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Painting by Peter Paul Rubens of Cronus devouring one of his children
Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan, by Ilya Yefimovich Repin.

Filicide is the deliberate act of a parent killing their own child. The word filicide is derived from the Latin words filius and filia ('son' and 'daughter') and the suffix -cide, from the word caedere meaning 'to kill'. The word can refer to both the crime and perpetrator of the crime.


A 1999 U.S. Department of Justice study concluded that mothers were responsible for a higher share of children killed during infancy between 1976 and 1997 in the United States, while fathers were more likely to have been responsible for the murders of children aged eight or older.[1] Parents were responsible for 61% of child murders under the age of five.[2] Sometimes, there is a combination of murder and suicide in filicide cases. On average, according to FBI statistics, 450 children are murdered by their parents each year in the United States.[3]

An in-depth longitudinal study of 297 cases convicted of filicide and 45 of filicide-suicide in the United Kingdom between 1997 and 2006 showed that 37% of the perpetrators had a recorded mental illness at the time. The most common diagnoses were mood disorders and personality disorders rather than psychosis, but the latter accounted for 15% of cases. However – similar to findings in a large Danish study – the majority had not had contact with mental health services prior to the murders, and few had received treatment. Female perpetrators were more likely to have given birth as teenagers. Fathers were more likely to have been convicted of violent offences and have a history of substance misuse, and were more likely to kill multiple victims. Infants were more likely to be victims than older children, and a link to post-partum depression was suggested.[4]

Types of filicide[edit]

Dr. Phillip Resnick published research on filicide in 1969 and stated that there were five main motives for filicide, including "altruistic", "fatal maltreatment", "unwanted child", "acutely psychotic" and "spousal revenge".[5] "Altruistic" killings occur because the parent believes that the world is too cruel for the child, or because the child is enduring suffering (whether this is actually occurring or not). In fatal maltreatment killings, the goal is not always to kill the child, but death may occur anyway, and Munchausen syndrome by proxy is in that category. Spousal revenge killings are killings of children done to indirectly harm a domestic partner; they do not frequently occur.[5] Glen Carruthers, author of "Making sense of spousal revenge filicide", argued that those who engage in spousal revenge killings see their own children as objects.[6]

Children at risk[edit]

In 2013, in the United States, homicide was in the top five causes of deaths of children, and in the top three causes of death in children between 1 and 4 years old.[7] A direct correlation has been identified between child abuse rates and child homicide rates. Research suggests that children murdered by their parents were physically abused by them prior to their death.[8]

Notable examples[edit]

Postumius kills his son for betraying his orders by Domenico Beccafumi.
Constantine the Great, who executed his son for unknown reasons.
Cristobal (centre) was murdered by his father and is one of the Child Martyrs of Tlaxcala, who were canonization as saints by Pope Francis in 2017.
Suleiman the Magnificent had his son executed.
Mary Cowan, who murdered her children.
British Music hall star Harry Fragson, who was fatally shot by his father in Paris in 1913.
Joseph and Magda Goebbels with their children. They would murder them at the end of World War II, with the exception of Harald Quandt (in the uniform), who was Magda's son from a previous marriage.
Diane Downs, who shot her three children, killing one of them.
Marvin Gaye, shot and killed by his father during an argument in 1984.
Chris Benoit, who murdered his wife and child before killing himself.
Victim(s) Perpetrator(s) Relation of parent to child(ren) Date Location Notes
Jephthah's daughter (sometimes Seila or Iphis) Jephthah Father Unknown Ancient Israel Jephthah is a biblical figure who is described in Judges 11 as inadvertently promising to sacrifice his daughter to Yahweh, which he does with her encouragement.[9]
Titus and Tiberius Junius Brutus Lucius Junius Brutus Father 509 BC Roman Republic Lucius Junius Brutus, who is usually credited with overthrowing the final King of Rome Lucius Tarquinius Superbus and establishing the Roman Republic, executed his sons Titus and Tiberius when they were implicated in a plot to restore the monarchy.[10][11]
Son of Aulus Postumius Tubertus Aulus Postumius Tubertus Father 431 BC Roman Republic There is a story that Aulus Postumius Tubertus, who served as dictator in the year 431 BC, had his son put to death when he abandoned a post assigned to him in order to attack the enemy. The account is doubted by Roman historian Livy, due to similarities to stories about the family of Titus Manlius Imperiosus Torquatus (see below).[12]
Son of Titus Manlius Imperiosus Torquatus Titus Manlius Imperiosus Torquatus Father 340 BC Latium, Italian Peninsula, Roman Republic During the Latin War, Roman consul Titus Manlius Imperiosus Torquatus executed his own son after he left his post in order to attack a group of Latins, leading to a reputation in his family for extreme discipline.[13]
Decimus Junius Silanus Manlianus Titus Manlius Torquatus Father 140 BC Roman Republic While serving as Praetor in Macedonia, Decimus Junius Silanus Manlianus was accused of corruption by Macedonian envoys. His father Titus Manlius Torquatus, a senior Senator, was granted permission to privately try his son in his home. Despite knowing that the family code of honour would compel his son to commit suicide, Titus sentenced his son to banishment from his sight, causing Manlianus to take his own life. His severity was supposedly inspired by his descendance from the equally severe Titus Manlius Imperiosus Torquatus (see above).[14][15]
Son of Quintus Fabius Maximus Eburnus Quintus Fabius Maximus Eburnus Father c. 116 BC Roman Republic Quintus Fabius Maximus Eburnus, consul in 116 BC, condemned one of his sons to death for "immorality".[16]
Jin Nong'er Jin Midi Father 121-87 BC Western Han Empire Jin Midi killed his own son Nong'er after the latter entered the imperial harem. This cemented the respect Jin Midi, by descent a Xiongnu prince, already had from Emperor Wu of Han; later Jin ascended to the rank of general of chariots and cavalry.[17]
Alexander I and Aristobulus IV Herod the Great Father 7 BC Herodian Kingdom of Judea According to Josephus, King Herod of Judea had his sons Alexander and Aristobulus strangled because he feared they would usurp him.
Claudia Livia (Livilla) Antonia Minor Mother 31 Roman Empire Livilla, along with her lover Sejanus, was accused of poisoning Drusus Julius Caesar, the son of Emperor Tiberius. According to historian Cassius Dio, Tiberius placed Livilla in the custody of her mother Antonia, who locked her up in a room where she was starved to death.[18]
Aulus Vitellius Petronianus Vitellius Father 69 Roman Empire Suetonius wrote that Vitellius was widely believed to have murdered his son in order to inherit the fortune of the boy's maternal grandparents. In this account, Vitellius claimed that his son had attempted parricide beforehand and killed himself out of shame.[19]
Children of Liu Chen (Shu Han) Liu Chen (Shu Han) Father December 263 Shu Han, Ancient China It is recorded in the Records of the Three Kingdoms that Liu Chen killed himself and his family after the surrender of his father led to the fall of the Shu Han empire.[20]
Crispus Constantine the Great Father 326 Pula, Istria, Roman Empire For unclear reasons, Crispus was sentenced to death by his father Emperor Constantine the Great in 326 AD.[21][22]
Constantine VI Irene of Athens Mother c. 797 (before 805) Byzantine Empire Irene of Athens organised a conspiracy to have her son Constantine VI eliminated so she could become sole ruler of the Byzantine Empire. On 19 August 797, her supporters gouged out his eyes and had him imprisoned. He died sometime before 805, possibly as a result of his injuries.[23]
Savcı Bey Murad I Father c. 1373 Ottoman Empire Convinced by Andronikos IV Palaiologos, son of John V Palaiologos, Savcı Bey rebelled against his father Murad I, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, in an attempt to seize power. He was unsuccessful and his father had him executed.[24][25]
Cristobal Acxotécatl Father 1527 Tlaxcala, New Spain After Cristobal converted from the indigenous religion of his family to Catholicism, he started to destroy religious icons in his family home. This provoked his father Acxotécatl to viciously beat him – in an attempt to make him renounce his new faith – before he burnt his son to death over a fire. He is one of the Child Martyrs of Tlaxcala.[26][27]
Şehzade Mustafa Suleiman the Magnificent Father 6 October 1553 Ereğli, Ottoman Empire Suleiman I, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, ordered the death of his son Şehzade Mustafa after mistakenly believing that he was conspiring against him. The responsibility for this is usually placed on Rüstem Pasha.[28][29]
Tsarevich Ivan Ivanovich Ivan the Terrible Father 19 November 1581 Alexandrov Kremlin, Tsardom of Russia Although exact details are unconfirmed, it is believed that Ivan Ivanovich confronted his father Tsar Ivan IV Vasilyevich (Ivan the Terrible) after his pregnant wife Yelena Sheremeteva was physically assaulted by him, which possibly caused her to subsequently miscarry. The confrontation led to an argument, during which Tsar Ivan became enraged and hit his son over the head with a sceptre, an injury which he died from a few days later.[30][31][32] Tsar Ivan felt great regret following the act, and his grief is famously depicted in Ilya Repin's painting, Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan.
Mohammad Baqer Mirza Abbas the Great Father 1615 Rasht, Safavid Iran After starting to believe that his son Mohammad Baqer Mirza was planning to overthrow him, Abbas the Great ordered Behbud Khan Cherkes to murder him in a hammam in the city of Resht. He immediately regretted the decision and was plunged into despair.[33][34]
Tsarevich Alexei Petrovich of Russia Peter the Great Father 26 June 1718 Petropavlovskaya fortress, Empire of Russia Alexei was suspected of being involved in a plot to overthrow his father, Tsar Peter I of Russia, who had him tortured into making a confession – possibly taking part personally. Alexei was convicted and sentenced to death, but died of his injuries before the execution could be carried out, most likely due to him having received over forty lashes with a knout.[35][36]

Examples in fiction[edit]


  • At the end of the Stephen King novel Carrie, the titular character is fatally wounded by her mother.
  • The plot of the Stephen King novel The Shining is based around the central character going insane and attempting to murder his wife and son.

Film and television[edit]

  • In the show Inuyasha, the bat daiyōkai Taigokumaru killed his son Tsukuyomaru after he learned to protect his human wife Shizu's village.
  • The 1987 film The Stepfather was loosely inspired by the crimes of John List.
  • The premise of the 2017 film Mom and Dad involves television and radio static causing parents to murder their children.


  • In the Nintendo DS video game Inuyasha: Secret of the Divine Jewel, in 1000 AD Heian period, during the interruption of Tsugumi and Datara's wedding ceremony, after the cat half-demon Gorai, Lord of the Northern Lands forced Datara to wear the demon mask, Tsugumi use the Lightning Sealing Arrow to seal her husband and kill her demigod child from falling into the hands of the demon.

See also[edit]

Honor killing, murder of a person for violating the strict reputation of the family.


  1. ^ Greenfeld, Lawrence A.; Snell, Tracy L. (2000-03-10). "Women Offenders" (PDF). NCJ 175688. U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-06-03. Retrieved 2018-05-29.
  2. ^ Friedman, S. H.; Horwitz, S. M.; Resnick, P. J. (2005). "Child murder by mothers: A critical analysis of the current state of knowledge and a research agenda". Am J Psychiatry. 162 (9): 1578–1587. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.162.9.1578. PMID 16135615.
  3. ^ Hoyer, Marisol Bello, and Meghan. "Parents who do the unthinkable -- kill their children". USA TODAY. Retrieved 1 May 2023.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ "Findings from most in-depth study into UK parents who kill their children". University of Manchester. 5 April 2013. Retrieved 26 February 2020.
  5. ^ a b "Spousal revenge rare motive for killing kids, experts say". CTV News. 2010-11-16. Retrieved 2017-01-25.
  6. ^ Carruthers, Glen (July–August 2016). "Making sense of spousal revenge filicide". Aggression and Violent Behavior. 29: 30–35. doi:10.1016/j.avb.2016.05.007.
  7. ^ Jiaquan Xu; et al. (February 16, 2016). "Deaths: Final Data for 2013" (PDF). Retrieved 1 May 2023.
  8. ^ Holmes, Ronald M.; Holmes, Stephen T. (2001). Murder in America. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, Inc. p. 116.
  9. ^ Stone, Lawson (2016). Joshua, Judges, Ruth. Tyndale House. p. 358. ISBN 9781414398792. Retrieved 29 July 2018. But did Jephthah actually offer his daughter as a burnt offering? The majority view for centuries has been that he did.
  10. ^ Drummond 2012, p. 765.
  11. ^ "LacusCurtius • Dionysius' Roman Antiquities — Book V Chapters 1‑20". Retrieved 1 May 2023.
  12. ^ Livy, iv. 29.
  13. ^ John Rich, Graham Shipley (1993). War and Society in the Roman World. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-12167-1.
  14. ^ Alexander, Trials in the Late Roman Republic, p. 6.
  15. ^ Mitchell, "The Torquati", p. 25.
  16. ^ Valerius Maximus 6.1.5–6; Pseudo-Quintilian, Decl. 3.17; Orosius 5.16.8; Broughton, MRR1, p. 549.
  17. ^ Theobald, Ulrich. "Jin Midi 金日磾". Ulrich Theobald. Retrieved January 2, 2024.
  18. ^ Dio Cassius, 58.11.7
  19. ^ Suetonius, Vitellius, 6
  20. ^ Sanguozhi vol. 33.
  21. ^ Guthrie 1966, p. 325.
  22. ^ Pohlsander 1984, p. 101.
  23. ^ Cutler & Hollingsworth (1991), pp. 501–502
  24. ^ Gibbon, Edward, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Modern Library, v. iii, p. 651
  25. ^ Lord Kinross: The Ottoman Centuries, (Trans. by Nilifer Epçeli) Altın Kitaplar, İstanbul, 2008, ISBN 978-975-21-0955-1 p. 49
  26. ^ "Three Child Martyrs of Tlaxcala". Saints SQPN. Retrieved 1 November 2016.
  27. ^ "Tlaxcala, Martyrs of, Bb". 2003. Retrieved 1 November 2016.
  28. ^ "Table of Contents".
  29. ^ "A General History of the Near East, Chapter 13".
  30. ^ Karamzin, Nikolay. "9". Продолжение царстования Иоанна Грозного. Г. 1577–1582 [Continuation of the reign of Ivan the Terrible. 1577–1582]. History of the Russian State (in Russian). Vol. 9.
  31. ^ Klyuchevsky, Vasily. Курс русской истории [A History of Russia] (in Russian). Saint Petersburg.
  32. ^ Sebag Montefiore, Simon (2016). The Romanovs 1613–1918. Vintage. p. 17. ISBN 978-0-307-28051-0.
  33. ^ Bomati & Nahavandi 1998, pp. 235–236
  34. ^ Bomati & Nahavandi 1998, pp. 236–237
  35. ^ Sebag Montefiore, Simon (2016). The Romanovs. United Kingdom: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. p. 123. ISBN 978-0-307-28051-0.
  36. ^ Massie, Robert K. (1980). Peter the Great: His Life and World. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 76, 377, 707. ISBN 978-0-307-29145-5.

Works cited[edit]

  • Beevor, Antony (2002). Berlin: The Downfall 1945. London: Viking-Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-670-03041-5.
  • Bomati, Yves; Nahavandi, Houchang (1998). Shah Abbas, empereur de Perse 1587–1629 [Shah Abbas, Emperor of Persia, 1587–1629] (in French). Paris, France: Perrin. ISBN 2-2620-1131-1. LCCN 99161812.
  • Drummond, Andrew (2012). "Iunius Brutus, Lucius". In Hornblower, Simon; Spawforth, Antony; Eidinow, Esther (eds.). The Oxford classical dictionary (4th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-954556-8. OCLC 959667246.
  • Guthrie, Patrick (1966). "The Execution of Crispus". Phoenix. 20 (4): 325–331. doi:10.2307/1087057. JSTOR 1087057.
  • Pohlsander, Hans A. (1984). "Crispus: Brilliant Career and Tragic End". Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte. 33 (1).

Further reading[edit]

  • Douglas, John; Olshaker, Mark (1996). Journey Into Darkness. United Kingdom: Arrow Books. ISBN 978-0-749-32394-3.
  • Meyer, Cheryl; Oberman, Michelle; White, Kelly (2001). Mothers who Kill Their Children. New York University Press. ISBN 0-814-75643-3
  • Rascovsky, Arnaldo (1995). Filicide: The Murder, Humiliation, Mutilation, Denigration, and Abandonment of Children by Parents. Northvale, New Jersey: Jason Aronson Incorporated. ISBN 978-1-568-21456-6.

External links[edit]