Massachusetts authorities suspect that failed Internet business dealings and financial difficulty may have been a motive in the slayings of Rachel and Lillian Entwistle. Experts say that is not unusual when men kill their families, and Neil Entwistle has been chargee with the murders of his wife and infant daughter.
It is difficult, experts say, to categorize fathers who commit "familicide" because the cases tend to be very individualized. However, two factors can fuel the slayings of wives and children: financial difficulty and mounting pressure over the inability to support them, and marital problems, combined with the feeling of losing control over the family.
"There are two types: Type 1 is the father who is an abusive or a controlling figure who feels some loss of control of his household and his family and feels that killing his family would be the ultimate expression of his control over them," said Keith Durkin, associate professor of sociology at Ohio Northern University. "Type 2 is seen in a 'reversal of fortune' situation. He may have started a business and the business may have started going sour recently. … He is a person who sees himself as saving his family from further disgrace and humiliation by killing them."
Authorities announced today that they arrested Enwistle in England and charged him with murder in the slayings of Rachel, 27, and 9-month-old Lillian. Enwistle was identified as a person of interest when authorities found the two shot to death in their Hopkinton, Mass., home on Jan. 22. Authorities believe he shot them on Jan. 20 and flew to his parents' home in England the same day.
Christian Longo's Money Problems
Financial hardship overwhelmed Christian Longo, the Oregon man convicted and sentenced to death in 2003 for killing his wife and three children. In transcripts of his interrogation, Longo never admitted killing his wife, MaryJane, 35, and their children, Zachery, 4, Sadie, 3, and Madison, 2. But he told investigators that they led a transient lifestyle, moving from motel to motel and living on Ramen noodles and bread in the weeks before the slayings.
Longo said his family had been used to spending $200 on groceries and not thinking twice about it — after all, he had once operated a construction cleaning business in Michigan. However, his business reportedly folded under $30,000 in lawsuits.
By the time the family moved to Oregon, Longo was wanted for forgery and passing bad checks. He told detectives that he was feeling the pressure of not being able to support his family.
"I was thinking that they were in that situation too long with me," Longo said in the interview. "That they deserved much better. I didn't know if I could give it to them."
Murder-Suicide and Ignored Warning Signs
Many fathers who kill their families also kill themselves. That was the case with Robert Bryant, who fatally shot himself after killing his wife and four children in their McMinnville, Ore., home in February 2002. Bryant filed for bankruptcy in his landscaping business in California before moving north with the hope of a new start. However, after finding initial success in his new roofing business, he seemed to crumble under the weight of financial woes and perceived failure as a family provider.
Familicide often takes loved ones and communities by surprise. Unfortunately, in many cases where fathers kill their families, the warning signs either never surfaced — or were overlooked, experts say.
"What we've had is that many times, you'll see families and neighbors say, 'We're shocked. He was such a family man. He was so devoted to his family.' Many of them [fathers who kill their families] come off very well. They seem so normal," said Thomas Gitchoff, professor of sociology at San Diego State University. "It's the normalcy that's the confusing factor. … We're so used to the stereotype of these men looking scary and many of them look and appear so normal, like any common man."
If I Can't Have You ...
Familicide could also be rooted in domestic squabbles. Authorities said Scott Peterson, who was sentenced to death in California after being convicted in 2004 for the slayings of his wife, Laci, and their unborn child, wanted to get out of his marriage to pursue a relationship with his mistress, Amber Frey. In December 2002, Bayonne, N.J., police say, Willie Davis stabbed and slashed the throats of his 23-month-old daughter and his infant son. The mother, Melissa Mirlas, and Davis were having trouble in their relationship, and she and the children were staying at her mother's place.
Mirlas was running errands when Davis picked up the children from her mother. She then went to Davis' place and made the gruesome discovery.
"For someone to do this kind of thing, you have to consider that they must be extremely mentally imbalanced. Whether it was self-induced through alcohol or drug use or severe mental depression, it's horrible," said Gitchoff. "The other angle to consider is when there is trouble in the marriage and the wife threatens to leave and someone gets so jealous they figure, 'Well, if I can't have you, then no one will.'"
Still, some experts believe that investigators cannot always trust what a familicide suspect says. They may be trying to lay the groudwork for their defense at trial.
"It's often very difficult to get to the truth in these kind of cases because the suspect could tell you anything as an excuse," said Pat Brown, criminal profiler and founder of the Sexual Homicide Exchange. "'Oh, I was having financial difficulty.' 'God told me to do it.' Or they can say they were hearing voices or the devil told me to do it. They say things to make them look nuts so that they can get the insanity defense."
Double Standard Between Fathers and Mothers Who Kill
Brown noted that despite shock expressed by families, friends and relatives, fathers who kill their families have problems before the slayings that were either ignored by others or they hid very well. Often, she said, they come off as devoted family men, but they secretly may not relish their family lifestyle, be disappointed in the way their lives have turned out and grow to see their wives and children as obstacles to goals and desires and the reasons for setbacks.
"It goes to show that a guy can father a child, but that doesn't make him a father," Brown said. "But he comes off as cherishing his role because it makes him look good to others. Maybe he is frustrated with the way his life has turned out and instead of seeing his wife and children as the loving support group that they are, he grows to see them as a burden, the cause of his problems, and getting in the way of the things he really wants to do."
In cases where mothers have killed or harmed their children, postpartum depression and other mental illnesses such as Munchausen by proxy — where a mother intentionally harms her child or fabricates their illnesses to draw attention to herself — have been frequently cited. But though the reasons and circumstances surrounding their killings may differ, parents lash out for one essential reason: to regain a level of power and control they believe was taken from them, Brown said.
Still, fathers who kill are much less sympathetic to juries than mothers who kill.
"People think, 'Oh she must have been crazy. She must have been out of her mind to do such a thing'," Brown said. "We'll give a guy the death penalty in a second, but women will come away with lighter sentences, like life in prison."
It is uncertain how long Enwistle's extradition to the United States will take. He is expected to appear before a magistrate in London on Friday and decide whether he will waive or challenge his extradition.