Like other families who have faced similar situations, the last thing Edward Morris' parents ever expected was that he would be accused of killing his own wife and children.
Authorities seemed to almost immediately suspect Morris when the bodies of his pregnant wife Renee and their three children, Bryant, Alexis and Jonathan, were found Dec. 21 in an Oregon forest, and Edward was nowhere to be found.
A two-week manhunt followed and ended Jan. 4 when two people spotted Morris driving his 1993 Dodge Caravan. He surrendered to police peacefully at a Baker City, Ore., drug store.
Morris' father — and his neighbors — were stunned that he could ever be suspected of killing his wife and children, describing him in reports as a devout Christian and a doting father.
Paul Morris has said that he finds it "incomprehensible" that his son could have committed the crimes he is accused of. There were no apparent signs of domestic discord, no known past threats or incidents that foreshadowed his family's slaying. There were only reports of some financial hardship, but many neighbors described Morris' wife and children as "well-cared for."
Unfortunately, in many cases where 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 criminal justice administration 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."
Experts say it is difficult to categorize fathers who commit "familicide" because the cases tend to be very individualized. However, two factors can fuel a father's slaying of his wife and children: financial difficulty and mounting pressure over the inability to support them and marital problems, combined with the 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."
Financial hardship may have overwhelmed Christian Longo, the Oregon man awaiting trial for allegedly killing his wife and three children and leading the FBI on a two-week manhunt last year. In transcripts of his interrogation by detectives, Longo never admits killing his wife MaryJane, 35, and their children Zachery, 4, Sadie, 3, and Madison, 2. But he tells investigators that they led a transient lifestyle, living from motel to motel on Ramen noodles and bread in the weeks before the slayings.