Filicide: a parent who kills his or her children. There’s a lot of media attention that focuses on mothers who kill their children, known as maternal filicide, probably because of that whole “nurturing” theory; mothers simply don’t kill their own offspring. Well, some of them do and tragically, so do some fathers, known as paternal filicide. According toDr. Phillip Resnick, director of forensic psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland states there are actually five different reasons why parents may kill their own offspring:
- mental illness
- destroy unwanted baby
(1) altriusm – When severe stress, depression, mental illness or claim of mental illness is involved, a mother explains her motive was unselfish and the child was killed to prevent suffering. The woman is still trying to be a good mother but no longer knows what to do. A famous Canadian case of altruistic filicide involved a father, Robert Latimer, who killed his severely disabled daughter Tracy with carbon monoxide poisoning. Tracy suffered from cerebral palsy and suffered many physical side effects: violent seizures; little or no voluntary control of her muscles, and she could not walk or talk. Tracy was in constant pain.On October 24, 1993, Laura Latimer found Tracy dead. She died under the care of her father while the rest of the family was at church. At first Latimer maintained that Tracy had died in her sleep; however, high levels of carbon monoxide were found in Tracy’s blood during the autopsy. Latimer confessed that he killed her by placing her in his truck and connecting a hose from the truck’s exhaust pipe to the cab. He said he had also considered other methods of killing Tracy, including “shooting her in the head.” Latimer said his actions were motivated by love for Tracy and a desire to end her pain.
The concept of altruistic filicide, parents killing their children “for their own good” exists in both bioethics and criminology. Bioethicists view altruistic killings as rare events, explained in terms of ethical principles and logic. Criminologists view altruistic homicides as much more common events, explained in terms of psychopathology. Some experts argue that excusing the killing of children is no more rational than excusing the murder of those facing poverty, the loss of a parent, discrimination, or any of the other challenges that parents use to rationalize filicide. Decriminalization of “compassionate” homicide based only on illness or disability would be discriminatory without any rational basis. They further believe that decriminalizing homicides whenever compassion or elimination of suffering are presented as motive. Experts in criminal psychology suggest that these cases hide a deeper and darker motivation. According to criminology’s most authoritative classification of homicides, “most often, the real motivation for mercy killing has little to do with the offender’s feelings of compassion and pity for the victim” FBI profilers and criminologists, consider the deeper motivation for mercy killing to be a pathological need for “power and control“. Acts of violence typically require two factors.
- an instrumental motivation, such as control or desire to be free of responsibility for a child.
- a disinhibiting factor, such as the belief that it is for the child’s good, to release potentially homicidal parents from normal inhibition.
Although the Canadian homicide rate in general has declined to its lowest level in 30 years, there has been significant increase in filicides that coincided with the positive publicity for justifying filicides provided by the Latimer trial. Personally I find it difficult to take sides in very selective cases. The Latimer case was so extreme (Tracy had rods in her back for feeding tubes, she suffered a dislocated hip that couldn’t be treated with painkillers due to her seizure medication), that certainly empathy for her suffering seems to fit. Then again, so does the anguish of dedicating one’s life, without choice, to caring for a severely ill child whose health will never improve.
(2) mental Illness -an acutely psychotic parent who has lost touch with reality.A well-known example of a mentally ill women who killed her children while suffering an extreme psychosis was Andrea Yates. It was a fortunate thing that the woman was removed from prison and incarcerated in an institute for the criminally insane. I don’t much care for the term ‘insane’. Yates wasn’t insane. She was psychotic. In medical terminology‘insane’ doesn’t exist. This is a legal term used only in a criminal trial.
(3) Battery -fatal battering occurs when a child is beaten to death. This accounts for 80 percent of homicides of children younger than 1. A well-known example is The Boy in the Box, America’s Unknown Child. However, this child was between 4 – 6 years old when, in 1959, his nude, battered body was found inside a J C Penney box in a dumpsite in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His killers were never found.
(4) destroy unwanted child– A parent doesn’t want the child and believe the child is endangering or preventing another, more valued relationship. An example of destroying unwanted children is Susan Smith, drove to a ramp on John D. Long Lake, got out, put the car in drive, released the brake and watched her car plunge into the lake and slowly sink with her sleeping children inside. Her motive was to maintain a relationship with a young bachelor who stated clearly that he wasn’t interested in her children and wouldn’t date her for that reason.
(5) revenge – usually this is directed against a spouse in a particularly acrimonious divorce. Debora Green is an example of a mother who coldly and systematically killed two of her three children in order to spite her husband after their divorce. She set fire to the main floor of her house and when her teenaged son, whose crawled out of his 2nd floor bedroom and onto a ledge, asked her what to do, she advised him to “go back inside the house.” She was incensed when police informed her that they informed her ex-husband, Michael Farrar. She wanted to tell him herself to witness his reaction. Debora once told a friend that I didn’t want kids; I never had. I am doing it for Mike.”
It isn’t true that mothers are more violent against teens due to overwhelming rage. The degree of violence depends very much on the child. A 3-year-old is easily strangled or overdosed. Teens won’t cooperate in being killed so a knife or gun is necessary. Some fathers who kill teenagers experience a real standoff and hostility, but for mothers that’s unusual. Fathers are 95% more likely to murder the entire family. Their mentality goes like this: I am responsible for the well-being of my family. I am unable to do it. I will take them all out with me. I knew of such a girl named Leanne when I went to high school in Mississauga, Ontario. On Monday we were informed that Leanne and her family had been murdered on Saturday night, then her father killed himself. No one knew why Leanne’s father killed his family, although people speculated it was due to mental illness.
One altruistic case involved a mother who killed her 3-year-old child and herself. Her suicide note stated “bury us in one box. We belong together.” Mothers often see their childrenas an extension of themselves and this mother may have worried her husband would remarry a woman who would be unkind to her child. A child is most likely to be a victim of filicide on his or her birthday. Creepy. Maternal filicide is defined as child murder by the mother. Infanticide is child murder in the first year of life.
The term neonaticide was coined by Resnick to describe murder of an infant within the first 24 hours of life. Almost all neonaticides are committed by mothers. Neonaticidal mothers (were) frequently:
- young, unmarried women
- unwanted pregnancies
- received no prenatal care
- socially isolated
- full-time caregivers
- victims of domestic violence
- Disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds
- primary responsibility for the children were common
- Persistent crying or child factors
- previously abused the child
- mentally ill and devoted to their child
- substance abusers
- psychotic, depressive, or suicidal
In the correctional population, filicidal mothers (were) frequently:
- unemployed abuse victims
- limited education
- decreased intellect
- considered the child victim to be abnormal
- frequent depression, psychosis, substance abuse, suicidality, and prior mental health care
- Multiple stressors (economic, social, abuse history, partner relationship problems), primary caregiver status, and difficulty caring for the child
It would seem to me that Resnick is overlooking a sixth significant motive for filicide: money. On February 10, 1992, Robin Lee Row killed her entire family in much the same manner, a house fire, as Debora Green but her motive was different. Robin took out several life insurance policies on her family, including her husband, Randy Row, 34, and their children Joshua, 10, and Tabitha, 8, totalling a whopping $276,000.00. Life insurance companies are weird things. A life insurance policy, not a health insurance policy, is meant to replace the income of an adult who contributes money to a household income, in the event of that adult’s death. Clearly, this could not apply in Joshua and Tabitha’s deaths, yet the company allowed Robin to insure them anyway. Isn’t that one of those things that should make you say, “hmmmm?” Then good luck getting them to pay up after an accident. Life insurance. Pah.
Robin had a suspiciously tragic history that no one knew about until the 1992 murder. Robin had previously lost two children: her baby daughter died in 1977 from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and her son Keith died in 1980 in what was ruled as an accidental house fire. Poor Robin. Arson just seems to follow her everywhere and now, spousal homicide, oops, death. If her daughter wasn’t insured (probably not), then Robin was a good candidate for Munchausen by Proxy. The list keeps getting longer and nastier. On the night of the fire, Robin had conveniently staying with a friend due to “marital difficulties.” During the arson investigation, it was discovered Robin had stolen money from her job at the YMCA. She was arrested, charged with grand theft and put in jail. Robin certainly wasn’t one to let the grass grow. Robin’s list of misdeeds included:
- arson X 2
- Munchausen by Proxy disguised as SIDS
- the murder of her entire family, including her spouse
- grand theft
- eventually premeditated murder would be added to the list
Robin’s friend Joan, who had kindly opened her door to her homicidal friend, began recording phone conversations and, prompted by the detectives, she told Robin on the night of the fire she had downstairs and saw that Robin was not there. Robin told her that she was outside in the car, talking with her psychiatrist until around 4:30 a.m. Joan suggested to Robin that she tell the police since it would give her a solid alibi as to her whereabouts on the night of the fire. On March 23, 1992, Robin was arrested for three counts of murder. At no time did Robin ever tell the police her alibi.On December 16, 1993, Robin was found guilty of the crime of premeditated murder and she was sentenced to death. During her sentencing Judge Alan Schwartzman called her a pathological liar and went on to say, “Robin Row’s actions represent the final betrayal of motherhood and embody the ultimate affront to civilized notions of maternal instinct. Maternal ’pedocide’ — the killing of one’s own children — is the embodiment of the cold-blooded, pitiless slayer — a descent into the blackened heart of darkness.”
Currently Robin Row is the only female on death row in Idaho.
Teresa Lewis was the only woman on death row in Virginia prior to her execution. She was sentenced to death by lethal injection for using sex and money to arrange the murders of her husband and stepson in October 2002. Seriously. That woman used sex to arrange murder. There are some truly lonely criminals in Virginia. Teresa sought to profit from a $250,000 life insurance policy that her stepson had taken out as a U.S. Army reservist in anticipation of his deployment to Iraq. Teresa grew up in poverty in Danville, Virginia, where her parents both worked in a textile mill. Teresa dropped out of school and left home at age 16 to marry a man she met at church. Though the couple had a daughter, Christie Lynn Bean, the marriage soon ended in divorce. Teresa then turned to alcohol and painkillers.Her mother-in-law, Marie Bean,described Teresa as “not right“. True that.
After dozens of low-paying jobs, Teresa found work at the Dan River textile mill, where she met supervisor Julian Clifton Lewis, Jr. He was a recent widower with three children, Jason, Charles, and Kathy. Teresa moved into Julian’s home in June 2000 and the two were soon married. In December 2001, Julian’s older son Jason, was killed in a car accident, leaving behind $200,000 from a life insurance policy.Julian used the money to buy a mobile home on five acres of land in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. This may have been a turning point in Teresa’s life. In August 2002, Julian’s younger son Charles, obtained a $250,000 policy because he had been assigned to a tour of duty in Iraq as part of the United States Army Reserve. Charles designated his father as the primary beneficiary and Teresa Lewis as the secondary beneficiary.In the fall, Teresa met 21-year-old Matthew Jessee Shallenberger and 19-year-old Rodney Lamont Fuller at a Wal-Mart in Danville and began a sexual relationship with both of them. Shallenberger and Lamont were given $1,200 by Teresa to purchase firearms and ammunition to kill Julian and his son Charles for the insurance money. Their first attempt to kill Julian while on the road did not succeed. You’ve heard of “keystone cops.” These two were “keystone assassins.”
In October 2002, Charles came home on a visit from Army training. During the night October 30, Shallenberger and Lamont entered the Lewis’ trailer through a back door. While Teresa waited in the kitchen, Shallenberger shot Julian several times while Fuller shot Charles in his bedroom with a shotgun. Fuller shot Charles again twice after he found that his first three blasts did not kill him. Teresa waited 45 minutes before calling for help and took money out of her dying husband’s wallet. She divided up $300 with Shallenberger and Fuller before they left the premises.However, sheriff’s deputies arrived before Julian died to hear him say, “My wife knows who done this to me.” She claimed the two had been killed by unidentified assailants in a home invasion. Teresa was soon caught attempting to use a forged check to withdraw $50,000 from her dead husband’s account. She confessed to law enforcement officers that she had offered money to have her husband killed.
During the murder trial, the judge deemed Teresa the mastermind of the crime and called her “the head of this serpent.” Barbara G. Haskins, a court appointed, board-certified forensic psychiatrist, stated that “Cognitive testing showed a Full Scale IQ of 72. Verbal IQ was 70, and Performance IQ was 79.” Haskins also stated that Teresa was and is able to make a plea agreement and enter pleas. Teresa’s lawyer stated that “She’s not mentally retarded, but she is very, very close to it.” Teresa’s daughter, Christie, served five years because she knew about the plan but failed to report it. Stupid. It could have been her.Teresa was granted a last meal that consisted of two fried chicken breasts, sweet peas with butter, a Dr Pepper and German chocolate cake for dessert. On the website Save Teresa Lewis, run by supporters who tried to have her death sentence commuted, she posted a message,”man wants me to die, but I’m not worrying over this, I’m trusting Jesus,” she wrote. She urged the prisoners to turn to Jesus promising, “He will forgive you of all your sins and He will bring you into His loving arms.” Funny how spiritual murderers become when they’re facing a death sentence. When she entered the death chamber to be strapped onto a guerney, her jaw was visibly clenched. She looked around tensely and appeared frightened.She addressed stepdaughter Kathy Lewis Clifton, who came to witness her execution by lethal injection, to apologize for killing her brother and father. “I just want Kathy to know that I love you, and I’m very sorry.”
There is a common profile of men who kill their wives and children:
- white males
- 30s or 40s
- react badly to stress
- view their families as extensions of themselves
- use a firearm or knife
- depressed or intoxicated
- believe the family relies on them
There are many motives including, but not limited to:
- Discipline gone too far
- Self-enrichment – what??
- Projecting elf-hatred onto the children
- Killing witnesses to abuse
- A joint crime with the mother
- Duty to the family
- Suicide by proxy
- Jealousy of children who are involved with others
- Difficulty adjusting to being a parent
These fathers have a fragile sense of self. They don’t take failure well and cannot tolerate humiliation. Having no way to relieve their stress, they eventually explode into violence. Their families are the easiest target and they have no inner defense against the flow of rage. Once its done, the fathers often return to a sense of equilibrium and if they don’t also kill themselves, they often feel much better. A man develops a “fragile sense of self” during his formative years in childhood, generally between the ages of 5 – 12. Child neglect, child abuse, humiliation, verbal abuse, name-calling, being undervalued, feeling unloved and feeling like a burden on their families tends to produce this effect. This environment may produce a child who develops a personality disorder or displays symptoms of depression, rage and low self-esteem. When taken to an extreme, a terrible tragedy such as paternal filicide results. Neighbours, friends, family are bewildered by this outcome since they do not know the father’s history as a child and are generally uneducated about the long-term, damaging effects of child abuse and neglect on children.
Chris Foster – Familicide
Nature: Controlling; sexually abusive; narcissistic, sexually unfaithful to wife
Motive: Finances; social status; depression/desperation
Chris Foster, the businessman who drove Ferraris and lived like a country squire appeared to have a loving family. In the days following the tragedy, however, it emerged that his business affairs were in deep financial trouble. But the story was more complex than a man protecting his family from his business failings. Police interview transcripts from the time revealed that the police were aware that Foster, who had a firearms licence, posed a danger as far back as 2006. Foster’s brother Andrew stated, “He owed £2 million but he was actually solvent.” People ruthlessly pursued him for every penny. He couldn’t tell his wife because he was afraid of her walking away. Bailiffs, the liquidator on his back, the bank, the Inland Revenue were on his back, and he sold his company. His physician put him on anti-depressants. Foster was greedy, he bent the rules, made some bad business decisions, and he didn’t like paying taxes.
“When we were told about the fire, two family liaison officers came to the house.’ Foster’s brother, Andrew, explained. ‘When was the last time you saw your brother?’ they asked. “I explained I had little to do with him.I told the officer that when I was 11 and Chris was 15 or 16, Chris told me about the facts of life. This continued and eventually he showed me pornographic magazines with pictures of naked women. He started to sexually abuse me. This would happen at least once a week until I was sexually mature and told him I wouldn’t do what he wanted any more. This explains why Chris and I didn’t see each other much as adults. I want people to know the truth. Some people think I was envious of Chris. I never have been. The abuse was about control and I had to break away from him.”
There were times when Foster hit his wife in the face, and had extra-marital affairs. Most likely, he was sexually and physically abusing his daughter. Foster was a very controlling, vengeful man. He displayed a significant number of traits of a narcissist:
- controlling nature
- uses others for personal fulfillment
- concerned with appearances
- wanted the best of everything
- lack of empathy
Foster couldn’t bear financial and social ruin. Not only did the prospect of no longer providing well for his family collapse, his social status would have suffered greatly had he claimed bankruptcy. He would not be able to control people any longer. His wife and daughter might have left him. Foster was so vain that he chose to commit murder-suicide rather than risk the exposure of financial ruin.
I worked for the Peel Regional Police in Mississauga, Ontario for four years and had the opportunity to transcribe tapes for the homicide department (cool stuff). One case involved a father who murdered his son due to desperate reasons. He drugged and strangled the boy, laid his little body in his bed and set it on fire. When paramedics arrived they discovered it was impossible to insert a breathing tube into the child’s mouth, as his jaw had melted shut. In this case, the father intended to commit suicide after killing his son, but instead he notified police. This father was obsessed with his son and loved him greatly. He was known to make statements to friends such as “that kid is my life.” His estranged wife who had filed for divorce informed him she was moving far from Mississauga, and that she was seeking full custody of the boy in order to prevent father and son from continuing their relationship. Distraught, the boy’s father couldn’t see any other option except to kill his son and, since the boy was “his life”, commit suicide. It frequently happens that intended murder-suicides are not completed. Resnick forwards the theory that suicide is more difficult than murder. Perhaps this is not so much cowardice as it is self-preservation, an instinct that has been programmed into our nature for thousands of years. Early humans were known to kill each other, but not to kill themselves.
Some experts consider the homicides to be simply a side effect of the suicide, wherein the specific decision to kill oneself precipitates a perceived necessity to kill others. Other experts say that murder-suicide cannot be categorized with either homicides or suicides but is actually a distinct behavior. Although there are some common risk factors among perpetrators of homicide, suicide, and murder-suicide, the latter behavior has some distinct characteristics. The majority of murder-suicides include amorous jealousy, declining health, filicide-suicide, familicide and extrafamilial.
Nature: Religious (Jehovah’s Witness); psychotic (delusions of grandeur); controlling
Motive: psychosis/mental illness; estrangement from Jehovah community; financial debt
Bryant was a devout Jehovah’s Witness living in the community of McMinnville, just south of Portland, married to Janet Bryant and the father of four children: Clayton, Ethan, Ashley and Alyssa. In March 2002, the children were found dead in their beds. They were last seen at school on February 22, and no one had thought much about them disappearing for more than ten days. A girl named Jaden Wright was friends with Ashley Bryant at Memorial Elementary School and had not seen Ashley in Mrs. Mecker’s class for two weeks. Karen Richey, assistant superintendent for the McMinnville School District, said teachers had noticed the children’s absence from school and several attempts were made to contact the Bryants.
“We had people knocking on the door several times,” but no one ever answered the door, she said. At first school officials weren’t alarmed, because it is not uncommon for students to be absent during the flu season and that a 10-day absence wasn’t unheard of. The school decided there were no real warning signs to alert them that anything may have been wrong at home.
Bryant had been shunned by the community for conduct not in harmony with the religion’s principles.It was alleged that Bryant believed he had been anointed for a special purpose in his community. Bryant’s delusional thinking should have sounded an alarm in his church. Bryant had gotten into an argument with a church leader over the Bible while he and his family were still living in California.The family was shunned by both other Jehovah’s witnesses as well as their own relatives. That’s nasty. In fact, the Bryants were kicked out of the church three years before the deaths. RV park owner Howard Angell said Robert confided the family had left a “big problem” in California, actually fleeing out of fear in the middle of the night. Soon after Bryant moved his family to Oregon, he went from door to door drumming up work for his landscaping business. On Jan. 13, 2000, the Bryants filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. They had unsecured debts of $57,000, mostly on credit cards. They had a home valued at $175,000, but had little equity in it. The bankruptcy freed the Bryants from the credit card debt and some of the other debt.
He told people he had to get away from the grandparents since they were trying to brainwash the children. Bryant held Bible studies at his Shingle Springs home, ut he homeschooled his children and limited other interaction. They were considered to be standoffish people, certainly another worrisome sign in the family.
Still, Bryant had planned on building a nice home. There were rumors that he feared relatives would sue for custody of his children, so perhaps he felt he was protecting them. Bryant filed for bankruptcy the year before, but rebuilt his business. The day he shot and killed his family was his and Janet’s 17th wedding anniversary, a behaviour similar to that of maternal filicide, when mothers kill their children on their birthdays. The Bryant family supposedly did everything together. Neighbours made a strange observation that, “the children positively drooled over their dad. They never seemed afraid of him.” There were many signs indicating that the Bryant family was in danger:
- standoffish nature
- children overly devoted to father
- bankruptcy strain
- excommunication from Church
- delusions of grandeur
- belief that the grandparents were brainwashing the children
Still, most pieces of the puzzle were known only to different people, that is, no one person knew all of these factors about the Bryants, and since the family presented a stalwart, positive demeanour, there seemed to be no cause for concern. As in many cases involving murder-suicide, these were warning signs that were interpreted too late.