What characteristics do men who kill members of their families share? British criminologists from Birmingham City University believe that they hold the answer. The study authors analyzed “family annihilator” events reported in British newspapers between 1980 and 2012 in which a man deliberately killed his child or children but not necessarily the mother of the family or himself, differentiating this study from studies of familicide or filicide-suicide cases.
Using 59 reported cases of male enacted family annihilation retrieved under these parameters, the researchers determined that the males in family annihilations could be categorized into four groups according to their characteristics:
- Self-righteous. The researchers referred to this category as the revenge annihilator, who apparently blames a partner or former partner for the dissolution or breakdown of the family unit. This turns the murder into punishment.
- Disappointed. The disappointed annihilator is feeling let down by the family, or that the family has fallen short of expectations for the ideal family.
- Anomic. The anomic annihilator is unemployed or in financial difficulty and believes that finances are the key to life quality.
- Paranoid. The paranoid annihilator is acting under the fear of an external threat, whether real or imagined, that will destroy the family. Murder is thus committed as a ‘protective’ act.
The authors of the study believe that by using newspaper reported events as a primary source rather than other recorded sources such as criminal reports an advantage was gained wherein possible motives reported by those closest to the family were more readily identified. In 66.1% of cases the primary motive was attributed to family breakdown, followed by financial difficulties in 16.9% of cases (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-23686913).
The researchers noted that although family annihilation is not limited to men, men dominate the records of family mass murder. The researchers also looked at research from previous studies which found that in the majority of cases the men were the biological parents of the children killed and had previously committed acts of violence.
Interestingly, August was the most common month for family annihilation events, with 11 cases or 18.6% of all cases occurring in this month. Sunday was the most common day for family annihilation events to occur, with again 11 or 18.6% of all cases occurring on this day. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday were the next most common days for family annihilations, with 9 cases reported on each of these days. The researchers indicated that the reason for these clusters could be that August, a school holiday month in Britain, and weekend days are the days on which fathers most often have access to children. Other findings:
- Stabbing (32.2%) and carbon monoxide poisoning (15.3%) were the most common routes of family annihilation used.
- The majority (71.2%) of family annihilators were employed at the time of the event.
- Most (55.2%) family annihilators were aged between 30 and 39.
- Most (81%) family annihilators attempted or successfully committed suicide following the family murders. 77.5% of these made the attempt immediately following the killing.
Notably, half of the 59 cases occurred in the first decade of the new century, between 2000 and 2009, and an additional seven cases occurred between 2010 and 2012. Although the study authors note that there were probably cases of family annihilation that occurred prior to 2000 that were not reported in the newspapers and thus excluded from the study, the authors concluded that there are no signs that family annihilation is on the decrease.