Home » Blogs » Psychoanalysis Now » Stephen Paddock’s Unconscious Motive

Stephen Paddock’s Unconscious Motive

Ever since Stephen Paddock, a reclusive 64-year-old millionaire, massacred 58 people and wounded another 500 at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas on October 1, 2017, law enforcement officials have tried unsuccessfully to find a motive. It is now ten days later and they still haven’t found one.

The day after the massacre ISIS, the Islamic state, claimed responsibility for the deadly mass shooting. A few days after that ISIS reported in its weekly newsletter that the shooter converted to Islam six months ago, according to a translation from the SITE Intelligence Group, and that he had been radicalized. According to ISIS he was a soldier for the cause. However, law enforcement officials have investigated this claim and found no connection between Paddock and ISIS.

Investigators then focused on Paddock’s father. Stephen Paddock was born in Clinton, Iowa, the eldest of four sons of Benjamin Hoskins Paddock, a bank robber who was arrested in 1960 when Stephen was seven years old. So far investigators have found no information about the father’s relationship with his oldest son before the age of seven. Benjamin was later convicted and escaped prison in 1969, at which time he appeared on the FBI’s most-wanted list. Stephen was 15 years old at the time his father escaped from prison. According to his brother Eric, the sons never really knew their father.

Law enforcement officials next looked at his somewhat odd gambling life. Paddock claimed to make his living through gambling. At a hearing in which he claimed to have slipped in the Cosmopolitan Casino and injured his hamstring in 2011, he told lawyers he gambled all night and slept during the day. He said he gambled 14 hours a night, 365 days a year. And he did his gambling in a most solitary way, spending his time at video poker machines at the casinos. When asked by lawyers how much he wagered on a particular night, he replied, “a million dollars.” When asked by the lawyer if that was a lot of money, he replied, “No, it wasn’t.” His answers to the questions were sarcastic, indicating an angry personality.

Paddock also retained a physician whose job it was to prescribe Valium, the tranquilizer. He was apparently hooked on the drug. He reported to the hearing that he had been prescribed Valium by Steven P Winkler, M.D., who he had on a retainer. Police found a bottle of Valium in the hotel room where he did the shooting. There were 15 pills remaining in a bottle of 30. Valium sometimes has a side effect of rage. This may be because when someone uses the drug for a period of time to handle anxiety caused by an undertow of anger, the anger builds up over time. It does not go away.

What comes across from these investigations is a man who lived a solitary, nocturnal life. He had a girlfriend, to whom he wired $100,000 a few days before his killing spree, but she reported to police that he never talked to her about anything that was on his mind. She knew nothing about his plans to kill people. Nor did anybody else know about it. He kept it all inside. He was apparently a man who had a gambling addiction and a problem with Valium who internalized his feelings.

Where these feelings came from, whether the feelings were the result of psychological trauma in his childhood before the age of seven or some biological or genetic inheritance from his father, we don’t know. What we do know is that he had a gambling addiction, and people with heavy gambling addictions (he described his as 14 hours a night, 365 days a year) are people who often have a need to distract themselves from disturbing feelings.

For years he managed to successfully distract himself through the gambling and suppress his feelings through the Valium, but eventually these feelings came to the surface. He lived a solitary, nocturnal life in which he did not interact with many people. He maintained a “normal” persona in his reactions with people and kept any dark thoughts and feelings hidden. But the more you repress feelings, the stronger they become.

We may never know the conscious motive for Stephen Paddocks mass killing spree, because he himself was unconscious of the motive and he never indicated to anybody else any details of his motive. Sigmund Freud thought that up to two-thirds of a person’s mind is unconscious. In Paddock’s case this certainly seems to be the case. He was a man who kept everything from himself and others, who was tormented by something but distracted himself from what was tormenting him through his gambling addiction and Valium use.

Perhaps his father traumatized him before the age of seven, but we may never know this for certain. Sometimes people have mental disorders their whole lives but never report them to anybody, hence their disorder goes untreated. It may well be that Stephen Paddock was one of these people, and that his shooting spree was the final chapter of a mental disorder that built up over time. In addition to the gambling addiction, he might also have had an antisocial disorder. While nightly gambling and Valium might have distracted him for a time, he would have gradually developed a tolerance for both. It is then that he may have begun to plan for the event that would help him finally release his rage.

Hence the largest mass killing in the history of America was performed by a man who was in a rage but who was entirely unconscious of the wellsprings of his rage. His unconscious motive for killing 58 people: To get rid of his inner torment and rage.

Stephen Paddock’s Unconscious Motive

Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D.

Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D. is a licensed psychoanalyst in New York and has been practicing for over 37 years. He works with adults, couples, families, adolescents, and children. He has graduated from three psychotherapy institutes and received a Certificate in Psychoanalysis from the Washington Square Institute in 1981. He has been an Adjunct Assistant Professor of psychology at the Borough of Manhattan Community College since 2002 and has authored thirteen books on psychotherapy and psychoanalysis as well as four novels and a book of poems and drawings. More recently he wrote 20 screenplays (winning four first-place awards at festivals) and produced and directed two feature films.

2 comments: View Comments / Leave a Comment



APA Reference
Schoenewolf, G. (2017). Stephen Paddock’s Unconscious Motive. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 24, 2018, from


Last updated: 10 Oct 2017
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 10 Oct 2017
Published on All rights reserved.