By Kevin Guilfoile
One thing I remember about growing up was that my dad was really excellent at not murdering us. He had a look that made us believe he might kill us even when, it turns out, murder was never really an option.
Not killing your kids is a lost parenting art, apparently.
Experts (whoever they are) claim that the number of incidents of familicide are still quite rare and have remained fairly consistent over the years. They say that when parents murder their children it's always a sensational case and the overreporting in this modern era of media saturation makes it seem like such events are more common now than they actually are. I'll take their word for that, although last month surely represented an unprecedented spike in frequency.
In Chicago the papers are fixated on the case of Christopher Vaughn, who is accused of shooting his wife and three children on a June 14 daytrip to a downstate water park. The local papers ask how a man could commit such an unthinkable crime. It was a "coldly planned execution at dawn," Eric Zorn wrote yesterday. "A betrayal of love, trust, decency and biological imperative so complete it redefines the standard of everyday evil."
Similar columns are being written in San Francisco, but Christopher Vaughn isn't on their radar. Out there the name they're putting on everyday evil is Kevin Morrissey, who on June 18 similarly pulled his car over to the side of the road and murdered his wife and their two children before killing himself.
In Montclair, New Jersey it's Thomas Reilly, who drowned his two daughters on June 21 and then hanged himself, just hours after their mother had dropped the girls off for a visit.
In Delavan, Wisconsin the name is Ambrosio Analco, accused of killing his twin infant sons on June 9, along with his ex-girlfriend and two other people before killing himself.
In Griffith, Indiana it's Mickey Gordon who on June 10 killed his teenage stepdaughter before, of course, killing himself.
Now there is the case of professional wrestler Chris Benoit, who apparently strangled his wife on June 23, his seven-year-old son on June 24, and then, after placing a Bible next to each of their bodies, hanged himself with a weight machine pulley.
And I don't need to tell anyone about Bobby Cutts, Jr. who on June 14 allegedly killed his ex-girlfriend and their unborn child right in front of their three-year-old son.
For those of us who are parents there is something especially repellent and fascinating about a father killing his children. But it's different than fear. There are an almost infinite number of things that I worry might harm my children but obviously I don't worry at all that my boys will be murdered by me.
Maybe that's why there seem to be so few fictional villains whose target is their own family. We might have a visceral reaction to these cases--we might be appalled--but we never think our own family might be in similar jeopardy. The prototypical villain of fiction is the murderer who chooses randomly. The killer who picks his victim because he or she is in the wrong place at the wrong time. That is somebody we can all fear.
(There are exceptions of course and I'd love to hear examples if you have them. The Stepfather is an underrated horror film in which the new head of the household is a serial killer. Terry O'Quinn's performance in that film is so good that 20 years later, when his character does something on Lost and I miss it, my wife still recaps it by saying something like, "The Stepfather just opened the hatch.")
Writers also like to have a motive for the crime and when a father kills his family we are frequently left with no explanation at all. According to forensic pyschiatrist Dr. Louis Kraus, when a woman kills her family it's frequently the result of a mental illness. The mother is depressed or she thinks the children are in some imagined jeopardy and using the logic of insanity decides that the only way to save them is to kill them.
When fathers kill their children, Kraus says, they are less likely to be insane and more likely to be narcissists and sociopaths for whom fatherhood has become inconvenient.
It's the new mid-life crisis. Murdering your kids is the new sports car.
When the killers take their own lives we rarely get any hint at motive. Benoit allegedly sent disturbing text messages to his friends while he was in the middle of his household killing spree. Perhaps that evidence will explain something.
On Memorial Day, 1998*, Daniel LaMere of Gurnee, Illinois sat down at his computer just moments before he would take a shotgun and kill his wife, his two stepchildren, and then himself. He typed:
"I guess your (sic) wondering why I did it. I have stayed as long as I can, but time has run out."
[Note: The original post of this article misstated the year in which this event occurred.]