What drives a father to kill?

Does this sound like the guy is trying to rationalize a father’s violence or be sympathetic to it? Kinda creepy.

What drives a father to kill?

The typical profile of a family annihilator is a middle-aged man, a good provider who appears dedicated, devoted and loyal to his family. However, he is usually quite socially isolated, with few friends and with profound feelings of frustration and inadequacy. The tipping point is some catastrophic loss or impending tragedy that threatens to undermine his sense of self and amplifies his feelings of impotence and powerlessness. In individuals for whom their family is an integral part of their identity – part of themselves, rather than a separate being – murdering the family is akin to a single act of suicide. It is a way of regaining control; of obliterating the impending crisis. This explains why men will often not only kill their partner and children, but also pets and destroy their property by setting fires. It is an eradication of everything that constitutes the self.

In addition to this, they are often motivated by bitterness and anger and a desire to punish the spouse; while killing the partner is an act of revenge, killing the children is an act of love as he believes he – and therefore they – will be better off dead than face the imminent loss of power.

While this points to severe psychological problems with underlying personality issues and maladaptive coping strategies, this, in itself, does not necessarily constitute a mental illness. However, professionals are divided as to whether these men can be held truly culpable for their actions. For the few that survive, jurors tend to find them responsible for their actions and therefore guilty of murder, but some end up detained in secure psychiatric hospitals indefinitely.

Experts, such as Jack Levin, Professor of Sociology and Criminology at the Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts who has studied family annihilators, have argued that they typically do know right from wrong and points to the fact that they are well planned and selective and that if a friend came along, the father wouldn’t kill him or her – instead, he kills his children to get even with his wife because he blames her and hates her.

Others, such as Tony Black, former chief psychologist at Broadmoor, are more circumspect. Black has argued that for anyone to commit such a heinous crime, there must be something fundamentally wrong with them and it is unhelpful just to simply think of them as ‘bad’. But what can be done to prevent such atrocities? Is there the possibility of intervention before such murders take place or ways to identify at risk men?

Scott Mackenzie, a consultant forensic psychiatrist in Essex who has assessed family annihilators for the criminal justice system, feels that often there are underlying anti-social personality traits and fundamental issues with rage and anger management. But these psychological traits are not uncommon in the population, and most will never go on to murder their family. ‘Those who act are often angry and resentful individuals. There is often a prior pattern of domestic abuse. But predicting with any reliability who will suddenly flip and resort to this kind of behaviour is incredibly difficult, if not near impossible. After any such incident there are inevitably questions asked if anything could be done, if someone could have intervened or spotted the signs. Tragically, in most cases, the answer is no.’

Wrong answer! Here is how we prevent it:

  • Look for the red flags (anger, resentment, abuse, control, coercion)
  • Take threats seriously
  • Believe women when they express fear
  • Do NOT provide leniency in domestic violence
  • Treat domestic violence like other crimes
  • Educate society on domestic violence (myths vs. reality)
  • Don’t be silent about abuse – it can lead to shame, victim blaming, tolerance for this crime
  • Change how the media present stories – the “nice guy”‘ murders wife – does not provide the context to understand DV
  • Change the culture – violence against women is not inevitable


4 comments on “What drives a father to kill?

  1. miss j says:

    I think it can be helpful to reach out – maybe someone can tell you options that you weren’t aware of or help in some way. There is a large network of “Mother’s Rights” on the Internet – just google it and you’ll find them. Perhaps they can be a supportive community. You may also consider reaching out to the media, if that doesn’t negatively affect your safety. I think it’s important to know that women who leave continue to face danger — it’s not necessarily over when you walk out the door. People are quick to say, “leave him” – but our society is not yet able to fully support women (and children) that leave abusers. It’s a societal problem – as your reply states – this affects your ability to work and be productive, your relationships, the safety of the community. People need to know ths.. I hope some of the posts are helpful, but I realize I do more to raise awareness than to actually solve the problem. I wish you well.

  2. kim kewish says:

    my ex husband of 28 years was profiled as a family annililator on nov 17 of 2010.He fits almost every one of the warning signs posted here.There was another incident on thursday july 5 on dauphin island,Al.I have a 17 year old son.i am terrified and in fear for my life and my sons life. The police seem to have their hands tied.I dont know what to do

    • miss j says:

      Hi. Thanks for commenting, and sharing. Have you talked to DV agencies to find out about safety precautions, which can run the gamut from simple measures to more complicated ones, such as changing social security numbers, names, etc. ?

      Having people live in fear hinges on a human rights violation – I sure hope you can find some safety and have peace of mind.

      • kim kewish says:

        yes I have spoken with DV agencies,I had a protection from abuse order,he violated it twice.He spent several months in jail for it,but ultimately they released him.I was a stay at home mom for seventeen years,so I have been unable to land a good job.I am staying in a family owned house for now,so getting away from him right now is not an option.I am armed,I know how to use firearms so that`s a plus.I certainly hope it never comes to that.I have been isolated from friends because of his threats against them,my family is helpless,they don`t know what to do either.I appreciate your comments,I really don`t know why I left a comment,chalk it up to fear and frustration.Thank you for trying to help,hope you have a good evening

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