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Psychology Evaluation of Matthew Cushing

2797 words (11 pages) Essay in Psychology

08/02/20 Psychology Reference this

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 On February 20, 2008 in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, the most disturbing and gruesome crime had occurred. It is a crime that will be remembered forever by the community living in the small tourist town of Maine. It began with the urges of Matthew Cushing and ended with the death of a family.

Old Orchard Beach is a small, tight-knit community where everyone knows everyone (Pietragallo, J., & Whisman, J., 2017). It is composed of middle-class, White individuals above the age of 50. There are very few children under the age of 20, but the town has a high school graduation rate of 92 percent. The violent crime rate, including murder, rape, robbery, and assault is almost 20 percent higher than the national average. It is because the town attracts tourism during the summer months that the crime rates are higher. In the history of Old Orchard Beach, they had never seen such a monstrous act, until 2008. Thus, this criminal incident shook the town as it has always been known to be a warm and welcoming place filled with like-minded individuals. 

The case involves a blended family, consisting of four individuals. There was Christopher Bolduc, who was 43-years-old and the father/husband, Carol Bolduc, who was 42-years-old and the mother/wife, Joshua Bolduc, who was 15-years-old and the half-brother, and Matthew Cushing, who was 21-years-old (Pietragallo, J., & Whisman, J., 2017). Joshua was the child of Carol and Christopher, and Matthew was Carol’s son from a previous marriage. Christopher always treated Matthew like his son and Matthew found out at 7-years-old that Christopher was not his biological father. Matthew said that Christopher used to abuse him, but others disagreed with this statement and said that Christopher cared about Matthew and only wanted the best for him. Whereas, Matthew and Joshua remained close and treated each other as though they were real brothers. Joshua idolized Matthew because he always had many friends and girlfriends, and he was involved in sports. Matthew was also described as a fun and funny guy by those close to him.

Matthew Cushing was a 21-year-old student at the University of Maine (Pietragallo, J., & Whisman, J., 2017). He was pursuing a degree in European History. Matthew lived with ten other roommates in a house off campus. During his time in college he began drinking heavily and doing drugs, specifically cocaine. If he did not have enough money, he would buy two or three bottles of cough syrup and guzzle them. Before his senior year, Matt wanted to drop out and go to England. He had asked his parents to fund the trip and they willingly provided the money. However, instead of using the money to go to England, Matthew bought drugs and alcohol. During this time, Matthew had found out that his mother and step-father were planning on getting a divorce. There were rumors that Christopher was gay, but this has been disputed. Some have said that Matthew was homophobic, but he has never mentioned it. With that being said, Matthew took this very hard and felt as if he had to do something to prevent the break-up of his family. 

On February 20, 2008, Matthew woke up, got in his car, and drove to Old Orchard Beach. When he arrived, he did not park at his house, but parked downtown and walked to his home. He was expecting his step-father, Christopher, to be home alone, but to Matthew’s surprise, he found his little brother, Joshua, home alone. Matthew brought up the impending divorce to Joshua and begins telling Joshua that this will ruin the family. Joshua blew it off because he was a 15-years-old boy and thought that they would be alright and work it out. During this conversation, Matthew became more agitated and began telling Joshua his plans for killing Christopher. Matthew tried to get Joshua to help him kill Christopher, but Joshua being a normal teenage boy, did not want to help kill his biological father. Matthew continued to get heated, and he said, “Once I get mad, I can’t get unmad” (Pietragallo, J., & Whisman, J., 2017). Matthew then jumped on top of Joshua and stabbed him repeatedly. After killing his brother Matthew said that he didn’t get any thrill out of it, but he wasn’t too upset about it either. Matthew had absolutely no affect when recalling the incident but noted that after killing his brother he knew his life was over.

During the time of Joshua’s murder, Carol had received a phone call from someone in town asking her if she knew that Matthew was home (Pietragallo, J., & Whisman, J., 2017). Of course, she was not aware of Matthew’s arrival and was quite confused why he was home. Carol then packed up her things and headed home from work to make sure that everything was okay. Once Carol got home, Matthew was waiting for her. Upon her arrival, she began questioning Matthew about why he was home and if he was okay, but to Matthew she seemed to be acting weird. Things started to become problematic when Carol asked Matthew where Josh was. Matthew told his mom not to worry about it and that everything was fine. Carol then preceded to push past Matthew, but that triggered Matthew to grab her and tackle her to the ground. He sat on top of her with his hands around her throat, and then stabbed her. Matthew’s reasoning behind murdering his mother was that he didn’t want her to find out about Joshua because it would be too painful for her. After murdering his mother, Matthew waited at home for Christopher’s arrival.

While waiting for Christopher, Matthew became more furious because he blamed Chris for making him kill his family. Because of this, Matthew was more than happy to wait for Chris as he believed now more than ever that Chris deserved to die. As Chris came through the door, Matthew lunged at him with his knife and stabbed him as he cried for help. Matthew continued to stab and taze him. Afterwards, Matthew sat at the house and tried to figure out what his next move would be. After a few minutes, he headed down the hall stopped in the room where the family dog, Spike, was kept. Then, Matthew proceeded to stab the dog to death. Matthew has been asked about why he killed the dog and he said, “People asked me all the time about our family dog, and they say, ‘Did you really have to kill the dog?’ and I say, ‘Listen, I don’t mean to sound like a monster, but I just killed my brother, my mother, and my father. Do you really think I give a damn about the dog?’” (Pietragallo, J., & Whisman, J., 2017).

After murdering his entire family, including the dog, Matthew decided that he didn’t want anyone to find the bodies and tried to light the house on fire. After setting fire, he got into Carol’s car and drove it to where his own car was parked. He hopped out of Carol’s car and jumped in his and headed back to college. At this time, the firefighters were called and were able to put out the fire. Because the house was not burned very well, the firefighters were able to find the two points of origin and the bodies.

The police force in Old Orchard Beach were not equipped for a triple homicide and arson case. So, they called in Maine State Police to help with the investigation. The police began talking to everyone in town and multiple people said that they had seen Matthew in town earlier that day. Matthew quickly became the lead suspect in the investigation. The police went to Matthew’s house to question him and noticed that his hands had been cut up. They asked Matthew why and he said that he had been cooking a very thick steak and cut his hand on it. The police then searched Matthew’s room and found a bloody backpack, taser, and knife. Matthew was arrested but denied everything. He did not confess until the police came to him the next day saying that they had found his DNA in Carol’s car. The prosecutors determined that Matthew’s crimes were premeditated as he did internet searches, bought a taser, and showed up with a knife. In addition, he had time to think between murders—an hour between each—and continued to kill. On February 5, 2009, Matthew plead guilty to three counts of murder and one count of arson. The judges ruled that he should receive the state’s harshest punishment for his crimes. Thus, on March 26, 2009, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole (Pietragallo, J., & Whisman, J., 2017).

The type of violence within this case would be classified as irritable aggression. Matthew had so much pent up anger after hearing of the divorce that he snapped. Irritable aggression derives from frustration, pain, and some sort of scarcity (Alvarez, A., & Bachman, R., 2017). During the incident, Matthew could have been deprived of cocaine or alcohol, or had consumed too much alcohol or cocaine which led him to murder his entire family. Either way, Matthew was upset with Christopher for leaving the family, and he was going to get revenge by killing him.

The type of violence in this case was first-degree murder. The acts committed by Matthew were premeditated and deliberated (Alvarez, A., & Bachman, R., 2017). As mentioned above, Matthew had time to think between murders, and still continued to kill one person after another. Equally important, Matthew had done extensive research on the best stab points and where to stab to kill. Further, Matthew’s crime could be considered a form of mass murder. Although mass murder is typically four or more victims in one location at one general point in time, his crime could still be understood as a triple-homicide, mass murder as there were four victims in total—Christopher, Carol, Joshua, and the dog Spike. Lastly, it is possible that Matthew could be described as a family annihilator, which is an individual who murders several family members (Diem, C., & Pizarro, J. M., 2010). Unfortunately, because family annihilators are very rare there is not much research on them. Thus, the motivations behind Matthew’s murders have endless possibilities, but what they do know is that the community lost three important people because of the acts of one person. The victims were vulnerable and were pounced on and pinned down. They were killed mercilessly and for that they deserve to be recognized.

Antisocial personality disorder is someone who is egotistic, careless, and emotionally shallow (Alvarez, A., & Bachman, R., 2017). Individuals with antisocial personality disorder are unable to empathize or feel sympathy for others. The distress of others does affect them emotionally, so they have no regrets when hurting others. In addition, they do not hesitate in using violence to fulfill their self-seeking goals. Matthew was able to kill his entire family without a trace of guilt. So much so, that he said he would have gone on to kill his roommates if he wasn’t caught. He had killed his brother because Joshua did not want to help kill his dad. He killed his mother, so he didn’t have to tell her what happened to Joshua. And finally, he killed his step-father because he was going to ruin the family by leaving them. Each kill seemed to serve as some kind of gain for Matthew. Thus, antisocial personality disorder could be a possible explanation for why Matthew committed the crimes that he did.

In addition, frustration-aggression hypothesis could be a possible explanation for the violence in this case. The frustration-aggression hypothesis is when violence is one possible response for individuals who feel unfulfilled and barred in accomplishing something (Alvarez, A., & Bachman, R., 2017). In this case, Matthew may have felt frustrated that Christopher was going to leave his family and take the money, which would cause him to lose his source of money to buy drugs and alcohol. Matthew would no longer be able to live his cushy lifestyle that he had become accustomed to. This could have led Matthew to kill his entire family. Too, alcohol and illicit drugs could contribute to Matthew’s actions. He could have been without alcohol and cocaine which led him to become more agitated or he could have been using at the time of the crime which eliminated his inhibitions causing him to kill (Alvarez, A., & Bachman, R., 2017).

 This case was not necessarily notorious because it came from a small town, but it is a significant case. This case brought to light that domestic violence is something that occurs behind closed doors. It is because domestic violence is a private matter that police officers are not aware of situations that may arise from these problems. This case sheds a light on how domestic violence should be recognized and more law enforcement officers should be made more aware of the signs of domestic violence. Equally important, this case is noteworthy as Matthew agreed to sit down with a psychologist and talk about his crimes, which is highly unusual when it comes to murderers. It let viewers get a closer look and a better understanding of the mind inside of a killer. Lastly, this crime has and always will be remembered by those who live in Old Orchard Beach as this is the first crime of its kind to touch this small-town. As the detective on the Matthew Cushing case said, ““In a community like this you don’t see things on a scale like this that often. It was really a wakeup call to the community and to the police department that you never really know what is going on behind closed doors and families. It was really out of blue, and because we are such a close-knit, small community, something like this does have a ripple effect” (Pietragallo, J., & Whisman, J., 2017).

 The ways in which this crime could have been prevented are limited. If the parents would have lived, it would be interesting to see if they would have noticed any red flags in Matthew’s behavior. If they had noticed abnormal behavior maybe they could have gotten Matthew help before he snapped. Too, his biological make-up could play a role in his behavior. Since he did not know his father or have a close relationship with him it is difficult to say whether some of Matthew’s behaviors could be attributed to him. If his father had struggled with addiction or mental illness, Matthew could have been made aware of these issues and implemented a secondary prevention strategy (Alvarez, A., & Bachman, R., 2017). Secondary prevention focuses on intervention strategies for those who are at a higher risk of engaging in violence (Alvarez, A., & Bachman, R., 2017). As has been noted, if Matthew and his family were more aware of his urges, they could have used intervention strategies to prevent this heartbreaking incident.

 As far as implications for the criminal justice system go, this case opened the eyes of the officers in Old Orchard Beach. They realized that domestic violence is a difficult crime to prevent as it occurs behind closed doors. Much of what law enforcement knows about domestic violence is from survivors who were brave enough to speak up. This makes it extremely difficult to prevent instances like Matthew Cushing because it was completely unpredictable. Although nothing changed within the Old Orchard Beach Police Department, they will remember Matthew Cushing and his acts of violence forever.

 The crimes of Matthew Cushing will haunt the Old Orchard Beach community forever. Matthew was known as a goodhearted and conscientious young man, which made it difficult for those around him to understand how he could commit such a heinous crime. It was a murder bubbling under the surface that no one could see coming. It is a devastating and violent crime that will always stay within the hearts of those in Old Orchard Beach.  

References

  • Alvarez, A., & Bachman, R. (2017). Violence: The enduring problem (3rd ed.). Los Angeles: SAGE.
  • Diem, C., & Pizarro, J. M. (2010, May 07). Social Structure and Family Homicides. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10896-010-9313-9#citeas
  • Pietragallo, J., & Whisman, J. (Host). (2017, April 12). Small Town Murder [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/013-murder-bubbling-under-surface-in-old-orchard-beach/id1194755213?i=1000403246551.
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