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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[edit]

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 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[edit]

Definition and statistics[edit]

Between 1900 and 2000, there were 909 victims of mass murder in the US (defined as 4 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 include those who believe their spouse did a wrong and that the spouse needs to be punished, those who feel that the family members caused a disappointment, ones who feel his own financial failings ruined the point of having a family, and those who wish to save their family from a perceived threat.[17] Far fewer women commit familicide, and those who do have different reasons.[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[edit]

  • Watts family homicides, August 13, 2018, Frederick, Colorado; Chris Watts killed his pregnant wife and two daughters.
  • Osmington shooting, May 11, 2018, Osmington, Western Australia; seven members of the Miles family (two grandparents, the mother, and four children) were shot dead - police are treating it as a murder-suicide.
  • Hart family crash, March 26, 2018, Westport, California; Jennifer and Sarah Hart deliberately drove off a cliff with their six adopted children.
  • Broken Arrow killings, July 22, 2015, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma; 18 year old Robert and 16 year old Michael Bever murdered 5 family members (father, mother and 3 younger siblings) 2 survived the attack, one unharmed. Robert and his brother Michael were each charged with 5 consecutive counts of 1st degree murder. [21]
  • Van Breda murders, January 27, 2015, Stellenbosch, South Africa.
  • Cairns child killings, December 18–19, 2014, Cairns, Australia; eight children (seven siblings and one cousin) were drugged and then stabbed to death by the mother - she was found not guilty by reason of insanity.
  • Rzeszowski family murders, August 2011, St Helier, Jersey, Damian Rzeszowski stabbed to death his wife, two small children, father-in-law, neighbor and neighbor's child.[22] Sentenced to 30 years in prison, died in custody on 31 March 2018.[23]
  • Dupont de Ligonnès murders and disappearance - The wife and four children of Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès were found murdered and buried at the family home in Nantes, France. Xavier, the only suspect, disappeared and has never been found.
  • William Parente, April 19–20, 2009, killed his wife, two daughters, and himself.
  • Christopher Foster, 26 August, 2008, killed his wife, daughter, horses and dogs in his luxury home with a rifle. The same night he filled the basement of the home with 200 gallons of heating oil, set it alight and then perished himself inside lying next to his wife's body.
  • Steven Sueppel, March 23 or March 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.
  • Christian Longo, December 18, 2001, killed his wife and three children. Fled to Mexico, captured and now on death row in Oregon.
  • Andrea Yates, June 20, 2001, killed her five children, aged between 6 months and 7 years. Following a retrial after her murder conviction was quashed, she was found not guilty by reason of insanity and has since been held at various mental hospitals.
  • Dipendra Bir Bikram Shah, June 1, 2001, allegedly killed the royal family of Nepal at a family dinner and died from a self-inflicted gunshot to the head.
  • Mark Lundy, 29 August 2000, checked into a hotel in Petone, North Wellington, on a regular business trip from Palmerston North, and allegedly drove back up to his home town at great speed, setting a record, to murder his wife and daughter for the life insurance money he needed to pay off the $NZD 2 million he was in debt.
  • Robert William Fisher, April 10, 2001, wanted for murder of his wife and their two children in Scottsdale, Arizona; has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder and one count of arson of an occupied structure; currently on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list.
  • Phillip Austin, July 10, 2000, murdered his wife, two children, and the family's two dogs in a series of violent attacks.
  • Kip Kinkel, May 20, 1998, killed his parents before committing a school shooting, leaving two additional dead and 25 wounded.
  • Bain Family murders - On the morning of 20 June 1994, 22-year-old David Bain, of a notably bizarre family living in Andersons Bay, Dunedin, rang 111 in great distress, saying "they're all dead, they're all dead". Police made it to the dilapidated, dirty and unsettling house, where his mother, sisters and brother had been shot in their bedrooms, with his father's body lying in the living room floor, having apparently shot himself in the head with the family rabbit gun, after apparently murdering his family early that winter morning while David was on his paper round, leaving a note on the computer stating "sorry, you were the only one who deserved to stay". Much of the evidence pointed towards David, who was convicted of the murders the next year, but a retrial in 2009 funded by a former All Black got him acquitted with a large sum of money that could not be legally called compensation.
  • Jean-Claude Romand, January 9-10, 1993, killed his wife, his two children, his parents and his parents' dog, and attempted to kill his mistress. He had been leading a double life, telling his family he was a doctor working at the World Health Organization when he had in fact not turned up to his second-year university medicine exam in 1975. He spent the next 18 years driving aimlessly around the Geneva area while telling his family that he working at the Geneva-based WHO. He also told his family that he was away on business trips when he was in fact staying at airport hotels, buying guide books to show his family the locations he pretended to have visited. He raised money through pyramid schemes, deceiving relatives and friends into believing that he had access to attractive investment vehicles in his capacity as a WHO employee. He carried out the murders as his lies were about to fall apart, after friends and relatives started questioning his story and asking for their money back. He attempted to take his own life by taking sleeping pills and setting fire to his house, but was rescued by firefighters. He spent 26 years in prison and was released on parole in 2019.[24]
  • József Barsi, July 25–27, 1988, killed his daughter, actress Judith Barsi, and his wife before lighting their bodies on fire and shooting himself.
  • Ronald Gene Simmons, from December 22, 1987, to December 28, 1987, killed 14 family members ranging in age from 20 months to 46.
  • Bradford Bishop, 1976, allegedly killed his three children, mother, and his wife.
  • James Ruppert, March 30, 1975, Easter Sunday, killed 11 family members in his mother's house in Hamilton, Ohio.
  • Ronald DeFeo Jr., November 13, 1974, killed his father, mother, two brothers, and two sisters.
  • John List, November 9, 1971, killed his wife, mother, and three children in their home in Westfield, New Jersey, and then disappeared. A fugitive from justice for nearly 18 years, List was finally apprehended on June 1, 1989, after the story of his murders was broadcast on the television program America's Most Wanted.
  • Jeffrey MacDonald, February 17, 1970, convicted of killing his wife and two preschool daughters.
  • Charles Whitman, August 1, 1966, killed his wife and mother before committing the University of Texas at Austin campus spree shooting, killing 16 people and wounding 32 others. He was shot and killed by Austin police officer Houston McCoy.
  • Magda Goebbels and her husband Joseph, Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany and briefly Chancellor of Germany, on May 1, 1945, fatally poisoned their six children before committing suicide together. Harald Quandt, Magda's son from a previous marriage, was the only member of the family to survive.
  • Marty Bergen, January 19, 1900, killed his wife and children with an ax, then slit his own throat.
  • George Forster, allegedly killed his wife and child by drowning them in Paddington Canal, London; later hanged at Newgate on 18 January 1803.

Related terms[edit]

Rates of individual homicide involving family members, not grouped by incidents of familicide, in the United States between 1980 and 2010.[25]
  • 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


General references[edit]

Inline citations[edit]

  1. ^ Liem, Marieke; Levin, Jack; Holland, Curtis; Fox, James A. (1 May 2013). "The Nature and Prevalence of Familicide in the United States, 2000–2009". Journal of Family Violence. 28 (4): 351–358. doi:10.1007/s10896-013-9504-2. ISSN 0885-7482.
  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 2017-04-26.
  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. Retrieved 2017-04-27.
  8. ^ Bohlen, Celestine (October 11, 1995). "As Code of Silence Cracks, Mafia Changes Rules". The New York Times. Retrieved 2017-04-27.
  9. ^ Parry, Tom (April 12, 2014). "Children murdered by the Mafia as Italian mobsters sink to new low". Mirror Online. Retrieved 2017-04-27.
  10. ^ "Prison Camps of North Korea - Camp 14 Kaechon". HumanRights.gov. Archived from the original on 2017-05-19. Retrieved 2017-04-27.
  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. Homicide: A Psychiatric Perspective. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing, 1996, ISBN 978-0-88048-690-3
  13. ^ Emily Shapiro (21 August 2018). "When people kill close relatives: Explaining 'family annihilators'". ABC News. ABC News Internet Ventures.
  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 2020-06-17.
  16. ^ Yardley, E; Wilson, David; Lynes, A (August 2013). "A taxonomy of male British family annihilators, 1980-2013". The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice. Wiley. doi:10.1111/hojo.12033.
  17. ^ "Characteristics of Family Killers Revealed By First Taxonomy Study". Wiley. 2013-08-15. Retrieved 2020-06-17.
  18. ^ Theen, Andrew (2019-01-30). "Deadly Hart crash stands out for experts who study family annihilators". The Oregonian. Retrieved 2020-06-17.
  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". doi:10.31234/osf.io/bxjf9. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  20. ^ Melissa Hogenboom (15 August 2013). "Criminologists identify family killer characteristics". BBC News.
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ Morrison, Ryan (2012-08-24). "The stabbings that shocked Jersey". Retrieved 2019-08-25.
  23. ^ "Jersey killer dies in prison in England". 2018-04-03. Retrieved 2019-08-25.
  24. ^ "Fake French doctor who killed his family is freed". 2019-06-28. Retrieved 2019-11-22.
  25. ^ 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[edit]

External links[edit]