The End of the World or A New Beginning?
The killing of multiple family members, such as wife and children, shatters our illusion of safety in our private homes. What are the motives underlying these events? And, with the recent economic downfall: Will we be confronted with more of these acts?
Only the best was good enough for his wife and his two sons. A new car for her. A PlayStation for them. His salary was not enough, but he had credit cards, lots of them. He used one to pay off the other. He told himself that everything was going to be fine. Just fine. He had it all under control.
Until one day, the first debt collector letter came. Then the second, and the third. It grew into a small pile. He had to stay in control. He could not let this happen to his family. He had to take responsibility.
‘Familicide’ refers to the murder of multiple family members. Its most common form is the killing of an intimate partner and child(ren), perpetrated by a white male in his 30s or 40s. Familicide is a rare event: In the Netherlands, its incidence varies from one to three times per year.
Previous research has distinguished two major motivations underlying familicides: Perpetrators who kill their family members in a ‘murder by proxy’ and those who kill in a ‘suicide by proxy’. The first applies to perpetrators who are motivated by anger following their intimate partner’s threat to divorce. The perpetrator seeks revenge by killing her and all of ‘her’ children, equally responsible for her betrayal.
‘Suicide by proxy’ familicides, on the other hand, refer to men who aim to protect their family from the fate that would befall them without his (financial) support. I believe that ‘suicide by proxy’ is an inaccurate term – the perpetrator’s primary aim is not to commit suicide; rather, he considers the familicide and his ensuing suicide as a total, and only, solution.
Both types of familicide perpetrators are characterized by a need to stay in control when the family unit is threatened to disintegrate. Another similarity lies in the belief that their self-concept is contingent on others: Their self threatens to disintegrate when their role as husband, father and provider breaks down. These men respond to the loss of control by taking charge again. He will eliminate the family as a unit in order to take himself and his loved ones to a better place in the hereafter: He sees the death of his family members and himself not as an endpoint, but rather as a doorway to another life, in which his family can start over, together.
Familicide and Economic Crises
It has been suggested that, as the economy softens and the unemployment rate rises, there may be more opportunities for catastrophic losses to precipitate a familicide. When job loss or indebtedness is involved, the motivation may become a lethal version of altruism.
We tested this hypothesis on US homicide data, going back to the 1970s, and found no support for financial crises leading to more familicides. It can be argued that the lack of finding a connection lies in the nature of financial crises: Society at large is affected by it, rather than a single person finding himself alone in the midst of financial downfall. Another explanation lies in the rare occurrence of the event itself, and few numbers inhibiting the possibility to make causal interferences.
A week went by. They would come the next morning. They would take everything away. The car. The Playstation. His wife would leave him, thinking of him as powerless, as incapable, as unworthy. She would take the children, too.
He walked to his sons’ bedroom. There they were, in the bunk bed. Now was the time. He would see them on the other side. Next, he leaned over his wife and pressed the pillow until all became silent. He left the letter at the nightstand and lay down beside her.