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Anaheim investigator Julissa Trapp is not like other detectives. She’s the only woman on the homicide squad, and a skilled chameleon: undercover cop in vice stings, crime-scene commander, patient confidante of killers. A master interrogator, she invokes her personal experience – and deepest griefs — as a tool to elicit confessions. When a young woman’s body is found at a trash-sorting plant, Trapp learns the murder may be linked to the disappearance of three other women in nearby Santa Ana. Trapp embarks on a dark journey that brings her face to face with a man who takes “a little piece of her soul.” Listen now at wondery.fm/DTDarkness
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IN THIS EPISODE: Mirrors, mirrors, mirrors everywhere. The more mirrors Lucida had the more she could admire herself. She even is said to have made a deal with the devil in order to maintain her youthful beauty. (The Creepy Story of Lucida Mansi) *** Village life in Lemont, Illinois was as peaceful as it could be, and the Willmans farm was one of the collection of typical sleepy homesteads in the region. Until the day the demon came. (The Demon of Lemont) *** Chillingly, statistics suggest that a child is more likely to be killed by a parent than by a stranger and in most cases, the killer takes his own life after the act. We’ll look into the disturbing psychology of family annihilators. (The Psychology of Familicide)
MENTIONED LINKS AND EPISODES FROM THE CHAMBER OF COMMENTS…
“UFOs and Creep;y Humanoids” (Shirime episode): http://weirddarkness.com/archives/4924
“There’s a Creature on the Wing!” (Gremlins story): http://weirddarkness.com/archives/3649
STORY AND MUSIC CREDITS/SOURCES…
“The Creepy Story of Lucida Mansi” by Ellen Lloyd for Ancient Pages: http://bit.ly/2DgFrcK
“The Demon of Lemont” by Ursula Bielski for Chicago Hauntings: http://bit.ly/2rnR9zG
“The Psychology of Familicide” by Fiona Guy for Crime Traveller: http://bit.ly/2rmEOM2
“The List Family Massacre” from All That’s Interesting: http://bit.ly/34itO0I
Background music provided by EpidemicSound and AudioBlocks with paid license. Music by Shadows Symphony (http://bit.ly/2W6N1xJ) and Midnight Syndicate (http://amzn.to/2BYCoXZ) is also sometimes used with permission.
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“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” — John 12:46 *** How to escape eternal darkness: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2IYmodFKDaM
THE LIST FAMILY MASSACRE
In 1971, John List lost his job at the bank at age 46. Subsequent jobs didn’t pan out. He couldn’t bear to tell his family about the loss of income. So he spent his days at the train station, reading the newspaper and secretly skimming money from his mother’s bank accounts to pay the mortgage. He refused to go on welfare, as it would entail excruciating embarrassment in the community and violate the principles of self-sufficiency that he learned at his father’s knee. It’s hard to believe the solution he arrived at would have been more acceptable to his father, but John List would later say it seemed to him the only option: the murder of his mother, wife, and children.
One day in late 1971, List shot and killed his wife, Helen; his 16-year-old daughter, Patricia; his 15-year-old son, John; his 13-year-old son, Frederick; and his mother, Alma, aged 85. They were shot methodically one by one. Helen was first. List saw the children off to school and then shot her in the kitchen as she sipped her customary morning coffee. Then, he went up to the third floor and murdered his mother in her bed. He killed Patricia when she returned home from school, then the youngest son, Frederick. He made himself a sandwich, closed out his bank accounts, and cheered for his only surviving son, John, at his high school soccer game. He gave him a ride home, then shot him in the chest. John List laid the bodies of his family members on top of sleeping bags in the ballroom, then composed a note to his pastor, who he felt would understand. He feared his family, confronted with a world full of evil and poverty, would turn from God; this was the only way to ensure their safe arrival in heaven. He was not, however, willing to suffer the earthly consequences of his actions. In an effort to baffle the police, he cleaned the crime scenes and used scissors to remove his image from every photo in the mansion.
He canceled all deliveries and contacted his children’s schools to let their teachers know the family would be on vacation for a few weeks. He turned on the lights and the radio, leaving religious hymns playing in the house’s empty rooms. He slept in the mansion where his family lay dead, then walked out the door the next morning — and wasn’t seen again for 18 years. A month passed before neighbors, curious about the constantly burning lights and empty windows, began to suspect something was wrong at the List mansion. When authorities entered the house on Dec. 7, 1971, they heard organ music piped through the intercom system. They also found the five-page note from John List explaining that the bloodied bodies on the ballroom floor were his family members, killed out of mercy. In his eyes, he had saved the souls of the people he loved.
THE DEMON OF LEMONT
I think every paranormal investigator I know has the huge, black paperback compendium of Hans Holzer’s cases published some years back called Ghosts: True Encounters with the World Beyond, a collection of literally scores of Holzer’s most fascinating and favorite cases over his distinguished and often disturbing career. I must admit that, while many of the cases were a little scary even for me, one of them was absolutely hair-raising.
The case he titled, “The Devil in Texas, ” and it was a very complex one, set in Tyler, Texas, concerning a wife and mother who suffered from mental illness and who, as a result, had been institutionalized. What happened was that a series of paranormal phenomena seemed to attack her family at home while she was in the hospital; it appeared to originate from her consciousness and even exhibit her personality and voice.
One of the phenomena involved the sudden apports of letters, notes and personal checks from out of thin air, addressed to her husband and son, a variety of them from dead neighbors or from people they did not know.
I found this phenomenon endlessly fascinating and deeply disturbing, and this case has always haunted me as I’ve continued on my own path as a researcher. So imagine how intrigued I was to discover a case involving a similar series of events which took place right outside of Chicago in the late 19th century . . . .
At the turn of the 19th century, the Willmans farm was one of many that sprawled in Lemont, Illinois, just south of Sag Bridge. Like other surrounding towns, the farming and quarrying town of Lemont had not seen much of any excitement since the time of the building of the Illinois & Michigan canal many years before. Village life was as peaceful as it could be, and the Willmans farm was one of the collection of typical sleepy homesteads in the region.
Until the day the demon came.
One evening, in the fall of 1901, while the Willmans family was at dinner—father, mother and four children between the ages of 12 and 16—a letter dropped out of the air near the ceiling and landed in the middle of the dining room table. The bewildered family looked at one another, then—after a few long moments– Mrs. Wellmans carefully picked up the letter and opened it. The letter was written in an archaic hand, as of a young child, with capital and lowercase letters mixed up and numerous spelling errors. The message, however, was clear: whoever or whatever had written the letter stated that the family had ten days to leave the house or some dreadful tragedy would befall them. Shocked and horrified, Willmans told his wife to burn the letter.
When the family did not vacate the farm, more letters appeared, taking on a tone of viciousness, and falling from the air at the feet of the horrified family members. There were numerous letters threatening to kidnap the younger children, and a distinctly vicious attack on one of the children, Anna, whose mother had died at the age of 35, who received a letter at her feet saying “You will live no longer than your mother. You don’t know what killed her, but I do!”
The letters increased as the days wore on, as the entity alternated between threatening the family and predicting visits from family and friends and other future events.
The family’s cows also became involved. When Mr. Willmans and his son were milking them one day, his son cried out, “Father! My cow is giving cheese instead of milk!” Sure enough, when Mr. Willmans looked into the pail, the milk had turned to cheese when it touched the pail. That same day, Willmans had seen a black cat wandering around the farm and shot at it to chase it off.
That night, the family received a letter stating, “Do you want to know why your cows have stopped giving milk? I did it! …. You thought you’d put a shot in me, didn’t you?”
Word got around that a black cat had been speaking to the family through mysterious letters, and talk of witchcraft and demons spread like wildfire through the village.
And the letters still came, written on every kind of paper the entity could find, and sometimes in ink, in pencil or even in the bluing Mrs. Wellmans used for the laundry. The family’s pen, which was kept in a cupboard with writing paper and pads, would disappear just before the family received a letter, and then be returned again to its rightful place, though the doors never opened.
The family’s dog seemed keenly aware of what was happening. When the dog was outside before a letter dropped he would begin to bark and howl and claw at the door of the house, desperate to get inside at something. When let in, however, he would run inside and stop dead in his tracks in front of some invisible presence, running back to the door and whining to get out.
The demon or whatever it was also played tricks on visitors, including a family member who came to visit one Sunday. He and the family sat in the parlor to talk. The visitor had hung up his coat and hat on the coat rack in a corner of the room. After their visit, he rose to leave and went to the coat rack, which had been in full view the entire time, to get his things. His hat was gone, and the front of his coat had been smeared with butter. The hat was found in the garden, tattered and filled with dirt and rotten apples. Mrs. Willmans opened the cupboard, which was also in full view of everyone, and took the lid off the butter crock. Inside she found an indentation of fingers as if someone had scooped out a handful of it.
When the family’s nerves were close to the breaking point, they turned to the Church.
Father Westarp was at the time the pastor of St. Alphonsus Church in Lemont, and the Willmans family begged him to come to the house to help them. Fr. Westarp had not been quick to believe what was happening to the family. He later told a reporter he was “extremely puzzled” by the goings-on at the Willmans’ farm, as they seemed to have no place in the progressive world of the turning 18th century:
In this age of the world it appears absurd to. talk of ghosts or evil spirits, and so I would have said before investigating what Is going on at the Wlllmans’ place. But what I have witnessed there with my own eyes and what has been told me by persons whom I know. to be absolutely reliable leaves me no option but to believe that an agency that Is not mortal Is responsible for them.
Father Westarp finally complied, obtaining permission from then Archbishop Feehan to perform an exorcism of the house. The arrived at the farm several days later, accompanied by another priest, Bibles and holy water in hand. Fr. Westarp “exorcised” the house, going from room to room giving a house blessing, with a different prayer for each room to rid whatever human or non-hhuman spirits might be there. When he finished, his colleague did the same.
After the exorcism, Fr. Westarp put a piece of paper and a pencil on the kitchen table and the two priests and family went outside for several minutes. This was in keeping with the Roman Catholic Rite of Exorcism which demands that, before departing, a demon must give its name and reason for infesting the human or humans it has troubled. When the family and priests re-entered the house again, the paper was blank, a sign that the demon—if that’s what it was—had no intention of leaving. Indeed, though the house was quiet for three days, the letters and torments began again, starting with a note that mocked the exorcism: “’How I did laugh at seeing you all on your knees and praying I’ : What do you think of such a letter? It must be a demon!”
Another letter repeated, almost word for word, the private conversation the priest and Mrs. Wellmans had had outside the house after his visit, laughing at the advice he had given her.
Fr. Westarp had instructed Mrs. Wellmans to remove all of the writing paper in the house, and she complied. But the entity was industrious. Soon after the exorcism, a letter fell out of the air written on a piece of Mrs. Wellmans’ hatbox. She burned a piece of blessed palm the pastor had given her, and blue the smoke into the inkwell, thinking this should take care of the nuisance. Indeed, the demon no longer used the ink, but resorted to the pencil.
As for the source of the manifestations, the consensus in the village was that it was obviously demonic. The black cat had spoken, and the entity had mocked the sacred Rite of Exorcism. Word got around that Fr. Westarp had a theory that the family had possession or knowledge of the Seventh Book of Moses, a book of necromantic knowledge believed to have once been part of the Scriptures, but the priest denied having made such a suggestion.
Some, of course, suggested that the children were responsible for the diabolical letters, but Fr. Westarp quickly dismissed this theory, based upon the foul language and outright blasphemy many of the letters had contained—and the fact that all members of the family and often visitors were present when many of the letters arrived.
Mrs. Wellmans wondered if, since the farm was supposed to be sold by the owners the next year, a potential buyer might be trying to spoil the value of the property. Still, she said, there was no way to explain just how the letters made their way into view from thin air, or how any of the other myriad phenomena had actually been created. Her only explanation was, “Witchcraft.”
Today, the story of the Demon of Lemont has been long forgotten by the history books of this sleepy town. Yet the legacy of its spirit certainly remains. This region can claim notoriety as one of the most haunted not only in the Chicago area but in the nation, from the ghosts of the DesPlaines River Valley and the old Sag Bridge hauntings to the ghosts of the Archer Avenue Triangle and Resurrection Mary herself. Let this eerie old tale, then, take its place among those that walk these hallowed roads.
THE CREEPY STORY OF LUCIDA MANSI
To say that Lucida Mansi was vain is an understatement. Lucida was obsessed with her beauty and she couldn’t stand the thought of getting old. To prevent the process of aging, she did something horrifying.
Unraveling the truth about Lucida Mansi (1606 -1649) is not easy because her story based on a mixture of historical facts and legends with a supernatural twist.
Lucida Mansi is today known as one of the most famous ghosts in Italy, but she was once a real historical person. Although, it’s uncertain where she originally came from and who her parents were, it is known that her life can be traced to province of Lucca, Italy.
She was a noble woman who at a very young age married Vincenzo Diversi. Unfortunately, her husband died just a couple years after the marriage, and she became a widow. To improve her personal situation, Lucida grabbed the opportunity to marry Gaspare di Nicolao Mansi, a much older and wealthy man.
The significant age difference between the couple and the fact that she was a real beauty became a popular gossip subject among the locals.
Rumors said that Lucida was so vain she ordered an entire room in their large villa to be decorated with mirrors. She wanted to admire her physical appearance as much as possible.
How and when Lucida passed away is uncertain, but it seems she died of the plague February 12, 1649 and was buried in the family grave in the chiesa dei Cappuccini a Lucca.
Legends tell that Lucida couldn’t handle the fact she was ageing. One day she woke up, looked in the mirror and to her horror she noticed a small wrinkle on her face. At the same moment, the Devil appeared in front of her. Knowing she was a perfect victim; the Devil gave her an irresistible offer.
He told Lucida she could remain a beautiful young woman for the next 30 years, but the Devil wanted her soul in exchange. Lucida was thrilled and gladly accepted the offer. After all, being beautiful was all she wanted.
As the legend goes, when 30 years passed, the Devil returned and demanded Lucida’s soul. The vain woman now finally realized what she had done and refused to give him her soul. Trying to escape, Lucida jumped into her a carriage and began racing around the walls of Lucca. It can be added that the history of the city of Lucca goes back far in time. The city was most likely built by the Etruscans before later becoming Roman colony in 180 B.C. The ancient walls around Lucca are still visible.
Unfortunately for Lucida, her attempt to escape the Devil ended badly. It was a rainy and stormy night. Frightened by the lightning, her horses leaped from the wall running straight into the lake. There was no escape. Lucida drowned.
It is said that Lucida’s beautiful face of Lucida can still be seen at the bottom of the lake and her ghost haunt the property of the Mansi family. Her ghostly screams can be heard when it’s full Moon.
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF FAMILICIDE
Familicide is defined as one family member who murders other members of their family, commonly taking the lives of all. It is most often used to describe cases where a parent, usually the father, kills his wife and children and then himself. These cases are horrifying acts which can wipe out an entire family, leaving relatives, friends, and colleagues stunned and confused. Often no outward signs were visible to suggest anyone was in danger or that there was a risk of an individual taking such horrific actions. It is a crime that has invoked horror and fascination in equal measures. For those with an interest in why such horrific crimes take place and how an individual can murder their own family, such cases are explored in detail.
Familicide is commonly intertwined with the term ‘family annihilator’ stemming from the act itself, that of family annihilation. Most researchers agree that this act is a form of mass murder due to the multiple victims involved.
Chillingly, statistics suggest that a child is more likely to be killed by a parent than by a stranger and in most cases, the killer takes his own life after the act. There is no court case, no opportunity to find out why and whether or not this was planned murder or an act which was spontaneous due to thoughts at that very moment. Those left behind can only speculate on what may have caused someone they loved to kill their family, and most often, take the lives of innocent children.
Criminologists have been conducting increasing research into the phenomenon of familicide and in the process have produced many terms and definitions to describe such acts and distinguish them from each other. Familicide, the family annihilator, murder-suicides and family murders are all terms which have been used to describe cases where a family member has killed other family members.
The varied definitions of the term ‘familicide’ can make a comparison of studies and cases challenging. Familicide sits among a number of types of family murder, all the term ‘‘ which means ‘the act of killing‘ in Latin, often adding to the confusion over terminology.
A research study published in the Howard Journal of Criminal Justice in 2013 by Elizabeth Yardley, David Wilson and Adam Lynes has been particularly influential in this field. They analyzed newspaper articles over three decades from 1980 to 2012 where cases of familicide were reported. They found a total of 71 cases where 59 of the perpetrators were male and over half were between the ages of 30-40 years old when they committed the crime.
Yardley, Wilson, and Lynes reported that 57% of cases they studied occurred inside the family home compared to 17% in an isolated country spot no doubt pre-selected by the offender. In 32% of cases, the method of killing was stabbing followed by 15% of cases involving carbon monoxide poisoning from a car exhaust. Most offenders were employed and aged between 30 and 39 years old at the time of the murders. In 68% of cases, the male annihilator committed suicide after the murders.
Professor David Wilson has stated that “family annihilators have received little attention as a separate category of killer” and they are “often treated like spree or serial murderers, a view which presupposes traits, such as the idea that the murderer ‘snaps’, or that after killing their partner or children the killer may force a standoff with the police“, which is not an entirely accurate representation of these killers.
In contrast to other groups, such as serial killers and mass murderers, these were found to be individuals with good backgrounds.
They were not known to the police or the criminal justice system; they often had good jobs, families, and friends around them. They can be very successful people in their lives and not the kind of person who it is perceived would kill anyone never mind their entire family.
As highlighted by Professor Jack Leven, Professor of Sociology and Criminology Emeritus at Northeastern University in Boston, the profile of a man who kills his family “is a middle-aged man, a good provider who would appear to neighbors to be a dedicated husband and a devoted father.”
Researchers also identified four common areas which may be the causes of such family murders; a breakdown in the family relationship and issues surrounding access to children, money worries and financial hardship, cultural honor killings and mental illness.
These findings echo the conclusions drawn from a 2009 study by Leveillee and colleagues who examined 16 cases of familicide in Quebec between 1986 and 2000. They found that social loss, economic reasons, mental illness, and intimate partner loss were the most common likely causes of murder-suicide within a family.
Two more recent literature reviews carried out into familicide also provide some key points when focusing on the profile of a family annihilator.
Psychologist Sharon Mailloux found offenders to be predominantly male and in a long term relationship with possessive tendencies over his family, in her literature review published in 2014 in the Journal of Family Violence. Employment issues, problems with substance misuse and a history of domestic violence also featured across the cases she studied. Divorce or separation was found to be a trigger point.
In 2017, Anna Liisa Aho, Anni Remahl and, Eija Paavilainen from Tampere University in Finland examined the background factors that may be involved in familicide in Western countries. They found familicide offenders were mostly highly educated men with psychological problems, depression, self-destructiveness and substance abuse issues. Past violent behavior and unsteady social relationships were also prevalent.
The case of Bruce Blackman, a 22-year-old man in British Columbia is a tragic example of how mental illness can be involved in cases of familicide. In the weeks leading up to the killings, his room-mate reportedly noticed strange behavior from Blackman where he claimed to be getting messages from the Bible and believed the world was going to end.
Blackman drove to his parents’ house on 18 January 1983. Once there he shot both his parents and his younger brother with a .22 caliber rifle. He called his elder sisters, who no longer lived in the family home, and fatally shot them and his brother-in-law when they arrived. Found walking near the crime scene he was arrested and charged with murder. Bruce Blackman was found not guilty by reason of insanity and sent to a psychiatric unit for treatment. Released from the hospital in 1995, he now has a new identity, however, must forever live with the fact that he murdered his family in 1983.
Researchers have focused on any link between borderline personality disorder and familicide and while some evidence was found that could conclude a causal link, in such a rare crime it is difficult to draw any solid conclusions as to the role of such mental disorders within this crime.
John List was a father of three in 1971 in New Jersey who shot and killed his wife, all three children, and his mother before fleeing and building himself a new life. A 46-year-old accountant, John List struggled to maintain his employment and pay his mortgage and had been stealing money from his elderly mother.
Police officers discovered the bodies of his family inside the family home on 7 December 1971 along with a note he had written to his pastor, expressing his concern that there was ‘too much evil’ in the world and he had taken the lives of his family to ‘save their souls’.
With his car found at Kennedy International Airport, it soon became clear Mr. List had fled but despite extensive searches, he could not be found. In 1989 the TV program ‘America’s Most Wanted’ became involved in the case and presented a show featuring his story along with an image of how John List may have looked 18 years after he was last seen.
John List was arrested 10 ten days later after being recognized by a neighbor as a man who lived next door with his wife going by the name of Robert Clark.
Upon his arrest, he denied being John List until confronted with fingerprint matches. Convicted of murder, he was sentenced to five life sentences. In a television interview in 2002, John List claimed he did not take his own life as he wanted to be reunited with his family in heaven. He died in prison aged 82 in 2008.
ohn Hogan was a 32-year-old man from Bristol with a wife and two children. By all appearances, he was happy and successful in his professional and personal life. In August 2006 without any warning while on a family holiday in Crete, he threw his six-year-old son, Liam Hogan, off their fourth-floor apartment balcony, killing him instantly. He then jumped off the 50ft high balcony himself with his 2-year-old daughter Mia Logan in his arms. Both he and little Mia survived the fall with broken bones.
After the tragedy, it was revealed the couple were having marital troubles and had argued, signaling an end to the marriage, just before John Hogan took the actions he did. John Hogan was accused of murder and attempted murder and spent three years in psychiatric hospitals and Greek jails after pleading temporary insanity. He was a broken man in dealing with the actions he took on that day. In 2008 he was acquitted of his son’s murder in Greece and in 2009 he was released from psychiatric care to return to the UK.
While one man tries to come to terms with the fact he murdered his own son and tried to murder his daughter in the most horrific of ways, Natasha Visser, the children’s mother and her family have been left angered by a not guilty verdict and the decision to allow him to return to the UK as a free man with no convictions.
It is understood John Hogan entered in-patient psychiatric care upon his return and has agreed not to try and contact his daughter. The Crown Prosecution Service chose not to retry John Hogan for murder in the UK.
Mental health is often questioned in these cases with an assumption of a disordered mental state from the father who has made a decision to kill all members of his immediate family. In Leveillee’s 2009 study, they found that 68% of those who killed their family had a history of depressive symptoms and 38% showed borderline traits of a personality disorder.
Steven Sueppel was a 42-year-old former bank vice president on bail for embezzlement charges to the tune of $560,000 from his own bank in Iowa City, Iowa. Admitting the fraud and resigning from his position, he was distraught and devastated by the shame of his actions. In March 2009 he murdered his wife and four children before leaving numerous voicemails for family members and ex-colleagues, apologizing and expressing the shame he had brought upon his family was “too much to bear”.
He had beat his wife to death and led his children between the ages of 3 and 10 years old to the garage, where he tried unsuccessfully to kill them and himself with carbon monoxide poisoning. When that failed it is thought he beat the children to death in the same manner he had his wife. Steven Sueppel called emergency services and told them to go to his house, he then drove his car into a concrete pillar on the Interstate, killing himself when his van exploded into flames.
Familicide is a very difficult concept for any of us to get our head around. We have all faced problems and difficulties in our lives but very few of us resort to such drastic and terrifying actions. What makes one individual decide to murder their family before themselves is a question still being asked.
It cannot be ignored that in an estimated 95% of cases the perpetrator is male and the ‘head of the household’. This traditional idea of the man providing for and looking after his family may be one factor when he no longer feels he is meeting this role adequately, often if finances or employment breaks down.
Another key factor in these types of killings appears to be a rage from the male when he feels he has been wronged by his partner, whether this is due to the partnership breaking down, an affair in the marriage and/or difficulties surrounding access to the children. There can be a revenge aspect where he leaves the mother alive to suffer after he takes the lives of her children, however, this is by far not the main reason, as perceived by some, for this type of murder.
Research into family annihilators is still in its infancy. The rarity of cases coupled with most killers taking their own lives does not allow for research to take place into this phenomenon easily.
Professor Neil Websdale, a Professor at Northern Arizona University is one academic who has studied these crimes in his book “Familicidal Hearts: The Emotional Styles of 211 Killers”. For him, this idea of the male societal role and no longer meeting that role is a common trait among family annihilators. He follows the more traditional view of the reasons behind male father figures killing their families being rage, revenge, and altruism.
He has categorized such family killers into two groups; the “livid coercive” killer who is motivated by anger and rage. They show control issues and may have abusive tendencies achieving their self-worth by exerting authority within the home. Should this marriage begin to fail maybe because of such controlling issues and the wife and children try to leave, a lack of control and feelings of humiliation could prompt such acts of violence against his family
“civil reputable” killer, in contrast, is motivated by altruism where his identity is wrapped up in his family. Committing murder against all family members is, therefore, a way of saving them from the hardship and shame of financial troubles and bankruptcy and they will almost always commit suicide afterward.
If suicide after the act fails, in most cases which reach a court, the perpetrator will almost always plead some form of insanity as a defense, however not all believe this is an adequate explanation for such acts. As in all types of mass murder, there are different motivations and different methods of murder.
Cases of familicide most often reported in the news and featured as case-studies when researching the phenomenon focuses on adult offenders who kill their partner or ex-partner, their children and sometimes other family members. There are cases however of young familicide offenders, that is offenders who murder multiple members of their family when they are still only adolescents.
Adolescents who kill family members usually means teens who kill their parents, a phenomenon termed ‘parricide’. However, when multiple family victims are involved the definitions used for such cases become varied and unclear with familicide and parricide being used interchangeably across different studies. Despite this, the findings when a spotlight is placed on such adolescent offenders are interesting in light of what is known about the more familiar adult male familicide offender.
Published in the Journal of Family Violence in 2016, researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the FBI took a closer look at young familicide offenders between the ages of 14 and 21. They studied 16 cases where these adolescents and young adults killed or made a serious attempt to kill their families.
In keeping with research on adult offenders, they found 84% of offenders to be male. Interestingly they also found evidence of 50% of the offenders telling others beforehand that they wanted to kill their families. In most cases of adult male familicides, no prior warning is established and certainly no reporting to others of their desire or thoughts about killing their families. It was found that 75% of familicides carried out by young offenders were planned shooting attacks and spontaneous acts of violence with all victims being specifically targeted. 81% of these offenders confessed to the homicides when questioned.
disagreement and friction with parents seems to be the trigger in most cases of young familicide offenders and most offenders were not considered to be violent or aggressive towards others previous to the offense. Although it should be noted, some offenders had violent acts against individuals outside the family and some had shown which made their family fear for their safety. In some cases mental health was an issue with “psychotic and paranoid symptoms” being involved.
Jacques Marleau, Nathalie Auclair and Frederic from research institutes in Montreal, Canada reported in 2006 that youthful familicide offending is often planned and focused at killing multiple victims. These factors, they concluded should be considered as separate from traditional single-victim parricides.
The Canadian researchers examined a sample of youthful familicide cases which took place between 1984 and 2000 taken from the FBI’s Behavioural Science Unit database. Cases were included in the study where the offender was under 21 years old, killed or attempted to kill all family members living in the family unit, involved at least 2 victims and attacks happened in one place over the course of one day. Of the 16 cases included, 75% saw all family members killed and 25% of the cases were attempted familicides where some or all victims survived. 75% of cases involved single offenders with remaining 25% being multiple offender cases including siblings acting together or one offender acting with the assistance of friends.
In total 19 offenders were examined. 40% had a history of aggressive behaviors towards their families and 47% of offenders had long-standing substance abuse problems. Only 2 offenders had history of mental illness.
Their findings did not support the notion that most familicides occur suddenly with no pre-meditation or planning. They found almost all young offenders in this study had expressed homicidal ideation in the past and had planned the murders. In most cases after the murders, they reported, these offenders displayed behaviors that were ‘overt in appearance of normality and remorse was rarely observed’.
In stark contrast to adult familicide offenders, in none of these young familicide cases did the offenders attempt suicide/commit suicide after the killings.
In a more recent study, Karlsson et al (2019) carried out a comprehensive literature review within the peer-reviewed research published on familicide. They examined 63 research papers covering 67 studies from 18 countries that were published between 1980 and 2017 including familicide cases where the offender killed their current or former partner and at least one child. In almost all cases the offender was male and in around 50% of the cases the offender committed suicide after the murders. Problems in mental health, relationships, and physical health were frequently noted across the cases studied.
In most cases studied, the offender lived in the same household with all of the victims and in agreement with previous studies, problems in the relationship, a break-up financial problems were prevalent within the families involved.
Within this literature review, two types of familicide emerged, most from the research of Wilson et al (1995) and Liem and Reichelmann (2014).
• Despondent Type – the despaired offender who kills as an extended suicide. This offender kills the family due to pseudo-altruistic reasons.
• Hostile Type – the jealous offender who is motivated to kill their family out jealousy and revenge with the primary victim being the spouse.
Both types it was concluded have a sense of ‘ownership’ over their family although they have different motives for the murders. The Despondent offender possibly believes the family will not cope without him if he just kills himself. The Hostile offender is motivated by jealousy and may believe he has the control and can make such a decision for the entire family.
Another interesting area of this literature review was a comparison against other types of family murder, specifically looking at familicides in comparison to uxoricides (the killing of one’s wife) and filicides (the killing of one’s child by parents).
It was found that the most common method of killing in familicides involved firearms, and these were used much more often than in the above two types of family murders. Liem and Koenraadt (2008) reported more familicide offenders had a personality disorder with narcissistic or dependent features compared to uxoricide offenders and they had less often previously committed a violent offense. History of mental health, substance abuse, and employment status remained the same across both uxoricide and familicide cases. Familicide offenders were found to generally be younger than uxoricide offenders, more likely to kill themselves after the act and more likely to be married to the adult victim.
Familicide offenders were generally found to be older than filicide offenders, more often male and higher educated however, again history of substance abuse, mental health problems, violent offending and relationship problems remained the same across the two types of murders (Liem and Koenraadt, 2008; Logan et al, 2013; Wilson et al 1995).
The motives behind familicide are more similar to the motives behind uxoricide i.e. narcissistic rage, jealousy, and fear of abandonment, compared to the motives of filicide. Furthermore, Wilson et al (1995) concluded that familicides actually have more in common with uxoricides as the children killed in familicides are not the primary victims (the spouse is, the same as in uxoricides).
As more research has been carried out into familicide, possible causes have been expanded with a view that not all cases fit into the revenge and altruism categories. In many cases, it appears the father feels he no longer wants to live or that he just cannot go on and decides to take his family with him. As described by Professor of Psychiatry Phillip Resnick at the Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, familicide is an act of ‘extended suicide’.
In the influential Yardley, Wilson and Lynes research, they looked at cases over a span of 30 years and grouped their case studies into four categories looking at the motives behind the killings. Cases may not be straight-forward in terms of falling into one of these categories exclusively and as a result, it is common for male annihilators to fall into multiple categories, something which needs to be examined case by case.
These are individuals, usually fathers, who place blame on others for their actions. They often blame the mother of their children for being the cause of the family breakup or for preventing him from having access to his children. They see themselves as the provider of the family and if they are unable to meet that role they can enter dangerous territory.
Often they are looking to cause pain and suffering to their partner or ex-partner and can use their children to do this. Fathers who fall into this category can kill their children and leave the mother alive to ensure maximum pain and suffering. As they blame the mother, they can often make contact just before they commit the murders to tell her what they are about to do, knowing there is nothing she can do to prevent it.
The case of 33-year-old Gavin Hall who in November 2005 killed his 3-year-old daughter by drugging her with antidepressants and then smothering her with a chloroform-soaked rag, fits into this category. After unsuccessfully trying to take his own life he was put on trial where it was revealed he had just discovered his wife was having an affair. Chillingly after he killed his daughter he sent a text message to her mother, Joanne Hall with the words, “Now you have the rest of your life to deal with the consequences”.
53-year old Brian Philcox is another example of a self-righteous killer. In June 2008 in Cheshire, England, he picked up his children on Father’s day for a day out and after driving them to a secluded spot in Snowdonia, South Wales, he drugged them and pumped exhaust fumes into the car, killing 7-year-old Amy Philcox and 3-year-old Owen Philcox and himself.
With his anger firmly directed at his ex-wife, he had designed a bomb which he left at her house to detonate as she opened a note he had left her. The bomb failed to go off and his ex-wife was unharmed.
These are people who believe they have been let down by those around them, most often their partner and their children. They may believe they are not good enough or they not meeting his standards or beliefs. Some cases of honor killings can fall into this category where a father may be unhappy with his children’s choices and does not feel they are being true to their cultural and traditional religious customs.
The murder of 17-year-old Shafilea Ahmed by her parents in 2003 in Warrington, Cheshire is one such example. A young girl struggling to find her identity living in Britain while maintaining her Pakistani cultural roots and heritage, her father disapproved of her behavior. After drugging her and flying her to Pakistan for an arranged marriage, Shafilea drank bleach to avoid the ceremony. After her return to the UK, she went missing until her body was found in marshland in Cumbria in 2004. In 2010 her older sister revealed the truth of what had happened to her sister.
She had been held down and suffocated by her father while her mother looked on. Both parents were convicted of murder and sentenced to a minimum of 25 years in prison.
For these individuals their family are an extension of their economic success in life and should any part of that economic status break down, for example, a job loss or financial hardship, their family no longer serves this function. The case of Chris Foster in Shropshire in 2008 is a tragic and devastating example of this category of family annihilator.
A millionaire businessman, Chris Foster was married with a 15-year-old daughter. He murdered his wife and daughter before setting his farmhouse on fire. The ferocity of the fire was intense and when fire crews did make it to the house it took 12 crews and several days to contain the fire and ensure the area was safe. In what was originally thought to be a devastating house fire, it was soon revealed to be a much deeper horror.
Christopher Foster was in financial trouble and was on the verge of losing his home, a fact he had kept hidden from those around him. The bodies of Kirstie Foster and Jill Foster were found with gunshot wounds, confirming they had been killed before the fire was set.
Possibly the most chilling aspect of this case was the CCTV at the family’s home which captured Chris Foster walking through the grounds of his house with a .22 rifle, shooting the family’s horses and dogs and pouring 200 gallons of petrol around the outbuildings and through the house. Chris Foster’s body was found entwined with his wife’s. He had died of smoke inhalation suggesting he had finished his task and climbed into the bed next to his wife and waited to be consumed by the smoke of the fire.
These individuals often believe their family and especially their children are under some form of threat or they need protecting. It may be they fear social services may come and take the children away or circumstances involving the police or the legal system which they fear is a threat to their family. In these cases, they kill, in their minds, to protect the family from the outside threat.
Graham Anderson was 36-years-old and facing a custody hearing regarding his two sons, Jack aged 11 and Bryn aged 3 in Tidworth, Wiltshire in England. Shortly before the hearing, while the children were staying with their father for a visit, he smothered both after drugging them with sleeping pills. Graham Anderson then hung himself. While Mr. Anderson was known to have substance misuse issues there were no signs he was a risk to himself or the children and both families have been left shocked and devastated at his actions. During the inquest into the boys’ death, it was concluded they were killed unlawfully by their father and the impending custody hearing may have played a part in Graham Anderson’s actions.
These are categories that can overlap and are still being developed and refined for categorizing cases of familicide. Notably, these are different from other identified categories of killers (serial killers, spree killers, mass murderers), leaving familicide in a unique category of its own.
A difference between men and women who carry out this crime in terms of their motivations has also been noted. Leveillee et al (2007)found that men who kill their children are more likely to have done so as a form of revenge against their partner and the children’s mother.
It is more expected in society and within the criminal justice system for a male to commit violent crime than a female. Males have more of a perceived psychological profile more prone to aggression and violence than women and therefore when a female does commit a criminally violent act it is viewed as more shocking and more surprising. However, there have been cases of females who have committed very violent acts against her children.
The case of Stella Delores Almarez is one example. A 29-year-old married mother of four from Norfolk in Nebraska, she fatally shot and stabbed her four daughters aged 2 – 10 years old in June 1980. She then shot herself but survived. She made no attempt to harm her husband who was not present at the time of the killings. The couple were halfway through a divorce and news reports suggest she was concerned about raising her children by her herself.
Charged with murder she was found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to a psychiatric hospital for treatment. Such gender expectations have been around within criminology and crime theory for a long time with many of the theories developed being predominantly focused on male criminal behavior.
When a woman commits a violent crime, it is often assumed she is either evil or insane. In cases of female familicide, the motivations of women can be linked to mental illness, murdering their children out of a belief that they are saving them in some way.
This was an issue which presented itself in the Andrea Yate’s case, where due to severe postpartum depression Mrs. Yates drowned all five of her young children in the bathtub of their home believing she was saving them from the devil and from wrongdoings.
Confessing openly to the murders she was convicted of first-degree murder at her first trial, however, this was later changed to not guilty by reason of insanity in a second trial and she was committed to a psychiatric unit indefinitely where she still remains today.
Some clear agreed upon characteristics of familicide are that the crime is almost always carried out by a male offender, and most often with a firearm. The correlation between a final act of familicide and a history of domestic violence within the home and family is high with a study by Anna Campbell finding that intimate-partner violence had occurred in 70% of the 408 cases she had studied.
Such domestic violence is not always reported and therefore on police records. In many cases, it is reports from family and friends that reveal such prior violence within the home with up to 75% of cases having no police involvement, and therefore no arrest records, for such incidents. It is clear however that domestic violence within the home heightens the risk for familicide occurring in the future.
Further findings from Campbell include that unemployment was indeed a risk factor for familicide, but only when there was already a history of domestic violence within the home. Losing a job on its own was not deemed to be a factor which may lead to the murder of the entire family followed by the suicide of the offender. Equally access to a firearm also featured as a significant risk factor. With the majority of familicides being carried out using a gun, access is an important issue.
Within an abusive relationship, the time at which two partners separate has been identified as especially vulnerable in relation to familicide. It is at this point that a partner may realize they are losing their family and consider taking drastic action. Jealousy and revenge may also play a role.
The psychological profile of a family annihilator is a complex one and research is continuing to discover more information about the kinds of individuals and circumstances which can lead to such horrific and tragic actions. This is a profile which appears to be quite different from more familiar profiles of mass murderers, serial killers and, spree killers. There is an intimacy involved with the relationships between the perpetrator and the victims of this crime.
Warning signs, if any, are difficult to spot and the modern-day nature of families and individuals to keep their lives private and their troubles to themselves only adds to the shock factor when such an incident does take place. Unfortunately, this means this kind of crime and the death of entire families will continue to happen and it is a phenomenon which has proved difficult to predict and almost impossible to stop.