Dr Elizabeth Yardley, Professor David Wilson and Adam Lynes – Centre for Applied Criminology
This month sees the publication of research on family annihilation by the Centre for Applied Criminology in the prestigious, peer review Howard Journal of Criminal Justice. Family annihilators are parents who deliberately kill their child/children, may kill or attempt to kill their partner and may attempt or commit suicide in one individual killing event. We came across 71 cases in our research about this phenomenon, 59 men and 12 women – our first paper focuses upon male family annihilators.
Our investigations were prompted by the need to develop a more rigorous academic understanding of family annihilation. Very little research had previously been conducted and most insight came from anecdotal coverage of individual incidents. Incidents such as that of Julian Stevenson back in May 2013, who has been charged with murdering his two children in France, on his first access visit since his split from his French wife. Or the case of Christopher Foster, the ruined former millionaire businessman who shot dead his wife and teenage daughter in August 2008, setting fire to their house in Maesbrook, Shropshire before turning the gun on himself.
Whilst the details of these individual cases are the subject of intense media reporting and in depth exploration of the individual’s personal circumstances, there was little sense of the ‘bigger picture’. What lay behind these brutal acts? Were there any commonalities / patterns? Was family annihilation on the increase? These were some of the questions that guided our research as we set out to identify and explore cases of family annihilation in Britain between 1980 and 2012.
Gathering data on family annihilation was challenging – there is no single official source or collection of official sources from which rates and details of family annihilations can be collated. Following a search of reported cases of family annihilation using the Nexis research tool, we produced a rather bleak spread sheet, detailing variables including the day and month of the murders, offender age, occupation, location of murders, methods used, victim characteristics and possible motivation. Having collated and analysed the data, the following key findings emerged:
- Despite a general fall in violent crime in recent years, family annihilation is on the increase.
- The most common month for a man to annihilate his family is August.
- The weekend is the most common time of the week for family annihilations.
- Most male family annihilators are employed and were not previously known to the CJS.
- The average age of a male family annihilator is 38.5.
We also identified four ‘types’ of family annihilator, drawing on common threads that emerged. We call these four types: Self-righteous, Anomic, Paranoid and Disappointed.
It is clear from our research that family annihilators need to be seen as a distinctive type of murderer and is becoming all too common. The central factor in all these cases was masculinity – specifically masculinity in crisis or under threat. And, as long as we continue to place idealistic conceptualisations of ‘the family’ on a pedestal, we will continue to see cases of family annihilation. The family is under immense pressure, and for some men in it the only hook upon which they hang their masculinity. When this hook can no longer take the strain, despair and revenge lead a small minority of men to engage in this chilling behaviour.
Full copies of the article A Taxonomy of Male, British Family Annihilators, 1980-2012 by Yardley, Wilson & Lynes can be obtained via Lucie.Crowther@wiley.com