Researchers in the UK have identified four primary types of people (usually fathers or mothers) who kill their entire families — self-righteous, disappointed, anomic, and paranoid. This finding was based upon an analysis of three decades’ worth of news reports about families who had been murdered.

Researchers looked at newspapers and other reports of family murders from 1980 to 2012, to analyze the characteristics and demographic factors of each family and the murderer, 83 percent of whom were male.

Sixty-five percent of the men who killed their families were in their 20s or 30s (55 percent were in their 30s).

August was found to be the most common month for the killing to take place, accounting for 20 percent of cases. Just under half of all murders were committed over weekends, especially on a Sunday.

“Family annihilators have received little attention as a separate category of killer,” said Professor David Wilson, Ph.D., one of the paper’s three authors, and director of the Centre of Applied Criminology at Birmingham City University.

“Often they are treated like spree or serial murderers, a view which presupposes traits, such as the idea that the murderer ‘snaps’, or that after killing their partner or children the killer may force a stand-off with the police.”

“We also found that the rate at which this type of crime is being committed has increased, with the first decade of the 21st century claiming over half of all cases.”

Eighty-one percent of the men attempted suicide after the act, which refutes the traditional idea that family annihilators may force the police to shoot them, as is common with spree murderers.

There were no recorded cases of stand-offs with the law.

Also refuted is the idea that murderers may be unhappy or frustrated men with a long life history of failure. Some had been highly successful in their careers before the murder. In the present study, researchers found that 71 percent were employed, with occupations ranged from surgeons and marketing executives, to postmen, police and lorry drivers.

Stabbings and carbon monoxide poisoning were statistically the most common murder methods, while the majority of murders were found to take place in the home.

The team also considered the stated motivations of the killers, either pieced together by interviews with relatives or made apparent with suicide notes read at coroner’s inquests.

Family breakup was the most common cause, accounting for 66% of cases, although this included related domestic issues such as access to children. Financial difficulties were the second most commonly cited motive; followed by honor killing and mental illness.

“Analyzing these shared traits and motivations has allowed us to identify four types of killer; anomic, disappointed, paranoid and self- righteous,” said Wilson. “While these may overlap, they all go beyond the traditional ideas of the ‘revenge’ or ‘altruistic’ murderers.”

The Four Types of Family Murderers

The researchers identified the following four types of family murderers:

Self-righteous: The killer seeks to locate blame for his crimes upon the mother whom he holds responsible for the breakdown of the family. This may involve the killer phoning his partner before the murder to explain what he is about to do. For these men, their breadwinner status is central to their idea of the ideal family.

Disappointed: This killer believes his family has let him down or has acted in ways to undermine or destroy his vision of ideal family life. An example may be disappointment that children are not following the traditional religious or cultural customs of the father.

Anomic: In these cases the family has become firmly linked in the mind of the killer to the economy. The father sees family as the result of his economic success, allowing him to display his achievements. However, if the father becomes an economic failure, he sees the family as no longer serving this function.

Paranoid: Those who perceive an external threat to the family. This is often social services or the legal system, which the father fears will side against him and take away the children. Here the murder is motivated by a twisted desire to protect the family.

In all of these cases masculinity and perceptions of power sets the background for the crimes. The family role of the father is central to their ideas of masculinity and the murders represent a last ditch attempt to perform a masculine role.

“The family annihilator should be seen as a specific category of murderer, for a crime which appears to be increasing,” concluded Wilson. “To begin solving this problem the role of gender must be recognized, acknowledging that it is mainly men who will resort to this type of violence.”

Source: The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice