A millionaire father murders his wife and daughter before committing suicide. On this occasion the man shot his family and their pets, including dogs and horses, before setting fire to his £1.2 million mansion.
When such incidents occur it is often compelling for not only being an unimaginable and horrific act, but also for its juxtaposition, running contrary to the natural human instinct we have to protect loved ones wherever possible.
There is little doubt that the perpetrators of family annihilation, or familicide as it is also known, are overwhelmingly the preserve of men in the majority of cases:
- A man who was experiencing marital discord, was informed by his wife that she was leaving him. Fearful of losing his marriage and family drove his three children to a disused quarry and set about stabbing the children to death, before finally throwing himself off a cliff nearby.
- Another father who was deeply affected by the loss of a baby when his wife had a miscarriage some years before, slipped into depression and resulted in him killing his wife and 2 young children, before setting fire to their bedroom and embracing them before he too died.
- A police inspector was fired from the police force for misusing their computers. Consequently, he went home and murdered his wife and daughter and then committed suicide. His 2 older children were able to flee from the house unharmed. It later emerged that he had suspected his wife of having an affair and had been searching for evidence whilst at his place of work.
Richard Gelles, Director for the Centre for Research on Youth & Social Policy and author of the book, ‘The Violent Home’, explains that there appears to be 2 forms of familicide. One being coercive, ‘I own my wife and children, and therefore I have a right to take them with me if I no longer wish to live’, and there’s the familicide that occurs during economic instability, specifically the shame they feel when they are no longer able to support their spouse and children, and love them so much that they don’t want to shame them with their perceived shortcomings, and so decide to take them with them.
Moreover, Gelles draws parallels with cult leaders like Jim Jones of the Jonestown Massacre of 1978, who commanded the followers of his People’s Temple cult, many of them children, to commit mass suicide, before taking his own life, in that the father or husband views himself as the head of the family and it is he who will ultimately decide their fate.
Interestingly, the cult leaders we know of have all been male, and the men in these cases may too perhaps fit this self-appointed controlling leader profile to some degree. Men, who if only had sought the help they needed, may have avoided the permanent destruction of those lives and of all those left behind.