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Uxoricide (from Latin uxor meaning "wife" and -cide, from caedere meaning "to cut, to kill") is the murder of one's wife or female romantic partner. It can refer to the act itself or the person who carries it out. The killing of a partner is called mariticide.
Rates of uxoricide
Though overall rates of spousal violence and homicide in the US have declined since the 1970s, rates of uxoricide are much higher than rates of mariticide (the murder of a husband). Of the 2340 deaths at the hands of intimate partners in America in 2007, female victims made up 70%. FBI data from the mid-1970s to mid-1980s found that for every 100 husbands who killed their wives in the United States, about 75 women killed their husbands. However, wives were more likely to kill their husbands than vice-versa in some US cities including Chicago, Detroit and Houston. and in St. Louis. Uxoricide rates varied among different demographic subgroups, being about 8.5 times more common among African-Americans than among white Americans, and about 7.5 times more common in interracial marriages.
In the region of South-East Asia, 55% of all murdered women died at the hands of their partner, followed by 40% in the African region and 38% in the Americas. Preliminary findings of an ongoing study estimate that globally, approximately 35% of murders of women are committed by intimate partners.
Rates of uxoricide seem to fluctuate across western cultures, with approximately seven women being killed per month in England and Wales, approximately four women per month in Australia, and approximately 76 women per month in the United States. Note that these data come from different years, and that the United States has a much higher population than the UK or Australia.
Proponents of psychodynamic theories have offered explanations for the mechanisms underlying the occurrence of uxoricide. It has been suggested that men who kill their partners experience both an unconscious dependence on their wife and a resentment of her. These men wish to leave the relationship, but unknowingly perceive themselves as too helpless to do so, which culminates into a belief that killing the wife is the only way to be free of her. This approach also offers an alternative explanation for instances where a man commits uxoricide and subsequent immediate suicide – the man ends his life not due to guilt, but instead due to his perceived helplessness and dependency.
Links have also been established between violence in childhood and likelihood of uxoricide occurring. Psychodynamic researchers argue that being the victim of abuse in childhood leads to being a perpetrator of domestic abuse in adulthood via the route of defence mechanisms – in this case, violence is an unconscious defensive adaption to childhood trauma and other adverse events. Other psychodynamic researchers have reported that Thematic Apperception tests reveal significant trends of rejection by a mother or wife in men who commit uxoricide. Psychoanalytic dream interpretation has also argued that unconscious conflict manifests into violent outbursts. For example, in one instance one man had experienced and recorded over 200 distressing, mostly violent dreams prior to murdering his wife.
In slightly more than two-thirds of US spousal homicides, a verbal disagreement escalated to homicide.
Cohabiting women are at greater risk of domestic violence and uxoricide than married women. Research has found that cohabiting women are nine times more likely to be killed by their intimate partner than married women. A number of possible reasons for this finding have been studied. Cohabiting women are more likely to be younger, have a lower level of education and are more likely to bring children from a previous relationship into their home with their new intimate partner. In addition to this heightened risk to a mother with stepchildren, the genetically unrelated stepfather also poses a risk to the child; research has shown that children are at much greater risk of violence and filicide (murder of a child) from stepfathers compared to a genetic father. This may be because investment from a stepfather reduces reproductive benefits. Research has found that the presence of stepchildren can significantly increase the risk of uxoricide for women. A large number of filicides are accompanied by uxoricide and suicide.
Additionally, cohabiting relationships have higher separation rates and males in these types of relationships may not feel in control of their intimate partners and may feel threatened by male sexual competitors. Research has found that a large proportion of uxoricide cases follow on from the male believing that his female intimate partner has been unfaithful or the female partner attempting to end the relationship. Research has shown that females often experience increased abuse following the termination of a relationship. An Australian study found that of a sample of uxoricide cases, 47% of women were murdered by their male intimate partner within two months of separating. Sexual jealousy may be a possible reason for this heightened risk following separation.
Another risk factor for uxoricide is estrangement. Women who choose to leave their partner are at higher risk of spousal homicide. These crimes have been termed "abandonment homicides," and are most commonly committed by men with childhood histories of abandonment and trauma, in conjunction with markedly low serotonin levels and frontal cortex damage that contribute to poor impulse control. The male is more likely to kill his mate before she has had the chance to form a new relationship with another man as he fears she will then devote her reproductive resources to a male rival's offspring. Therefore, by killing his partner he will avoid the reputational damage associated with intrasexual competition and will eliminate the chances of another man having access to a high value mate. This also explains why those women who have had children from a previous relationship are at higher risk of spousal homicide compared with those who have only had children with their current partner. The female partner has already devoted her reproductive resources to another man, therefore when she establishes a new relationship, the male becomes involved in the upbringing of another man's offspring which will damage his hierarchical status amongst intrasexual rivals.
The greater age disparity between spouses, the higher risk of spousal homicide. For a male, the damage associated with infidelity is greater when the partner is younger. A woman's fertility decreases as she gets older,:208 therefore, age is key indicator of reproductive success. As a result, a man will place high levels of importance on a mate with greater reproductive value.:208 A man is more likely to engage in "hands on" killing methods when the mate has high reproductive value. "Hands on" refers to more violent methods such as using weapons, drowning, stabbing and strangling.
Some instances of uxoricide are facilitated by the culture of the victim and the perpetrator. For example, honor killings, whereby a man kills his wife because she has brought shame upon their family, are approved in some male-dominated, patriarchal societies. Approximately 42% of female victims of honour killings worldwide were killed because it was believed they had committed a 'sexual impropriety'. Other facilitating cultural norms include discriminatory family laws and articles in the Criminal Code which display leniency towards honor killings. In Turkey, it has been reported that little social stigma is attached to honor killings, and around 37% of those living in conservative areas believe that adulterous women should be killed. These attitudes favouring honor killings have also been echoed amongst children and adults in Jordan and India. In Uruguay, a judge may exonerate a man from punishment for killing a woman if he did so because she was unfaithful.
Uxoricide can also be prevalent in countries where honor killings aren't considered acceptable. In South Africa, for example, as many as five women are estimated to be killed each week by an intimate partner. It has been suggested that this high rate of uxoricide is a result of the prevalence of violence in South African society, and how it is deemed socially acceptable in many circumstances – conservative attitudes towards women in this society have been suggested to facilitate uxoricide. Studies conducted in Italy exhibit similar findings, reporting that a man's cultural values concerning the position of women in society links to his likelihood of committing uxoricide.
Effects on children
When a parent kills another parent, children experience significant trauma. The other parent is likely to be in prison or may have committed suicide and therefore, the child will go through significant loss. The child has not only lost a parent but has also lost the other parent that would help and support them through this loss. This type of extreme traumatic event can have serious implications on wellbeing and mental health.
Known or suspected examples
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- Cambyses II of Persia married two of his sisters and installed the younger as queen consort of Egypt. During his insanity, he murdered her for weeping for their brother Smerdis, whom Cambyses had murdered.
- Ptolemy XI of Egypt had his wife and stepmother, Berenice III, murdered nineteen days after their wedding in 80 BC. Afterwards, Ptolemy was lynched by the citizens of Alexandria, with whom Berenice was very popular.
- Herod the Great had his second wife, Mariamne I strangled for suspected adultery, though she was innocent of the charges. According to Josephus, regret over this act almost caused Herod to go insane.
- Roman Emperor Tiberius probably had his second wife, Julia, starved to death in 14 AD, while she was in exile on Pandataria. Their marriage was unhappy, and he had been publicly embarrassed by her adultery years earlier. Her alleged paramour, Sempronius Gracchus, was executed around the same time on Tiberius’s orders.
- Roman Emperor Nero ordered the death of his first wife, Octavia, soon after divorcing her in 62 AD. He also reportedly kicked his second wife, Poppaea Sabina, to death in 65 AD after an argument.
- Prince John of Portugal, Duke of Valencia de Campos murdered his wife María Teles de Meneses in 1379, after her sister Queen Leonor Teles, fearing for the succession of her daughter Beatrice and her own position as regent, accused her of adultery.
- King Henry VIII of England had two of his six wives executed: Anne Boleyn on charges of adultery, treason and incest, and Catherine Howard on the charge of adultery.
- George Forster murdered his wife and child by drowning them in Paddington Canal, London: he was hanged at Newgate on 18 January 1803.
- Edward William Pritchard (1825–1865) was an English doctor who was convicted of murdering his wife and mother-in-law by poisoning. He was the last person to be publicly executed in Glasgow.
- The Reverend John Selby Watson (1804–1884) was sentenced to death in 1872 for killing his wife, but a public outcry led to his sentence being reduced to life imprisonment. The case is notable for Watson's use of a plea of insanity as his defence.
- William Henry Bury (1859–1889) was executed in Dundee, Scotland, for the murder of his wife Ellen in 1889. He was suspected by some of being Jack the Ripper.
- Dr Crippen (1862–1910) was an American homeopathic physician hanged in Pentonville Prison, London, England, on 23 November 1910, for the murder of his wife, Cora Henrietta Crippen.
- George Joseph Smith (1872–1915), the "Brides in the Bath Murderer", was convicted and subsequently hanged for drowning three women, all of whom he had trigamously married, between 1908 and 1914.
- Herbert Rowse Armstrong (1869–1922), a solicitor in Hay-on-Wye, was hanged for the murder of his wife by arsenic poisoning.
- Dr Buck Ruxton (1899–1936) murdered and dismembered his wife in Lancaster, England in 1935.
- Beat Author William S. Burroughs (1914–1997) shot and killed his wife, Joan Vollmer (1946–1951), during a drunken recreation of The William Tell act. Vollmer's death was ruled a culpable homicide, after Mexican police investigated.
- Philosopher Louis Althusser strangled his wife to death on 16 November 1980. He was not tried, on the grounds of diminished responsibility, and was instead committed to a psychiatric hospital. He was discharged in 1983.
- Richard Crafts of Newtown, Connecticut, was convicted of killing his wife Helle in 1985. The crime became known as the "woodchipper murder" because of the way he disposed of her body.
- In August 1996, Janet March disappeared from her home in a suburb of Nashville, Tennessee. Her husband Perry was convicted of murdering her despite the absence of her body ten years later, after his father had confessed to helping him dispose of the body, whose location he couldn't accurately remember.
- Mark Hacking murdered his pregnant wife Lori Hacking in 2004. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 2005.
- Joe O'Reilly was convicted in 2007 of the murder of his wife Rachel at their home in Co. Dublin, Ireland, in October 2004. With the crime (Rachel O'Reilly had been bludgeoned to death with an exercise barbell) having been the focus of considerable national attention, an ostensibly grieving O'Reilly appeared (along with his mother-in-law) on an episode of the Late Late Show during the weeks that followed. Some months later that police attention gradually began to focus on O'Reilly, with mobile phone records eventually being used to secure his conviction.
- On 10 October 2006, Hans Reiser was arrested and subsequently convicted of the murder of his wife, Nina Reiser.
- On 21 April 1992, Jesse Anderson stabbed his wife, Barbara E. Anderson, thirty-seven times
- On 23 October 1989 Charles Stuart shot his pregnant wife in the head and shot himself in the abdomen, claiming to have been the victim of a carjacking. The child was born alive, but later died from injuries sustained in the murder.
- Mark Winger was convicted in 2002 of murdering his wife, Donnah Winger in 1995.
- In December 2009, Susan Cox Powell disappeared, and her body was never found. Her husband, Joshua Powell, was the main suspect of her presumed murder, but he committed suicide in February 2012 after killing their sons. The case was closed in 2013 when police lead to the conclusion that Joshua and his brother murdered Susan and disposed of her body.
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- In the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica television series, Colonel Saul Tigh kills his wife, Ellen Tigh, after she betrays the New Caprica resistance movement to the Cylons.
- In the famous fairy tale "Bluebeard", written by Charles Perrault, the title character murders several of his wives.
- In the Agatha Christie novel Death on the Nile, Simon Doyle and his former fiancée Jacqueline plot to murder his wife, the wealthy Linnet.
- Uxoricide is a key event in the horror-mystery film I Saw What You Did.
- The death metal comedy series Metalocalypse features a flashback, in which William Murderface's father kills his wife with a chainsaw before turning it on himself.
- Uxoricide is a central plot point in Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window. Hitchcock revisited the theme in Dial M for Murder, which in turn was remade in 1998 as A Perfect Murder. The theme is also present in many episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
- William Shakespeare addressed uxoricide in multiple plays:
- In Silent Hill 2, James Sunderland smothers his wife in an act of euthanasia after becoming fed up with her illness-induced mood swings.
- In the film Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Sweeney Todd, in a passionate flurry of murder, accidentally kills his wife under the assumption that she was just a witness to his many other murders.
- In the horror film The Stepfather, Henry Morrison murders his wife before assuming the identity of a real estate agent.
- In the Italian art house film Dillinger Is Dead, the main protagonist, Glauco, a bored and alienated man, murders his wife before casually driving to the seaside.
- In the television series Once Upon a Time the character Rumplestiltskin murders his wife Milah after several years of estrangement.
- In the horror film Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare, Maggie Burroughs is having a flashback of her past with Freddy and his wife Loretta Krueger, in which he is shown choking her to death.
- In The Fugitive, Harrison Ford's character Dr. Richard Kimble is wrongfully accused of murdering his wife.
- In the horror film The Grudge Takeo Saeki kills his wife Kayako Saeki for apparently cheating on him when reading her diary in which she wrote that she fell in love with Peter.
- Avunculicide, the killing of one's uncle
- Filicide, the killing of one's child
- Fratricide, the killing of one's brother
- Mariticide, the killing of one's husband
- Matricide, the killing of one's mother
- Nepoticide, the killing of one's nephew
- Parricide, the killing of one's parents or another close relative
- Patricide, the killing of one's father
- Prolicide, is the killing of one's offspring
- Sororicide, the killing of one's sister
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