"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."
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."
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."