Murder–suicide

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A murder–suicide is an act in which an individual kills one or more other persons before, or at the same time as, killing oneself. The combination of murder and suicide can take various forms, including:

  • Murder which entails suicide, such as driving a car with one or more passenger(s) off a bridge or suicide bombing;
  • Suicide after murder to escape punishment;
  • Suicide after murder as a form of self-punishment due to guilt;
  • Joint suicide in the form of killing the other with consent, and then killing oneself;
  • Murder before suicide with the intent of preventing future pain and suffering of others including family members and oneself, such as a parent killing their children before ending their own life;
  • Murder followed by suicide by a mentally unstable person;
  • Murder to prevent an individual from causing harm to others, leading to suicide.

Many spree killings have ended in suicide, such as in many school shootings. Some cases of Religiously-motivated suicides may also involve murder.

Homicide and suicide[edit]

Ajax, son of Telamon, preparing suicide. Reproduction from a black-figure amphora depiction by Exekias (550–525 BC).

According to the psychiatrist Karl A. Menninger, murder and suicide are interchangeable acts – suicide sometimes forestalling murder, and vice versa.[1] Following Freudian logic, severe repression of natural instincts due to early childhood abuse, may lead the death instinct to emerge in a twisted form. The cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker, whose theories on the human notion of death is strongly influenced by Freud, views the fear of death as a universal phenomenon, a fear repressed in the unconscious and of which people are largely unaware. This fear can move individuals toward heroism, but also to scapegoating. Failed attempts to achieve heroism, according to this view, can lead to mental illness and/or antisocial behavior.[2]

In a research specifically related to murder–suicide, Milton Rosenbaum (1990) discovered the murder–suicide perpetrators to be vastly different from perpetrators of homicide alone. Whereas murderer–suicides were found to be highly depressed and overwhelmingly men, other murderers were not generally depressed and more likely to include women in their ranks.[2] In the U.S. the overwhelming number of cases are male-on-female.[3] Around one-third of partner homicides end in the suicide of the perpetrator. From national and international data and interviews with family members of murder–suicide perpetrators, the following are the key predictors of murder–suicide: a history of substance abuse, the male partner some years older than the female partner, a break-up or pending break-up, a history of battering, and suicidal contemplation by the perpetrator.

Though there is no national tracking system for murder–suicides in the United States, medical studies into the phenomenon estimate between 1,000 to 1,500 deaths per year in the US,[4] with the majority occurring between spouses or intimate partners and the vast majority of the perpetrators being male. Depression, marital or/and financial problems, and other problems are generally motivators.

Homicides which are later followed by suicide often make headline news while suicides not involving homicide are rarely mentioned. Some people might be misled by this to conclude that people who are suicidal are more likely to also be homicidal. However, the United States statistics indicate this is not the case. National statistics indicate 5% of all homicides are also followed by suicide. However, The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control reports[5] that an estimated 1 million adults reported attempting suicide in 2011, and there were over 38,000 completed suicides in the same time period.[6] Using these numbers, along with the estimates of 624 murder-suicide events per year as indicated by the Violence Policy Center,[7] the math indicates that murders are only associated with suicidal events (attempts and completions) approximately 6/100ths of 1% of the time.

In 18th century Denmark, people wishing to commit suicide would sometimes commit murder in order to receive the death penalty.[8] They believed murder followed by repentance would allow them to end their life while avoiding damnation.[8]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • van Wormer, K. & Roberts, A.R.(2009) Death by Domestic Violence:Preventing the Murders and Murder–Suicides. Westport, CT:Praeger

References[edit]

  1. ^ Karl Menninger quote
  2. ^ a b Katherine van Wormer & Chuk Odiah, Journal of Criminal Justice, 27(4), 361–370.
  3. ^ Warren-Gordon, Kiesha, Bryan Byers, Stephen Brodt, Melissa Wartak, and Brian Biskupski. "Murder Followed by Suicide: A Newspaper Surveillance Study Using the New York Times Index WARREN-GORDON ET AL. MURDER FOLLOWED by SUICIDE." Journal of Forensic Sciences (Blackwell Publishing Limited), 55.6 (2010): 1592-1597.
  4. ^ American Roulette: Murder–Suicide in the United States. Violence Policy Center
  5. ^ CDC Suicide, Facts At A Glance, 2012
  6. ^ National Vital Statistics Reports Volume 61, Number 6 October 10, 2012
  7. ^ Violence Policy Center, American Roulette, Murder-Suicide in The United States, Fourth Edition
  8. ^ a b Ebdrup, Niels (March 31, 2012). "Kill to be killed in 18th century Denmark". ScienceNordic (Past Horizons). Retrieved April 1, 2012.