Dr. Michael Welner is a forensic psychiatrist who has consulted to prosecutors, judges, and defense attorneys on hundreds of homicides around the United States, many of which involved domestic issues.
He is a special consultant to ABC News on cases of forensic interest, and has been following the investigation of Tara Grant's disappearance.
Dr. Welner, are there any causes that contribute more particularly to cases where husbands kill wives?
Several issues are particularly linked to husbands' decisions to kill their wives. Financial hardship and a humiliating prospect of ruin may often be the driving force behind such cases. Such killings, unlike the Grant killing, often target the children as well, and include a suicidal father. The despondent father feels he would not wish for his children to see him as a loser, and in suicide, for his family to grow up unsupported.
Sometimes, a husband may be maintaining a secret life that proves to be incompatible with marriage. For some husbands, it is secret homosexuality. For others, it is philandering. Such husbands kill their wives to gain their freedom without accounting for the consequences of divorce. Homicide is not then an outgrowth of his double life, it arises from the extreme conflict when the secret is revealed and the killer's choice not to abide the family, financial and legal consequences.
In other cases, a husband's morbid jealousy culminates in murder. Such tragedies bear out a history of previous accusations, infidelities real and imagined, and domestic violence. Morbid jealousy homicides distinguish themselves from double-life homicides and many financial homicides in that the homicide does follow a sequence of clear conflict and evidence for the lethality of the jealousy beforehand.
If the jealousy includes a father questioning the parentage of one of his children, a history of mistreatment of the child in question may suggest this as the root cause. In my professional experience, ferreting out this motive from killing husbands may be particularly challenging, for husbands may be too embarrassed, even in custody, to acknowledge their spouse's pregnancy out of wedlock.
Is there always a motive to spousal homicide?
Analysis of husband-wife homicide must include an appraisal of how premeditated the killing was. There is always a conflict, overt or below the surface -- even if the husband is psychotic. Some such homicides may yet occur rather unpredictably. For this reason, suspects in question should be tested as close to the time of arrest as possible, in order to screen for the presence of mind-altering substances -- methamphetamine, cocaine and alcohol in particular.
How is it that marital problems lead to murder? Whatever happened to divorce?