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The Nature and Prevalence of Familicide in the United States, 2000–2009



Familicide refers to the killing of multiple family members, most commonly the homicide of an intimate partner and at least one child. This study examines the prevalence of familicide in the United States. Second, it explores the relationship between the prevalence of familicide and the prevalence of financial problems in the United States by making use of Supplementary Homicide Reports data and newspaper reports. In the period of 2000–2009, familicide involving an intimate partner and child(ren) occurred approximately 23 times per year. The majority of the perpetrators were male, who committed the offense with a firearm. Familicides involving an intimate partner and child(ren) with financial motives alone occurred 4 to 5 times per year. The results showed that the association between familicide and financial problems is not a straightforward one. Even though correlational analyses suggest a relationship between the two, the prevalence of familicide motivated by financial problems was unrelated to periods of financial downfall. Directions for future research are discussed.
Homicide Studies
The online version of this article can be found at:
DOI: 10.1177/1088767913511460
2014 18: 44 originally published online 20 November 2013Homicide Studies Marieke Liem and Ashley Reichelmann
Patterns of Multiple Family Homicide
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Homicide Studies
2014, Vol. 18(1) 44 –58
© 2013 SAGE Publications
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DOI: 10.1177/1088767913511460
Patterns of Multiple Family
Marieke Liem1 and Ashley Reichelmann2
Previous research has treated multiple family homicide, or familicide, as a uniform
event. We sought to explore whether subtypes of familicide could be discerned,
making use of a decade of Supplementary Homicide Reports (SHR) coupled with
newspaper articles. The resulting 238 cases were analyzed through a two-step
cluster analysis, showing that the familicides can be subgrouped into four categories
based on the perpetrator’s age, relationship between perpetrator and victims, and
perpetrator’s suicide. The empirically grouped categories were labeled Despondent
Husbands, Spousal Revenge, Extended Parricide, and Diffuse Conflict. Familicide is thus
a heterogeneous phenomenon and must be viewed in unique terms to appropriately
determine prevention strategies.
mass murder, subtypes, intimate partner, victim/offender relationship, child, parent/
parricide, siblicide
Multiple family homicide is also known as familicide or the killing of multiple family
members. Despite the media coverage and public interest these events generate, famil-
icide is a relatively rare event. Even though familicide has an enduring presence
throughout history and across cultures, there is surprisingly limited research examin-
ing this most extreme form of family violence. It is important to note that some studies
lump multiple family homicides together with other forms of mass murder (see, for
example, Bowers, Holmes, & Rhom, 2010): the killing of two or more victims in one
event (Delisi & Scherer, 2006). Multiple family homicides, however, are believed to
originate and evolve from largely independent etiologies. Due to the intimate
1Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA
2Northeastern University, Boston, MA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Marieke Liem, Harvard Kennedy School, 79 John F. Kennedy Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.
511460HSX18110.1177/1088767913511460Homicide StudiesLiem and Reichelmann
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Liem and Reichelmann 45
relationship between the perpetrator and victims, and given the motives underlying
these crimes, familicides stand apart from other forms of mass murder.
One of the main limitations in the work on multiple family homicides so far, how-
ever, is the lack of recognition of heterogeneity among familicides. The literature on
multiple family homicide typically focuses on just one prominent constellation: the
killing of spouse and children (Goldney, 1977; Leveillée, Lefebvre, & Marleau, 2009;
Liem & Koenraadt, 2008; Schlesinger, 2000; Websdale, 2010; Wilson, Daly, &
Daniele, 1995). Research has yet to determine if other constellations of familicide can
be discerned, and how these constellations can be characterized. The present study
uses the UCR Supplementary Homicide Reports (SHR), a national sample of homi-
cide data over the last decade, supplemented with newspaper articles, to examine the
characteristics associated with multiple family homicide in the United States. In con-
trast to earlier studies, the present research effort is designed to identify specific sub-
groups within multiple family homicides.
Prior Research
Spouse and Child(ren)
The most common type of familicide is one in which the spouse and one or more chil-
dren are victimized. The perpetrators are mostly men, typically in their 30s or 40s, who
commit the offense with a firearm. In the United States, familicide involving an inti-
mate partner and child(ren) occurs approximately 23 times per year (Liem, Levin,
Holland, & Fox, 2013). In their study of familicide in Canada, Wilson et al. (1995)
found 61 familicides in one 15-year period. In roughly the same period, 48 cases were
registered in England and Wales (Wilson et al., 1995). Because of its low incidence,
many studies have relied on describing a small number of cases, are based on single-
case descriptions (Scheinin, Rogers, & Sathyavagiswaran, 2011; Thaller, 2012), or
relied on clinical data (Leveillée et al., 2009; Liem & Koenraadt, 2008; Malmquist,
1980). In spite of these limitations, several general characteristics can be outlined.
A common dichotomy among these familicides is the one proposed by Frazier
(1975), who distinguished between the “murder-by-proxy” type and the “suicide-
by-proxy” type. The first applies to cases in which victims are chosen because they
are identified with a primary target—the spouse. These familicides are typically
preceded by a woman’s threat of withdrawal or estrangement (Wilson et al., 1995).
From this perspective, a man might kill his children in addition to killing his spouse
because he regards them as an extension of her. The children are thus perceived as
“her” children and, accordingly, equally responsible for her betrayal (Dietz, 1986;
Fox & Levin, 2011; Liem & Koenraadt, 2008). Based on a study of more than 200
familicidal men, Websdale (2010) termed the emotional styles of these perpetrators
as “livid coercive,” because of their uncontrolled anger and tyrannical behavior
toward their partners.
Suicide-by-proxy familicides, conversely, are thought to be triggered by the perpetra-
tor’s loss of a job, continuous unemployment, and/or his subsequent inability to support
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46 Homicide Studies 18(1)
his family (Fox & Levin, 2011; Palermo, 1997). When trapped by the evaporation of
economic dreams, the familicidal man does not see any other option but to “protect” his
family from the fate that would befall them without his support. In such cases, the perpe-
trator commands a relationship in which he perceives that only he can satisfy the needs of
his victims. Faced with such overwhelming threat to their role as provider, controller, and
central figure in the lives of their families, these men become desperate, homicidal, and
suicidal (Marzuk, Tardiff, & Hirsch, 1992). In some cases, familicides are altruistically
motivated, as the perpetrator aims to protect his loved ones from a catastrophic future.
Typically, the latter is followed by the suicide of the perpetrator (Cooper & Eaves, 1996;
Liem et al., 2013; Wilson et al., 1995). Websdale (2010) classified these perpetrators as
“civil reputable.” They do not have a history of violence, and the killings are carefully
premeditated over a considerable length of time. It has been suggested that as the econ-
omy softens and the unemployment rate rises, there may be more opportunities for cata-
strophic losses to precipitate a familicide (Scheinin et al., 2011). When job loss or
indebtedness is involved, the motivation may become a lethal solution for the offender to
“protect” his family (Fox & Levin, 2011). Results from recent analyses based on U.S.
data showed, however, that the prevalence of familicide motivated by financial problems
was unrelated to periods of financial downfall (Liem et al., 2013). What both types of
familicide consisting of spouse and child(ren) have in common is that the perpetrators are
motivated by a sense of loss of control over their spouse as well as over their family life
(Ewing, 1997; Liem & Koenraadt, 2008; Wilson et al., 1995).
Parent(s) and Sibling(s)
A less frequent type of familicide consists of a combination of parricide (the killing of
one or more parents) and siblicide (the killing of one or more siblings). To the extent
that this type of familicide has been studied, it is mostly limited to case studies—the
most famous perhaps being Pierre Rivière, as described in a classic treatise by Michel
Foucault (1975). On June 3, 1835, Rivière brutally murdered his mother, sister, and
brother with a pruning hook (Fuentes, 2013). He intended to save his father from his
mother, who tormented and oppressed him.
In more recent familicides of this constellation, the perpetrator is thought to primar-
ily aim his aggression at one or both parents—the siblings are considered as allies of a
dominant, hostile father. They are, in the eyes of the perpetrator, equally responsible,
albeit actively or passively, for the parent’s dominant and repressive conduct. These
perpetrators are typically motivated by a desire to free themselves from the parent’s
tyranny, and to regain an identity the parent(s) inhibit (Koenraadt, 1996). Prior inci-
dences of domestic violence are particularly uncommon among this group of offend-
ers. This suggests that these incidences may not move along a continuum of
child-initiated family violence (Walsh & Krienert, 2009), but rather constitute a sepa-
rate dynamic. Studies of parricide in the United States have found that in the majority
of cases, fathers and mothers are killed by adult sons (Bourget, Gagné, & Labelle,
2007; Heide, 2013; Heide & Frei, 2010; Marleau, Auclair, & Millaud, 2006). Similarly,
studies of siblicide indicate that male offenders are more likely to kill a sibling in
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Liem and Reichelmann 47
addition to another family member compared with female offenders (Peck & Heide,
2012). A major limitation in past studies is that they treat parricide and siblicide as
separate phenomena and hence do not distinguish this type of multiple family homi-
cide as a unique category, but rather refer to it as “the killing of parents along with
other family members” (see, for example, Heide & Frei, 2010).
In sum, previous research on multiple family homicide has merely focused on one
subtype of familicide: the killing of spouse and children. We do not know if, and to
what extent, we can discern other types of familicide. This research aims to fill this
longstanding vacuum by determining whether various constellations of familicide can
be distinguished, and how these constellations can be characterized. To meet this aim,
we use cluster analysis techniques, which are particularly useful, because the classifi-
cation scheme can take into account multiple characteristics of the killing. Thus, this
analysis allows for multiple family homicides to be categorized along numerous
dimensions (Kubrin, 2003). Cluster analysis has been proven a useful tool in previous
scholarly work to seek out subtypes of violent offending (Coid, Kahtan, Gault, &
Jarman, 2000; Saunders, 1992; Stefurak & Calhoun, 2007), including homicide
(Bijleveld & Smit, 2006; Blackburn, 1971; Kubrin, 2003; Yarvis, 1994).
Data Sources
To meet our aims, we used two data sources to extend a previously generated data set
(Liem et al., 2013): the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Reports (SHR) data (spanning
the years 2000-2007) and newspaper reports on familicide (spanning the years
The FBI’s SHR includes nationwide incident-level information on nearly all mur-
ders and nonnegligent manslaughters in the United States (Fox & Swatt, 2009). It
should be noted that these are arrest data, and that these offenders have not (yet) been
convicted (Peck & Heide, 2012). These case-based reports include specific identifying
details, such as the month and year of the case, the reporting agency, the primary vic-
tim–perpetrator relationship per case, the number of victims per case, and sociodemo-
graphic characteristics of the primary victim and the primary perpetrator (Fox, 2004).
The SHR data, however, do not provide the relationships between the perpetrator and
each subsequent victim involved in the case. Therefore, the SHR data only afforded
the ability to narrow down to cases that included (a) a family relationship between the
primary victim and the primary perpetrator and (b) involved two or more victims—
both characteristics that are necessary to identify cases as familicides.
A potential limitation of the SHR data is the accuracy and completeness of informa-
tion provided within their data set. To overcome these limitations, we collected addi-
tional data from newspaper articles found through the search engine LexisNexis.
Newspaper accounts have been proven useful to assess in-depth information on sev-
eral types of homicide (Aderibigbe, 1997; Danson & Soothill, 1996; Liem & Koenraadt,
2007; Malphurs & Cohen, 2002). Because of the violent nature of the act and the fact
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48 Homicide Studies 18(1)
that multiple victims are involved, familicides typically receive a large amount of
media coverage (Liem et al., 2013).
This approach provided a closer look at the relationship between the perpetrator(s)
and victims as well as the motives underlying the acts. By acquiring more details, we
were able to investigate the differing types of familicides. Cases were retrieved by
searching the reporting agency and “murder” after limiting the search to the geograph-
ical state and month/year of the occurrence. If the results numbered more than 25, the
search was further filtered by a keyword from the SHR data, starting with the listed
relationship between the primary perpetrator and the primary victim. If necessary, it
was further filtered by the age of the perpetrator. If an article could not be found within
the LexisNexis database, Google was used to locate a local newspaper covering the
case. Cases after 2007 were not listed in the SHR data. Following methodologies used
in prior research on familicide in the United States (Liem et al., 2013), these cases
were retrieved via LexisNexis. We used a keyword search of “family murder” after
restricting the dates from January 2000 to December 2009 and the location to the
United States.
Inclusion Criteria
The cases only qualified as familicides if there were multiple victims and if the victims
fit into at least two different relational categories, or victim types. For instance, a
mother killing her two children does not qualify as familicide, but rather as a multiple
child homicide, whereas a father killing his spouse and his children or a son killing his
parents and his siblings fits the appropriate criteria. The victims must thus constitute
different categories of familial relative status.
Cluster Sample, Variables, and Measures
By making use of additional newspaper searches, 326 out of the total 961 SHR mul-
tiple family homicides could be retrieved. Eighty-eight cases were excluded because
they did not match our inclusion criteria (27%). These excluded cases involved homi-
cides that “only” involved one family member victim (N = 5), or victims belonging
to one family category, such as “only” children (N = 5), “only” (grand) parents or
parents-in-law (N = 64), or were in other constellations part of just one relational
category, or victim type, such as an aunt and uncle, or two cousins (N = 14). Cases
that were included were subsequently coded to reflect event characteristics (motive,
relationship between each victim and perpetrator, location), perpetrator characteris-
tics (sociodemographics, criminal history), and victim characteristics (sociodemo-
graphics, cause of death). For each case, information about the perpetrator(s), victims,
and event was recorded and captured in more than 50 variables related to each
To determine whether familicides with different characteristics can be grouped into
archetypes, we used cluster analyses. Cluster analysis is the generic name for a variety
of procedures that can be used to create a classification. These procedures empirically
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Liem and Reichelmann 49
form clusters, or groups of highly similar entities (Kubrin, 2003). From more than 50
variables that characterize each killing, the list was narrowed to three cluster variables:
Perpetrator age, relationship between victims and perpetrator (victims were spouse
and children; victims were parents and siblings; victims were a constellation of other
family members), and perpetrator’s suicide (attempt) (present or absent). The ratio-
nale for choosing these characteristics was conceptual and empirical (see also Kubrin,
2003). Conceptually, the variables include fundamental aspects of the homicide that
were known for the majority of cases: Characteristics of the perpetrator(s) and the
victims, the relationship between them, and details about the homicide event.
Empirically, the so-called swamping variables, such as gender and race, were excluded
as well as variables that were statistically rare, such as history of mental health treat-
ment or drug-related problems.
Given that the clustering variables involved continuous and categorical variables,
we used a two-step cluster analysis. This method is designed to reveal natural group-
ings, or clusters. The two-step cluster constitutes a combination of hierarchical and
non-hierarchical (K-means) techniques, instead of only employing one or the other.
Although the subtypes are derived using cluster analysis, the interpretation of the clus-
ter results was guided by additional analyses of background information provided in
the newspaper articles. The cluster sample was based on information in the SHR and
in newspaper articles, from a total of 238 multiple family homicides that occurred in
the United States in one decade, between January 2000 and December 2009.
The majority of the familicides were committed by white men in their 30s or 40s, who
killed their family members with a firearm. In two thirds of the cases, the perpetrator
shared the household with all victims. Suicide was reported in 57% of all cases—of
which 6% included serious attempts—and killings showed signs of premeditation in
approximately 70%. In over half of the cases, victims of the familicide were the
(estranged) spouse and children (62%); this included children of spouse and perpetra-
tor (51%), children of spouse alone (8%), or children of the perpetrator alone (2%).
Other predominant constellations of victims included siblings and parents (13%),
spouse and other family members (7%), and (estranged) spouse and spouse’s parents
(5%). Less prevalent victim constellations consisted of parents and other family mem-
bers (6%), siblings and other family members (2%), and secondary relations, such as
uncles, cousins, nephews, and grandparents (4%). With the exception of three cases,
all familicides were perpetrated by one perpetrator. Cases ranged from involving two
through ten victims, and on average, cases included three victims (M = 3.0; SD =
1.16)—excluding the suicide of the perpetrator. Domestic problems were not uncom-
mon, ranging from intimate partner problems (80%)—at times resulting in a restrain-
ing order (29%)—to conflicts related to child custody (23%).
The two-step cluster analysis revealed four distinct familicide types: Despondent
Husbands, Spousal Revenge, Extended Parricide, and Diffuse Conflict. To determine
which characteristics differentiate the subtypes, descriptives of perpetrator, victim,
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50 Homicide Studies 18(1)
and event variables were produced for cases comprising each subtype, as well as for
the total familicide comparison (see Table 1). What follows is a summary narrative for
each cluster based on its profile features and background event characteristics.
The first subtype, or cluster 1 familicides, constituted the largest group with almost
one half of all cases (N = 109; 46%) and were characterized by the following: Cases
consist of the killing of spouse and children. Perpetrators were men with a mean age
of 42, who were predominantly white and commit suicide after the homicide event.
Perpetrators typically shared the household with all victims, and were the biological
father of the children. Previously reported intimate partner problems were frequent
and problems related to child custody were present in about 25% of cases. Insofar as
event-specific information was available, these homicides were premeditated in 92%
of cases.
Further analysis of newspaper articles showed the commonality of men who had
difficulty financially supporting their growing families. For instance, in January 2001,
in Angelina, TX, a 24-year-old Hispanic man killed his wife and his four young chil-
dren, all of whom were under the age of five. Due to the poor weather of the season,
he was unable to find work as a roofer. Ultimately, he could not pay his bills and had
to steal electricity from his neighbor. He killed his family members as they slept, and
Table 1. Characteristics of Total (N = 238), Despondent Husbands (n = 109), Spousal
Revenge (n = 41), Extended Parricide (n = 31), and Diffuse Conflict (n = 57) Familicides.
Variable Total (%)
Cluster 1:
husbands (%)
Cluster 2:
revenge (%)
Cluster 3:
parricide (%)
Cluster 4:
conflicts (%)
Perpetrator characteristics
Male 94 92 98 97 93
Female 6 8 2 3 7
Age M = 37.9 M = 41.8 M = 40.0 M = 27.1 M = 39.2
White 72 78 68 71 67
Non-White 28 22 34 29 33
Event characteristics
All shared 59 72 67 63 22
Partially shared 18 13 11 15 35
Non-shared 23 14 22 22 44
Premeditated 70 92 62 60 68
Suicide 57 100 0 19 37
Domestic problems
Intimate partner 80 83 76 50 85
Restraining order 29 25 25 20 46
Child custody 23 41 0 0 17
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Liem and Reichelmann 51
then took his own life, which had spiraled out of his control due to ongoing financial
problems coupled with recent marital problems. Another example took place in
September 2009 in Maryland, where a 38-year-old White male killed his family of
four. He was self-employed as a carpenter and cabinetmaker, and worked the night
shift as a janitor at the local school to generate enough income to support his family.
After the recession confounded the financial hardship, he killed his wife, his 14-year-
old son, and seven-year-old daughter as they slept. He also killed the family dog before
committing suicide with the same firearm. Taking their overall profile into account,
the cluster label of Despondent Husbands was generated to describe this group.
Cluster 2 familicides also consisted of cases in which spouse and children were
victimized—oftentimes, these children were the perpetrator’s stepchildren. What dis-
tinguished this cluster from the abovementioned cluster was that the perpetrator did
not commit suicide following the event. Perpetrators were predominantly male, with
an average age of 40 and were more likely than perpetrators in Cluster 1 to be of non-
White descent. A closer look at background characteristics of these cases showed that
intimate partner problems were indicated in ¾ of the cases and restraining orders in ¼
of them. The perpetrator shared the household with at least one of the victims in two
thirds of the cases.
Examples of such cases included a 28-year-old man who killed his long-term girl-
friend and her 5-year-old daughter in Dallas, TX, in July 2000. After his girlfriend
announced that she would be leaving him, he shot her in the back and killed her daugh-
ter with blunt force trauma. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Another
example involved a former Navy veteran in April 2001 in Scottsdale, AR. The 40-year-
old White male and his wife had attended marital counseling sessions. After being
traumatized by his parent’s divorce as a child, he attempted to avoid the same fate, by
controlling every aspect of his family’s life. Eventually, his wife announced to family
members that she intended to divorce him. After a loud argument, he shot his wife and
cut the throats of their two sons, aged 10 and 13. He then unhitched a gas pipe, causing
the house to explode. Given that the primary object of aggression is the (estranged)
intimate partner, we applied the term Spousal Revenge to these familicides. The results
showed that 41 (17%) of all familicides could be grouped in this cluster.
The third cluster constituted the smallest cluster with 31 cases (13%), and mostly
consisted of cases in which parents and siblings were killed. Perpetrators in this group
were White men with an average age of 27, who did not typically commit suicide after
the event. More than half of these men were in their teens or early twenties. The famili-
cide was less likely to be premeditated compared with the other three clusters, and
suicide only followed in one fifth of the cases. In the majority of cases, the perpetrator
shared the household with at least one victim. Typically, in such cases, siblings were
perceived as extensions of the parents, or potential witnesses to the event who need to
be removed. In other cases, the perpetrator’s problems were focused on an issue sepa-
rate from the actual victims, such as intimate partner problems, unemployment, or
alcohol/drug-related problems. In such cases, the origin of aggression included outside
circumstances, for which parents and siblings were regarded as in some way (partially)
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52 Homicide Studies 18(1)
Two examples of the third cluster shared the commonality of antisocial behavior in
young males. The first concerned a case in Stevens, WA, in December 2000. A 16-year-
old boy confessed to killing his parents and two siblings with two separate rifles and
then burying them in their snowy backyard. Although the neighbors described the son
as nice because he often played with their young children, he had engaged in criminal
behavior, causing his parents to be strict on him. In the year of the murders, his parents
home-schooled him because of his behavior, while his 18-year-old sister and 11-year-
old brother attended the local public schools. Although no motive was officially identi-
fied, neighbors described the relationship between the parents and the 16-year-old as
quite conflicted, due to the number and extent of arguments that occurred between
them. Another example of this familicide cluster included a 14-year-old boy who
killed his father after years of abuse in New Mexico in July 2004. After his father’s
multiple marriages, the death of his mother, and a newly acquired stepsister, the young
White male had trouble transitioning into the new family structure. After an alleged
abusive episode by his father, he ran and hid in the woods. He returned hours later,
killing his father and stepmother. He then killed his younger stepsister, because she
witnessed the murders. In court, the defense argued that he was a withdrawn child who
was frequently abused by his father. The label Extended Parricide was generated to
capture the salient aspects of this group’s profile.
Cluster 4 contains 57 cases (24%) and consisted of men with an average age of 39,
who killed multiple family members with a firearm in a variety of constellations.
These included the killing of a spouse and in-laws, the killing of parents and other
family members, or the killing of secondary relations, such as combinations of grand-
parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, nephews. Perpetrators committed suicide following the
event in more than one third of the cases. In cases in which the spouse and in-laws
were killed, the spouse constituted the primary target; here, the perpetrator perceived
the in-laws as equally guilty of betrayal. This was reflected in the relatively high prev-
alence of intimate partner problems, including prior restraining orders. In other cases
in this cluster, the physical and geographic closeness of family members caused them
to be present and thus become a victim of the familicide. Information from newspaper
articles revealed that such events were frequently induced by alcohol, or preceded by
conflicts over money or other arguments. Typically, the victims and perpetrator did not
share a household. The event was premeditated in about two thirds of the cases.
Examples of cases in this cluster include the following: In Gary, IN, in September
2003, a 20-year-old man, who had been estranged from his family and was living on
the streets, knocked on his family door in the middle of the night. Before taking his
own life, he killed his two siblings, his mother, and his nephew. Only his 82-year-old
grandmother survived the attack. The family had previously become estranged from
the son due to mental illness and drug use. Cases such as these, clustered by offender
and offense characteristics, all have in common the perpetrator’s diffuse nature of
aggression, rather than aggression being directed at the one deemed responsible.
Another case took place in the small town of Brunswick, GA, in September 2009,
when a 22-year-old White man brutally beat eight of his family members to death. The
victims included his father, aunt, uncle, four cousins, and his cousin’s boyfriend. He
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Liem and Reichelmann 53
then called the police announcing, “my whole family’s dead!” (Deutsche Presse-
Agentur, 2009). On police arrival, he was arrested on drug charges, later to be charged
with murder. Another case in this cluster involved a 12-year-old boy in Washington,
OH, in November 2004, who occasionally shared a household with his grandmother.
He killed her and his aunt with a shotgun, before developing an elaborate story for the
police. He was seen as a troubled youth and claimed that his grandmother always put
him down. He killed his aunt because she happened to be there and tried to stop him.
Because of the diffuse nature of the conflicts underlying these cases, as well as the
diverse choice of victims, we applied the term Diffuse Conflict to describe this
This study represents the only effort to date to systematically analyze various constel-
lations of multiple family homicide. The results indicated that familicide is a hetero-
geneous phenomenon: based on a national sample of more than 238 multiple family
homicides that occurred in the course of a decade, we were able to discern four spe-
cific familicide clusters.
The first two clusters of Despondent Fathers and Spousal Revenge have been pre-
viously described in the literature—In line with previous (international) studies
(Byard, Knight, James, & Gilbert, 1999; Ewing, 1997; Friedman, Hrouda, Holden,
Noffsinger, & Resnick, 2005; Liem et al., 2013; Scheinin et al., 2011; Somander &
Rammer, 1991), these husbands and fathers were White men who kill their (estranged)
spouses and children. The difference between these two clusters lied in the underlying
dynamics and in the family composition: While the Despondent Father killed his fam-
ily members out of pseudo-altruistic reasons, frequently instigated by financial trou-
bles and followed by suicide, perpetrators in the Spousal Revenge cluster acted out of
anger over abandonment. When his spouse threatens to leave and/or threatens to
exclude him from contact with the children, the anger, jealousy, and rage against the
spouse is extended to the children (Alder & Polk, 2001; Leveillée et al., 2009; Liem &
Koenraadt, 2008; Wilczynski, 1997). In this category, the killing of stepchildren was
not exceptional—a finding reported in previous studies (Wilson et al., 1995). When
marital problems occur, children can be viewed as a source of hostility and anger,
particularly when coupled with doubts of paternity. The vast majority of the perpetra-
tors in these two clusters were male. Traditionally, the loss of a job and subsequent
inability to support the family are arguably more detrimental to the masculine identity
as a provider (Palermo, 1997), than the feminine identity—hence leading to a higher
prevalence of men among Despondent Parents than women. The high prevalence of
men among the Spousal Revenge cluster can be attributed to psycho-evolutionary
goals: Men have a stronger need for control over their spouses’ reproductive capacity
(Daly & Wilson, 1988; Wilson et al., 1995) compared with women. In an attempt to
regain control following a threat of withdrawal or estrangement, men may respond
with lethal violence, in which the children are perceived of as extensions of their inti-
mate partner.
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54 Homicide Studies 18(1)
We are the first to describe the existence of two additional familicide clusters that
were thus far neglected in the literature: Extended Parricide and Diffuse Conflict. The
lack of attention for these familicide clusters appears unjustified, particularly given the
sizable proportion of these categories. Extended Parricides are committed by rela-
tively young, troubled men, whose primary anger is directed toward one or both par-
ents. The fact that suicide rarely occurred in this cluster of familicides is in line with
earlier work on parricides alone (Marleau et al., 2006; Millaud, Auclair, & Meunier,
1996; Mouzos & Rushforth, 2003). In the case of adolescents tormented by abuse,
parricide resulted from a desire either to commit suicide or remove the tormentor.
Meloy (1992, p. 58) summarized this dynamic as “either he or I must die, something
has to give.” He argued that a polarization takes place between the “all bad” parent and
the “all good” self; once the adolescent has killed his tormentor and the associated
culprits (his siblings), the need for taking his own life is removed. Insofar as we could
retrieve information from newspaper articles on these cases, siblings thus appeared to
be victimized because of their physical presence as witnesses, or because they were
considered extensions of the parent. Future empirical research should uncover the
extent to which the dynamics of this type of familicide overlap with (double) parri-
cide-only events and siblicide-only events.
Diffuse Conflict familicides represented the second-largest familicide cluster and
could be distinguished from the abovementioned clusters by the diverse constellation
of victims—ranging from in-laws, uncles, aunts, cousins, and secondary family rela-
tions. Based on the available information, it could be hypothesized that the more dis-
tant the family relation between victim and perpetrator (such as involving cousins,
nephews, uncles, and grandparents), the more likely the homicide resembles nonfam-
ily homicides. This was reflected in the lack of suicidal behavior following the event,
the perpetrator’s relatively frequent use of alcohol, the prevalence of conflicts over
money, and other conflicts of nonfamilial nature—characteristics seen in nonfamily
homicides nationwide (Fox & Zawitz, 1999). Future research should further assess
potential overlap between Diffuse Conflict familicides and multiple nonfamily
In contrast to earlier research merely focusing on just one type of multiple family
homicides, we revealed the existence of four separate groups. What all four familicide
categories had in common, other than the defining fact that the victims consist of mul-
tiple family members, was the presence of primary and secondary victims. Secondary
victims were either killed because they are seen as extensions of the primary victim,
or because of their physical closeness to the primary victims. Arguably, this even
accounts for the Despondent Father, who perceives his victims not as extensions of
each other, but rather as extensions of himself. Such men considered themselves to be
the central figure in the lives of their family members (Cooper & Eaves, 1996), and as
such, aimed to protect his loved ones by taking them “along” in his suicide.
In sum, the results from this study showed that multiple family homicides constitute
a heterogeneous phenomenon, which due to the intimate bond between perpetrators and
victims cannot be equated with other types of multiple murderers. What flows from the
numerous differences between the four clusters is that there is no “one-size-fits-all”
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Liem and Reichelmann 55
prevention strategy. However, the results from this study and previous US-based stud-
ies (Websdale, 2010) revealed that virtually all familicides are committed with a fire-
arm. The availability of guns in a conflict-ridden home environment can quickly change
a heated argument into a deadly confrontation. States vary greatly in their ability to
conduct background checks in a timely manner and thereby prevent firearms from
being acquired by persons who are subject to a domestic abuse restraining order or who,
because of a (violent) criminal record, are prohibited from acquiring a firearm (Barber
et al., 2008). The results suggest that improved enforcement of restrictions on firearm
purchase, as well as gun removal from the houses of those with previous violent behav-
ior, may be a useful tool to reduce the prevalence and the lethality of these events.
A number of limitations apply to this study. First, the SHR data depend on the qual-
ity and completeness of coding by law enforcement, which is not always accurate
(Peck & Heide, 2012). Second, making use of supplemental newspaper articles is not
without problems, particularly when it concerns the underreporting of certain impor-
tant characteristics of the murders; for example, the fact that no mention was made of
a restraining order does not necessarily mean that a restraining order was not in place
(Liem et al., 2013). Furthermore, although we relied on a search method validated by
previous studies, familicide cases in the period 2008-2009 that were not reported in
newswires or in newspapers were not included in our study, possibly leading to an
underrepresentation of the actual prevalence of familicides in this time period.
In addition, factors that are important to the study of multiple family homicides
may not have been uncovered by these two sources; these variables include family
violence history, perpetrator’s mental health status, substance abuse and criminal his-
tory, and variables related to family dynamics. Future research should attempt to avoid
these caveats by moving beyond SHR and newspaper data. This can be done by incor-
porating interviews with perpetrators and those closest to them, as well as hospital
reports and criminal records (Liem et al., 2013). Based on this information, a more
accurate assessment can be made of the perpetrator’s mental and physical health and
personality (Cavanagh, Carson, Sharpe, & Lawrie, 2003). Including such detailed data
would lead to a more thorough understanding of the complex nature of these acts.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship,
and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship,
and/or publication of this article: This research was supported by a Marie Curie Outgoing
Fellowship for Career Development in the project 299875.
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Author Biographies
Marieke Liem is a Post-Doctoral Fellow with the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and
Management (PCJ) at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS). Her research interests involve domestic
homicide, homicide by the mentally ill, homicide followed by suicide, criminal careers of homi-
cide offenders, and international comparative research in lethal violence.
Ashley Reichelmann is a Ph.D. candidate in the Sociology Department at Northeastern
University, focusing on conflict and violence as well as social psychology.
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... In the Netherlands, familicide occurred up to four times per year between 1992 and 2016, with an overall average of one case per year, equating to about 1% of all homicides (Liem & Haarhuis, 2016). In the United States, Liem et al. (2013) found that familicide consisting of an intimate partner and at least one child occurred on average 23 times annually. Prior studies report the US rate of familicide to have increased considerably over the last five decades (Websdale, 2010). ...
... Prior studies further show that the majority of male familicide perpetrators are in their 30s or 40s (Ewing, 1997;Liem & Koenraadt, 2008a, b;Karlsson et al., 2021;Densley et al., 2017). The vast majority of familicide perpetrators, as found in American and European studies (Liem & Koenraadt, 2008b;Liem et al., 2013), are Caucasian men. Factors specifically associated with familicide include the perpetrator's loss of a job, continuous unemployment, and subsequent inability to support his family (Levin & Fox, 1985;Palermo, 1997). ...
... In terms of victim characteristics, child victims of familicide tend to be older than children who are killed in filicide-only cases (Wilson et al., 1995), with mean ages ranging between seven and 12 years (Wilson et al., 1995;Liem et al., 2013). Prior research further shows that the sex ratio of child victims in familicides is more evenly balanced, whereas in filicides, as outlined above, there is a slight male preponderance (Wilson et al., 1995). ...
... Given the high rate of firearms used during mass murder in America, studies in the second category compare public, family, and felony mass shootings (Krouse & Richardson, 2015;Silva, 2022a). Given the higher rate of family mass murder incidents, studies in the third category focus on these types of attacks (Diaz et al., 2022;Liem et al., 2013). However, given the high casualty rate and high rate of firearms used in public mass murder, as well as the extensive media attention and public concern surrounding these attacks (Silva & Capellan, 2019), there is a large body of research in the fourth category focused on public mass shootings (Kim et al., 2021). ...
Previous studies of global mass murder focus on public mass shootings, but there is little known about incidents involving other weapon types. To fill this gap in research, this study examines public mass stabbings and compares them with public mass shootings around the world (1999-2022). Findings identify significant differences in the geographic locations, target locations, offenders' age and resolution, and number of victim casualties that illustrate these are unique forms of mass murder. This work provides the next step toward advancing knowledge of global mass murder and paves the way for future research aimed at understanding and addressing the phenomenon.
... There are derivatives of this term, namely matricide, which refers to the act of killing one's mother, and patricide, the act of killing one's father (Walker, 2016). Familicide is another term that is occasionally used to describe the act of killing one's family, typically a spouse and at least one child (Liem, Levin & Holland et al., 2013) however, a number of articles used this term in reference to the act of killing one's parents. Due to differences in terminology used in literature, the second search was devised to capture all literature pertaining to parricide. ...
Technical Report
Full-text available
This project aimed to form distinct typologies of Child to Parent Domestic Abuse (CPDA) through a systematic exploration of published empirical literature and a transparent extract of police recorded domestic abuse crimes involving CPDA. This was achieved by using both a data driven formation of typologies, which were then enriched by further explanation provided by the theoretical typologies formed from the systematic literature review. Results found that CPDA made up approximately 10% of all DA, and this was consistent across monthly counts across the two year sample. Through cluster analysis and systematic literature review, the work found 5 clusters of CPDA which mapped closely to partner abuse types. The existence of different types of CPDA highlights the need to better understand the distinct features, risks and needs of the crime in order to better form assessments and interventions and to reduce overall demand on police frontline staff.
... Familicide is a rare event with tragic consequences. Familicide is here defined as the murder of a spouse and at least one child (Liem et al., 2013). Familicide perpetrators have been studied extensively, and a profile of potential perpetrators has been developed. ...
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Shunning and ostracism have severe impacts on individuals’ psychological and social well-being. Members of Jehovah’s Witnesses are subject to shunning when they do not comply with the stated doctrine or belief system. To investigate the effects of shunning, interviews with 10 former Jehovah’s Witnesses, ranging in age from 20 to 44 years old, were conducted; six male, six White, one Native American, one Black, and two Latinx. Transcripts were analyzed with interpretative phenomenological analysis for narrative themes pertaining to their life after exclusion from their former faith using the context of Jehovah’s Witnesses culture. Results suggest shunning has a long-term, detrimental effect on mental health, job possibilities, and life satisfaction. Problems are amplified in female former members due to heavy themes of sexism and patriarchal narratives pervasive in Jehovah’s Witnesses culture. Feelings of loneliness, loss of control, and worthlessness are also common after leaving. The culture of informing on other members inside the Jehovah’s Witnesses also leads to a continued sense of distrust and suspicion long after leaving.
Familicide is the killing of a spouse or significant other and their children. It is a predominantly male phenomenon. Suicide or attempted suicide is also a frequent feature of familicide. Antecedents of familicide include substance abuse, mental health issues, job loss, threat of separation by significant other, and previous domestic violence. Guns are the most commonly used weapon. Familicide has been categorized into four types: despondent husband, spousal revenge, extended parricide, and diffuse conflict. The lack of standard definitions and of adequate theory hampers the study of family killings.
This chapter describes a rare form of intra-familial homicide, which breaks several societal taboos and almost always includes the suicide of the perpetrator. The offence always elicits shock from the communities in which they occur, yet remains poorly understood. In response to a paucity of research on familicide, the author categorises the offence into two types and outlines the characteristics of each, including their antecedents. Although there are common themes across both types, there are also significant differences. For example, offenders in each category are described as patriarchal in their attitudes towards their partner and children and obsessive control appears to be an issue in both types of familicide. However, it is proposed that perpetrator motivation varies according to his perception of his life circumstances preceding the offence. Excerpts from case studies clearly and chillingly illustrate the abusive dynamics in the relationships studied, the powerlessness of victims, the obsessive, controlling personalities of perpetrators and the long-term aftermath of the offences. Whilst research has identified risk factors, prevention remains a challenge, as these are not always recognised. Therefore, safety for those at risk is dependent on an inter-agency and interdisciplinary approach.KeywordsFamilicideFamilicide-suicideChild murder-suicideFilicide-suicideFamily annihilation
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Despite the interest in juvenile homicide offenders, few studies have systematically examined their involvement in incidents involving specific victims. This study focused on one victim type, the killings of siblings. To date, siblicide research has been based primarily on case studies. Bivariate and multivariate techniques were used to systematically investigate offender, victim, and incident characteristics associated with fratricides and sororicides committed by juvenile homicide offenders in single victim, single offender incidents over a 32-year period (1976–2007), as recorded in the Supplementary Homicide Report data base. Juvenile sororicide offenders, relative to juvenile fratricide offenders, were significantly more likely to be female and to kill younger victims. The article concludes with a discussion of the findings in terms of past research, their implications for intervention and prevention, and directions for future research.
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This research extends a 1990 study by Land, McCall, and Cohen on the structural covariates of homicide rates. Examining neighborhoods in St. Louis, this study assesses whether socioeconomic and demographic characteristics are correlated with different types of homicide, thereby addressing the question of whether homi- cides are sufficiently distinct in nature that their levels are not equally associated with community characteristics. The findings indicate that while residential instability is associated only with felony killings, economic disadvantage is associated with all of the homicide categories. The theoretical significance of the findings for theories of violent crime is discussed.
This book is about juvenile and adult sons and daughters who kill their parents. The book moves far behind the statistical correlates of parricide by synthesizing the professional literature on parricide in general, matricide, patricide, double parricides, and familicides. The book explains the reasons behind the killings and includes in-depth discussion of issues related to prosecuting and defending parricide offenders. The book is enriched with its focus on clinical assessment, case studies, and follow-up of parricide offenders, as well as treatment, risk assessment, and prevention.
Familicide involves the killing of a current or former spouse or partner and one or more of their children, followed, in many cases, by the suicide of the perpetrator. These killings are limited to the modern era and seem to be on the rise in late modern times, deeply disturbing the communities in which they occur. Familicidal Hearts explores the emotional styles of 196 male and 15 female perpetrators of this shocking offence, situating their emotional styles on a continuum with livid coercive killers at one end and civil reputable murderers at the other. The analysis identifies the pivotal roles of socially situated emotions such as shame, rage, fear, anxiety, and depression in the lives of perpetrators and in particular the way perpetrators mismanage these emotions, fail to acknowledge or recognize them, and mask them. The author identifies modern era figurations of feeling and familial atmospheres of feeling as being conducive to the rise of familicide. In particular, most perpetrators see themselves as failing to live up to the demands of modern era gender expectations, as fathers, lovers, and, much more rarely, as wives or mothers. In spite of the plethora of case details used, the author contends that at some level, familicides are inexplicable and reflect the haunting effects of modern emotional formations that defy scientific analysis.
In discussing the problem of mass murder, an ever increasing expression of violence in society, the typology of the perpetrators of such crimes is presented. Illustrations of some of the most notorious killers are provided and the unique case of a mass murderer who left, as a suicide “note,” a videotaped soliloquy is presented. The dynamics of mass murder and of mass murder-suicide are discussed; the killings are viewed as the outcome of deep frustration and perceived rejection in a highly narcissistic person, wounded in his ego, hostile towards society, and in search of identity and notoriety through a cathartic self assertion. Similarities are shown between the mass murderer and the mythological Norse “berserk” and it is speculated that the superman complex may be at the core of the killer's behavior. It is contended that the personal psychopathology of the killer is determinant of the destructive behavior, although social factors are highly contributory.
Familicide is a rare but troubling event that can be difficult to recount, especially for residents of the community were it occurred. The author of this piece combines her academic and practitioner knowledge of family violence with her personal experience, recalling the events leading up to the murder of a classmate nearly 20 years ago. The author reframes these memories through her current knowledge of risk assessment for domestic lethality as well as the safety behaviors women typically employ to protect themselves and their children. Further emphasis is placed on the need for children and young people to be involved in coordinated community efforts to detect and disclose incidents of family violence. Public education on this topic, for both adults and young people, can be useful in reducing stigma and coordinating efforts for intervention.
It has been recommended that there should be new therapeutic regimes for women who need secure inpatient services. Cluster analysis was applied to the diagnoses of 471 women admitted to Special Hospitals and medium secure units over a 7-year period from a geographically representative area of seven health regions in the UK. The aim was to identify categories that may facilitate the development of new specialist services. A seven-cluster solution revealed three subgroups of women with personality disorder as their primary psychopathology, three with major mental illness, and one with organic brain syndrome. Each may require different therapeutic regimes and levels of inpatient security. Further research is necessary to determine whether any single category could be managed in specialist facilities without recourse to high perimeter security. High security will continue to be needed for women with anti-social personality disorder.