ often as “homicide arising from alcoholic motive”).

Of the total of slayers examined, 90% were men. Of those ‒ 51% were under 30 years of age, and of female slayers ‒ 47%.

41% of male and 61% of the female offenders were single.

From among male offenders 60% of them lived in the countryside, and from among female ones ‒ 63%.

As many as 58% of offenders of both sexes had failed to complete primary school education (56% of men and 72% of women).

Only 7% of the male and 9% of the female offenders were white collar workers.

  1. Analysis of the symptoms of social degradation among homicidals, showed that in only half of the cases was there evidence of intensification of such symptoms, which appearing together, indicated previous social deviance of the individual.

Thus among the examined men 43% had already been tried for previous criminal offences before they were convicted of homicide; 22% of the total had been convicted once, 11% ‒ twice, and only 10% three times or more (among women there was not a single case of having 3 prior convictions).

As to the structure of previous offences, it was found that there was a predominance (54.5%) of offences involving theft; 23% were offences combined with physical aggression, but of these only 17 out of a total of 75 could be considered serious (four involving manslaughter, 1 a brawl ending fatally, 5 serious bodily injuries, and 7 robberies).

58% of the total of homicidals systematically drank alcohol to excess (large quantities at least several times a week) and 68% of offenders were under the influence of alcohol at the moment of the crime. Alcohol is undoubtedly a very significant factor in the etiology of homicide; it plays an essential criminogenic role, especially as regards the very frequent cases in which an intoxicated offender simultaneously had serious disorders of personality.

Data concerning recurrence of aggressive behaviour by offenders prior to the homicide were found in the court records of 65% of the cases; 60% of these received adverse references from their places of residence or of work. Only 20% did not work during the period preceding the homicide.

  1. The data given above show that not all homicidals reveal features indicating previous social maladjustment. In this connection, an examination was made of the correlation between certain psycho-social features o the criminals and the motives which prompted them to homicide. A statistical analysis, on the basis of which groups of the most strongly correlated variables were formed enabled further typology of groups of homicides differentiated according to motives. The principle of this typology was the connection between certain groups of homicides and the syndromes of psychosocial features, considered negative or “positive” from the point of view of social evaluation.

Groups most strongly correlated with syndromes of negative features thus included individuals who had committed such crimes as: homicide with intent to rob; homicide in defence of own dignity arising out of a trifling, momentary conflict caused by the insoberity of the offender, homicide for erotic motives arising out of conflict caused by the offenderhusband’s alcoholism, homicide arising out of the offender’s pathological reaction caused by alcohol.

It was found that the groups of offenders most markedly correlated with the “positive” syndrome of psycho-social features from the point of view of social evaluation were: homicide occurring in defence of personal dignity; arising out of a seriously gnowing conflict between slayer and victim; homicide with erotic motives aimed at the elimination of someone regarded as an obstacle to the realization of an offender’s plans to marry; homicide with economic motives arising out of claims to property; homicide in self-defence; child-murder committed by women.

  1. Of interest is the fact that in the light of court records a considerable majority of slayers (approximately 80%), men as well as women, committed homicide under the influence of strong negative emotional states, prolonged and belonging to affective experiences of the type frequently qualified in criminology and psychopathological literature as “states of continuous affect”. Only in about 10% of homicides did the records not reveal any intensified emotional stress on the part of the slayers – neither in the form of prolonged emotional stress nor in the form of marked exasperation arising directly before the homicide and caused by the victim’s aggressive, provocative behaviour.

A mere 17% of the cases examined could be considered homicide “with malice aforethought”; this also includes homicide committed under considerable affect.

The courts considered onry14.5% of the total of offenders to have committed their crimes “under the influence of strong emotion”, and applied para. 2, Art. 225 of the penal code (of 1932).

Note that in the years 1961-1965 the courts invoked para. 2, Art. 225 of the penal code in connection with – annual average – only 14.7% of the total of individuals convicted of homicide, and in the years 1966-1971 in connection with a bare 10.3%. But during the pre-war years 1934-1937, of all cases of homicide, an average of 49% were considered by the court as having been committed under the influence of strong emotion.

  1. Data from the records examined as regards homicide victims are very scant and incomplete. Thus this work took into account only information related to the connections between the offender and victim and such features as: sex, age and state of sobriety at the time the offence was committed and also data contained in opinions given about the victims.

It is of some interest that such features of the victims differed, depending on whether the offender was a man or woman.

Close relatives constituted as much as 53% of the total of victims of female offenders and only 9% – of the males. On the other hand, there was marked similarity as regards the percentage of husband or wife as victims, of the partner, lover or fiancé (fiancée). In the case of men this percentage amounted to 24%, of women – 21%. The percentage of more distant relatives as homicide victims was 10.4% for men and only 3% for women. The percentage of victims unknown to slayers was fon men – 13% and for women 12%. Entirely different as between the sexes of offenders was the percentage of their victims who were closer or more distant friends: for men – 43%, and for women only 12%.

60.4% of the victims of offenders (men and women) were men, 37% – women and 2.6% – children of both sexes.

Consideration of the age of homicide victims showed that the average age of victims was slightly higher than the average age of offenders, being on an average around 35 years (children excluded).

Approximately 45% of the victims were given unfavourable references and in 45.5% of the cases the victims were in a state of insobriety at the time the crime was committed.

The undoubtedly important role played by the victim in provoking of some of the homicides could not be examined in this work, due to the lack in appropriate records of more detailed characteristic traits of the victims and the lack of analysis of the circumstances preceding the murder.


  1. Janowska H., Zabójstwa i ich sprawcy. Analiza socjologiczna, Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, Warszawa 1974.