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A familicide is a type of murder or murder-suicide in which at least one spouse and one or more children are killed;[1] or in which a parent or parents and possibly other relatives such as siblings and grandparents are killed.[2] In some cases all of the family members' lives are taken. If only the parents are killed, the case may also be referred to as a parricide. Where all members of a family are killed, including when the killing takes the form of a murder-suicide, the crime may be referred to as family annihilation.

Familicide of others[edit]

Familicides were used as an enhanced punishment in antiquity[citation needed] and by criminals[citation needed]. It is not incorporated formally into modern judicial systems. Further, destruction of the family may be used as a method of securing power after regime change, and was advocated by Machiavelli.[citation needed]

Family annihilation[edit]

Definition and statistics[edit]

Of 909 victims of mass murder (defined as 4 victims within a 24-hour period) in the US from 1900 to 2000, more than half occurred within an immediate family. Although the total number of familicide cases are relatively rare, they are the most common form of mass killings. However, statistical data is difficult to establish due to reporting discrepancies.[3]

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.[4]

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.[3]

In Australia, a study was done of seven cases of filicide 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.[5]


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.[6]

Notable familicides[edit]

See also List of familicides

  • William Parente, April 19–20, 2009, killed his wife, two daughters, and himself.
  • Steven Sueppel, March 23–24, 2008, killed his wife, four children, and himself.
  • Chris Benoit, June 22–24, 2007, killed his wife, son, and himself.
  • Neil Entwistle, January 20, 2006, killed his wife and infant daughter
  • Marcus Delon Wesson, March 12, 2004, killed nine of his children/wives that he fathered through his legal wife and his polygamist wives who were also his daughters and nieces.
  • Scott Peterson, December 24, 2002, killed his wife Laci who was eight months pregnant at the time of her death
  • Dipendra Bir Bikram Shah, June 1, 2001, allegedly killed the royal family of Nepal at a family dinner, he died later from a self-inflicted gunshot to the side of the head.
  • Robert William Fisher, April 10, 2001, wanted for murder of his wife and their two children in Scottsdale, Arizona. He has been charged with three counts of first degree murder and one count of arson of an occupied structure. He is currently on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list.
  • Kip Kinkel, May 20, 1998, killed his parents before school shooting spree, two additional dead and 25 wounded.
  • Charles Stuart, October 23, 1989, killed pregnant wife and blamed it on imaginary black hijacker; seven-month fetus delivered alive but died in 17 days; committed suicide less than three months after murders.
  • Bradford Bishop murdered his three children, mother, and his wife in 1976.
  • James Ruppert, March 30, 1975, Easter Sunday, Ruppert murdered 11 family members in his mother's house at 635 Minor Avenue in Hamilton, Ohio in what is referred to as the Easter Sunday Massacre. The deadliest shooting inside a private residence in American history.
  • Ronald DeFeo, Jr., The inspiration for The Amityville Horror, November 13, 1974, killed his father, mother, two brothers and two sisters.
  • John List, November 9, 1971, killed his mother, wife and three teenage children.
  • Jeffrey MacDonald, February 17, 1970, killed his wife and two pre-school daughters.
  • Marty Bergen, January 19, 1900, killed his wife and children with an axe, then slit his own throat.
  • George Forster allegedly murdered his wife and child by drowning them in Paddington Canal, London: he was hanged at Newgate on 18 January 1803.

Artistic depiction[edit]

Family annihilation is depicted in the following media:

Related terms[edit]

  • Filicide - A parent or parents killing their own child or children.
  • Infanticide - The killing of one's child (or children) up to 12 months of age.
  • Mariticide - The killing of a husband by a wife, but commonly used for either spouse.
  • Uxoricide - The killing of a wife by a husband.


  1. ^ Wilson, M., Daly, M. & Daniele, A. (1995). "Familicide: The Killing of Spouse and Children". Aggressive Behavior 21: 275–291. doi:10.1002/1098-2337(1995)21:4<275::aid-ab2480210404>3.0.co;2-s. 
  2. ^ Familicide at Wiktionary.
  3. ^ a b Berton, Justin. Familicide: Experts say family murder-suicides, though rare, are most common mass killing. San Francisco Examiner, June 20, 2007
  4. ^ Malmquist, Carl P., MD. Homicide: A Psychiatric Perspective. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing, 1996, ISBN 978-0-88048-690-3
  5. ^ Johnson, Carolyn. Familicide and Custody Disputes - Dispelling The Myths. University of Western Australia, FamilicideAbstract_CarolynJohnson.pdf
  6. ^ Melissa Hogenboom (15 August 2013). "Criminologists identify family killer characteristics". BBC News. 

External links[edit]