Why Fathers Kill

Massachusetts authorities suspect that failed Internet business dealings and financial difficulties may have been motives in Neil Entwistle's alleged slaying of his wife and infant daughter. Experts say those are not unusual motives when fathers kill their families.

It is difficult, experts say, to categorize fathers who commit familicide because the circumstances tend to be very individualized. However, a few factors can fuel a father's slaying of his wife and children: financial difficulties and mounting pressure over his inability to support them, coupled with marital problems and a feeling that he is losing control over his 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 Entwistle in England and charged him with murder in the slayings of Rachel Entwistle, 27, and their 9-month-old daughter, Lillian. A cloud of suspicion seemed to hover over Entwistle when authorities found his wife and infant daughter shot to death in their home on Jan. 22, suspicion that only seemed to intensify when he didn't attend their funeral last week. Authorities believe Entwistle shot them to death on Jan. 20 and flew to his parents' home in England on the same day of the slayings.

Just as it may have been the motivation in Entwistle's case, 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 interviews with detectives, Longo never admitted to killing his wife Mary Jane, 35, and their children Zachery, 4, Sadie, 3, and Madison, 2. But he told investigators that the family had 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 one of the interviews ... "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 tend to kill themselves. That was the case with Robert Bryant, who killed his wife and four children before shooting himself to death in their McMinnville, Ore., home in February 2002. Bryant had filed for bankruptcy in his landscaping business in California before moving his family to Oregon and looking for a new start. However, after finding initial success in his new roofing business, he seemed to crumble under the weight of financial woes and his perceived failure as a family provider.

Familicide often takes loved ones and communities by surprise, as relatives and friends find it too incomprehensible and horrible a crime. Unfortunately, in many cases in which fathers kill their families, the slayings take everyone by surprise because, experts say, the warning signs either never surfaced — or were overlooked.

"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 has been on California's death row 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 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 infant son. The mother, Melissa Mirlas, and Davis were having trouble in their relationship, and at the time of the slayings, Mirlas and the children were staying at her mother's place. Mirlas had often taken the children and stayed with her mother when Davis drank heavily and physically abused her.

Mirlas was running errands when Davis picked up the children from her mother's. 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 groundwork for their defense at trial.

"It's often very difficult to get to the truth in these kinds 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 the shock expressed by families, friends and relatives, fathers who kill their families have problems before the slayings that they either hid well or were ignored. Often, she said, they come off as devoted family men but are living a lie. They secretly may not relish their family life, may 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."

When mothers have killed or harmed their children, postpartum depression and other mental illnesses such as Munchausen syndrome by proxy — in which a mother intentionally harms her child or fabricates a child's illness to draw attention to herself — have been frequently cited. But though the reasons and circumstances surrounding their killings may differ, fathers and mothers, Brown said, lash out for one essential reason: to regain a level of power and control they believe was taken from them.

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 Neil Entwistle's extradition back to the United States will take. He is expected to appear before a magistrate in London on Friday, and to decide whether to waive or challenge his extradition.

Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...