Familicide — the act of one family member murdering the others — is one of the most shocking and heinous actions one can commit. What could possibly drive someone to the depths of such darkness? While on the surface, family murderers may seem calm, outgoing, and successful, research suggests that there are intriguing psychological factors that fuel their horrifying acts. Here’s what the experts have to say about the mental characteristics behind the actions of family killers.
Portrait Of A Murderer
According to Professor David Wilson, when being covered by Wired Magazine back in 2013, there was a time when the actions of family murderers were not distinguished from what we might commonly call a “run-of-the-mill” killer. His study, Characteristics of Family Killers Revealed By First Taxonomy, however, started to peel back some layers, identifying, for instance, that most family murderers are male:
“Of the 71 family ‘annihilators’ identified for the study, 59 of them were male and 55 percent of them were in their thirties when they committed the crime.”
What’s more, there were clear motives behind the actions of these seemingly well-adjusted individuals. Family breakup was cited as the leading trigger for their actions, with financial troubles, honour killings and mental illness trailing shortly behind.
Research has identified that these family killers, unlike most typical killers, oftentimes don’t have criminal records and are largely unknown to mental health services and other kinds of counselors, meaning their actions come as a shock to the world at large.
Examining cases, however, the research revealed that family killers, in addition to having identifiable motivations, also fall into four distinct sub-categories: self-righteous, disappointed, anomic, and paranoid.
- Self-Righteous killers hold their spouse responsible for the breakdown of the family unit, believe their “breadwinner” status is central to their ideal of the family, and may actually contact their victim before committing their acts to explain their reasoning.
- Disappointed killers believe their families have let them down in some way, or that they have destroyed what they believe to be the ideal family life.
- Anomic killers tie their economic success to their family, a kind of trophy. When their economic fortunes wane, they may see the family as “no longer serving this function.”
- Paranoid killers are convinced that some external threat to their family is on the horizon (such as social services or the legal system), and may see committing familicide as a way to “protect” their kin.
And what of the fate of these family killers? Even in cases as heinous as these, someone accused of murder needs a criminal defense attorney, and is deserving of a trial. Unfortunately, that trial typically never comes, as 81 percent of men who commit familicide take their own lives after the fact, leaving no chance to further investigate their motives or learn what drove them from their own perspective.