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A familicide is a type of murder or murder-suicide in which a perpetrator kills multiple close family members in quick succession, most often children, relatives, spouse, siblings, or parents.[1][2] In half the cases, the killer lastly kills themselves in a murder-suicide.[3][4][5] If only the parents are killed, the case may also be referred to as a parricide. Where all members of a family are killed, the crime may be referred to as family annihilation.

Familicide of others

Familicides were used as an enhanced punishment in antiquity. In ancient China, the "nine familial exterminations" was the killing of an entire extended family or clan, usually for treason. Machiavelli advocated the extermination of a previous ruler's family to prevent uprisings in The Prince.[6] Sippenhaft (English: kin liability) was used in Nazi Germany to punish and sometimes execute the relatives of defectors and anyone involved in the 20 July plot.[7] La Cosa Nostra began killing the relatives, including women and more recently children, of informants (pentiti) and rivals in the 1980s.[8][9] It is not incorporated formally into any modern judicial systems, except in North Korea, where whole-family internment at Kaechon internment camp often ends in death.[10]

Family annihilation

Definition and statistics

Between 1900 and 2000, there were 909 victims of mass murder in the US (defined as four victims within a 24-hour period). Of those, more than half occurred within an immediate family. Although the familicide cases are relatively rare, they are the most common form of mass killings. However, statistical data are difficult to establish due to reporting discrepancies.[11]

Familicide differs from other forms of mass murder in that the murderer kills family members or loved ones rather than anonymous people. This has a different psychodynamic and psychiatric significance, but the distinction is not always made.[12]

A study of 30 cases in Ohio found that most of the killings were motivated by a parent's desire to stop their children's suffering.[11] According to ABC News contributor and former FBI agent Brad Garrett, people responsible for killing their families tend to be white males in their 30s. Many of these crimes occur in August, before school starts, which may delay detection and investigation.[13]

In Australia, a study was done of seven cases of familicide followed by suicide in which marital separation followed by custody and access disputes were identified as an issue. Some common factors such as marital discord, unhappiness, domestic violence, sexual abuse, threats of harm to self or others were found in varying degrees. It was not clear what could be done in terms of prevention.[14]

The Director of the Birmingham City University Centre of Applied Criminology, David Wilson, co-wrote a study with two others,[15] "A taxonomy of male British family annihilators, 1980-2013", examining British familicides in the period.[16] Newspaper articles were used as references. The study concluded that most of the perpetrators were male. Men who murder their entire families usually do so because they believe their spouse performed a wrongdoing and that the spouse needs to be punished, they feel that the family members caused a disappointment, they feel that their own financial failings ruined the point of having a family, and because they wish to save their family from a perceived threat.[17] Far fewer women commit familicide, and those who do usually have different reasons, such as fear of losing custody of children. Female family annihilators are also more likely to be premeditated, and are more likely to murder infants under the age of one.[18]

A literature review done in 2018 noted contextual and offense characteristics of familicide. Among the 63 articles reviewed 74-85% noted relationship problems or separation. This article also found evidence of financial problems, intoxication, and use of firearms. This literature review unveiled that 71% of these offenses were motivated in regard to conflict between parents and 29% associated to the perpetrators' situation in life. Lastly this article reported two studies, one of which found that many of the motives involved feelings of abandonment, psychosis, and narcissistic rage. The other study found that 60% of these perpetrators were suicidal and 40% homicidal.[19]


The internal logic for family annihilation can stem from a number of sources.[]

David Wilson of Birmingham City University has divided these cases into four groups: anomic, disappointed, self-righteous and paranoid.[]

In this typology, the anomic killer sees his family purely as a status symbol; when his economic status collapses, he sees them as surplus to requirements. The disappointed killer seeks to punish the family for not living up to his ideals of family life. The self-righteous killer destroys the family to exact revenge upon the mother, in an act that he blames on her. Finally, the paranoid killer kills their family in what they imagine to be an attempt to protect them from something even worse.[20]

Notable familicides

  • George Forster, December 5, 1802, London, England. Forster allegedly killed his wife and child by drowning them in the Paddington Canal.
  • Marty Bergen, January 19, 1900, North Brookfield, Massachusetts. Bergen killed his wife and children with an axe, then slit his own throat.
  • James Reid Baxter, April 8, 1908, Invercargill, New Zealand. Baxter killed his wife and five children, then himself.
  • Mateo Banks, April 18, 1922, Azul, Argentina. Banks shot dead three siblings, two nieces, one sister in law and two family's employees.
  • Magda Goebbels and her husband Joseph, May 1, 1945, Berlin, Nazi Germany. The Goebbels fatally poisoned their six children before committing suicide together.
  • Charles Whitman, August 1, 1966, Austin, Texas. Whitman killed his wife and mother before committing the University of Texas at Austin campus spree shooting, killing 16 people and wounding 32 others.
  • Jeffrey MacDonald, February 17, 1970, convicted of killing his pregnant wife and two preschool daughters.
  • John List, November 9, 1971, Westfield, New Jersey. List killed his wife, mother, and three children.
  • Ronald DeFeo Jr., November 13, 1974, Amityville, Long Island, New York. DeFeo killed his father, mother, two brothers, and two sisters.
  • James Ruppert, March 30, 1975, Hamilton, Ohio. Ruppert killed 11 family members.
  • Bradford Bishop, March 1, 1976, Bethesda, Maryland. Bishop allegedly killed his mother, wife, and three children.
  • James Alan Day, October 18, 1984, Evansville, Indiana. Day killed his six children before committing suicide.[21]
  • Ronald Gene Simmons, December 22-28, 1987, Dover, Arkansas. Simmons killed 14 family members ranging in age from 20 months to 46 years.
  • David Brom murdered his mother, father, younger brother, and sister with an ax in 1988.
  • Dana Ewell, April 19, 1992, Fresno, California. Hired hitman to kill his father, mother and sister in the family home to obtain the $8,000,000 estate.
  • Ricardo Barreda, November 15, 1992, La Plata, Argentina. Barreda killed his wife, mother-in-law and two daughters.
  • Jean-Claude Romand, January 9-10, 1993, Prévessin-Moëns, France. Romand killed his wife, his two children, his parents and his parents' dog, and attempted to kill his mistress.
  • Bain family murders, June 20, 1994, Andersons Bay, Dunedin, New Zealand.
  • Kip Kinkel, May 20, 1998, Springfield, Oregon. Kinkel killed his parents before committing a school shooting, leaving two additional dead and 25 wounded.
  • Phillip Austin, July 10, 2000, Northampton, England. Austin murdered his wife, two children, and the family's two dogs.
  • Mark Lundy, 29 August 2000, Palmerston North, New Zealand. Lundy murdered his wife and daughter.
  • Robert William Fisher, April 10, 2001, Scottsdale, Arizona. Fisher has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder of his wife and two children and one count of arson. Currently on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list.
  • Dipendra Bir Bikram Shah, June 1, 2001, Kathmandu, Nepal. Dipendra allegedly killed the royal family of Nepal at a family dinner and died from a self-inflicted gunshot to the head.
  • Andrea Yates, June 20, 2001, Clear Lake City, Texas. Yates killed her five children, aged between six months and seven years.
  • Christian Longo, December 18, 2001, Lincoln County, Oregon. Longo killed his wife and three children.
  • Marcus Delon Wesson, March 12, 2004, Fresno, California. Wesson killed nine of his children/wives that he fathered through his legal wife and his polygamist wives who were also his daughters and nieces.
  • Neil Entwistle, January 20, 2006, Hopkinton, Massachusetts. Entwistle killed his wife and infant daughter.
  • Chris Benoit, June 22-24, 2007, Fayetteville, Georgia. Benoit killed his wife and son before taking his own life.
  • Steven Sueppel, March 23 or March 24, 2008, Iowa City, Iowa. Sueppel killed his wife, their four children, and himself.
  • Christopher Foster, August 26, 2008, Maesbrook, Shropshire, England. Foster killed his wife, daughter, horses, and dogs in his luxury home with a rifle before setting the house on fire, dying himself.
  • William Parente, April 19-20, 2009, Towson, Maryland. Parente killed his wife, two daughters, and himself.
  • Dupont de Ligonnès murders and disappearance, April 2011, Nantes, Loire-Atlantique, France. The wife and four children of Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès were found murdered and buried at the family home. Xavier, the only suspect, disappeared and has never been found.
  • Schenecker double homicide, January 27, 2011, Tampa, Florida. Julie Schenecker murdered her two children while her husband, a U.S. Army officer, was deployed to Iraq.
  • Rzeszowski family murders, August 2011, St Helier, Jersey. Damian Rzeszowski stabbed to death his wife, his two small children, his father-in-law, his neighbor, and the neighbor's child.[22] Sentenced to 30 years in prison, died in custody on 31 March 2018.[23]
  • Powell murders, December 6, 2009, West Valley City, Utah, and February 5, 2012, Puyallup, Washington. Joshua Powell murdered his sons Charles and Braden by bludgeoning them and setting fire to the house he was renting in February 2012. He is also believed to have murdered his wife Susan Cox in December 2009. Powell committed suicide at the scene after killing his sons.
  • Cairns child killings, December 18-19, 2014, Cairns, Australia. Raina Mersane Ina Thaiday (AKA Mersane Warria) was alleged to have drugged and stabbed seven of her children and one of their cousins before attempting to kill herself. She was found not guilty by reason of insanity.
  • Van Breda murders, January 27, 2015, Stellenbosch, South Africa. Henri Christo Van Breda murdered his parents and brother and severely wounded his sister.
  • Broken Arrow killings, July 22, 2015, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. Brothers Robert and Michael Bever murdered five family members (father, mother and three younger siblings). Two survived the attack, one unharmed. Robert and Michael were each charged with five consecutive counts of first-degree murder.[24]
  • Hart family murders, March 26, 2018, near Westport, California. Jennifer and Sarah Hart deliberately drove off a cliff with their six adopted children out of fear that they would be found out as abusive parents.
  • Osmington shooting, May 11, 2018, Osmington, Western Australia. Peter Miles murdered his wife, daughter, and his four grandchildren before killing himself.
  • Watts family homicides, August 13, 2018, Frederick, Colorado. Chris Watts killed his pregnant wife Shanann and their two daughters.
  • Zaman family homicides, July 28, 2019, Markham, Ontario. Mehnaz Zaman killed his mother, father, sister, and grandmother inside their family home. [25]
  • Murder of Hannah Clarke, February 19, 2020, Camp Hill, Queensland, Australia. Rowan Baxter set fire to the interior of his wife's car, killing their three children, before killing himself. His wife Hannah would die later that day from her injuries.

Related terms

Rates of individual homicide involving family members, not grouped by incidents of familicide, in the United States between 1980 and 2010.[26]
  • Filicide - the killing of a child (or children) by one's own parent (or parents)
  • Infanticide - the killing of one's child (or children) up to 12 months of age
  • Mariticide - the killing of a husband or significant other; current common law term for either spouse of either sex/gender
  • Matricide - the killing of one's mother
  • Patricide - the killing of one's father
  • Uxoricide - the killing of a wife or significant other



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  2. ^ Websdale, Neil (2008). "Familicide". Encyclopedia of Interpersonal Violence. SAGE Publications, Inc.: 238. doi:10.4135/9781412963923.n161. ISBN 9781412918008.
  3. ^ Wilson, Margo; Daly, Martin; Daniele, Antonletta (1995). "Familicide: The Killing of Spouse and Children" (PDF). Aggressive Behavior. 21 (4): 275-291. doi:10.1002/1098-2337(1995)21:4<275::aid-ab2480210404>3.0.co;2-s. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-09-26.
  4. ^ Scheinin, Lisa; Rogers, Christopher B.; Sathyavagiswaran, Lakshmanan (2011). "Familicide – Suicide". The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology. 32 (4): 327-330. doi:10.1097/paf.0b013e31821a555a. PMID 21512375.
  5. ^ Sachmann, Mark; Harris Johnson, Carolyn Mary (1 March 2014). "The Relevance of Long-Term Antecedents in Assessing the Risk of Familicide-Suicide Following Separation". Child Abuse Review. 23 (2): 130-141. doi:10.1002/car.2317. ISSN 1099-0852.
  6. ^ Machiavelli, Niccolò (1532). The Prince. chap. 4. Retrieved .
  7. ^ Loeffel, Robert (February 2007). "Sippenhaft, Terror and Fear in Nazi Germany: Examining One Facet of Terror in the Aftermath of the Plot of 20 July 1944" (PDF). Contemporary European History. Cambridge University Press. 16 (1): 51-69. doi:10.1017/S0960777306003626. S2CID 161527461. Retrieved .
  8. ^ Bohlen, Celestine (October 11, 1995). "As Code of Silence Cracks, Mafia Changes Rules". The New York Times. Retrieved .
  9. ^ Parry, Tom (April 12, 2014). "Children murdered by the Mafia as Italian mobsters sink to new low". Mirror Online. Retrieved .
  10. ^ "Prison Camps of North Korea - Camp 14 Kaechon". HumanRights.gov. Archived from the original on 2017-05-19. Retrieved .
  11. ^ a b Berton, Justin. "Familicide: Experts say family murder-suicides, though rare, are most common mass killing". San Francisco Examiner, June 20, 2007.
  12. ^ Malmquist, Carl P., MD. (1996). Homicide: A Psychiatric Perspective. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing, ISBN 978-0-88048-690-3.
  13. ^ Emily Shapiro (21 August 2018). "When people kill close relatives: Explaining 'family annihilators'". ABC News.
  14. ^ Johnson, Carolyn. Familicide and Custody Disputes: Dispelling the Myths. University of Western Australia, FamilicideAbstract_CarolynJohnson.pdf[permanent dead link]
  15. ^ Collins, Katie (2013-08-16). "Family Killers". Wired United Kingdom. Retrieved .
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  17. ^ "Characteristics of Family Killers Revealed By First Taxonomy Study". Wiley. 2013-08-15. Retrieved .
  18. ^ Theen, Andrew (2019-01-30). "Deadly Hart crash stands out for experts who study family annihilators". The Oregonian. Retrieved .
  19. ^ Karlsson, Linda C.; Antfolk, Jan; Putkonen, Hanna; Amon, Sabine; da Silva Guerreiro, João; de Vogel, Vivienne; Flynn, Sandra; Weizmann-Henelius, Ghitta (2018-12-06). "Familicide: A Systematic Literature Review". Trauma, Violence, & Abuse. 22 (1): 83-98. doi:10.31234/osf.io/bxjf9. PMID 30704336.
  20. ^ Melissa Hogenboom (15 August 2013). "Criminologists identify family killer characteristics". BBC News.
  21. ^ "AROUND THE NATION; Father Kills 6 Children And Himself, Police Say". 1984-10-19. Retrieved .
  22. ^ Morrison, Ryan (2012-08-24). "The stabbings that shocked Jersey". Retrieved .
  23. ^ "Jersey killer dies in prison in England". 2018-04-03. Retrieved .
  24. ^ World, Michael Overall and Samantha Vicent Tulsa. "Robert Bever breaks down in tears on witness stand in younger brother's murder trial, says they acted together but 'in (their) own ways'". Tulsa World.
  25. ^ https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2020/09/24/ive-just-slaughtered-my-entire-family-markham-man-pleads-guilty-to-murdering-his-mother-father-sister-and-grandmother-over-several-hours-last-summer.html
  26. ^ Cooper, Alexia D.; Smith, Erica L. (2011-11-16). Homicide Trends in the United States, 1980-2008 (Report). Bureau of Justice Statistics. p. 11. NCJ 236018. Archived from the original on 2018-03-30.


Further reading

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