Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Love Won't Be Calling At Your Address

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.]

11 comments:

The Dark Scribe said...

Yep, it's all pretty disturbing. The Ohio case fascinates me, party because I live in Cleveland, and partly because of the poor kid who probably witnessed everything. When I first heard the story, I said to my coworkers, "Wow...that sounds like a crime novel." I mean, does it get any creepier than asking a child, "Where's mommy?" and having him reply, "Mommy's in the rug."?

Kevin Guilfoile said...

Yeah, that's a guaranteed Law & Order plot in September.

Sara P said...

When Beloved was first published, Morrison got a lot of hostile criticism over her depiction of SEthe murdering a child rather than letting it grow up in slavery. She's haunted by the child's ghost, but Morrison does not want us to believe it was an unthinkable choice. In Ida Fink's "A Scrap of Time," a father kill his young daughter when he realizes the fascists have uncovered their hiding place. Those are people in extreme social situations. What is as or more horrible to me are parents in extreme mental situations who inflict horrible abuse on their children. I don't want a novel from Hedda Nussbaum's point of view, let alone Joel Steinberg, although Nussbaum wrote a memoir with a sympathetic introduction by Steinem.

Kevin Guilfoile said...

What's really interesting about those examples, Sara, is that the act is committed by the protagonists, not the villains (I'm assuming some here because I haven't read A Scrap In Time).

I thought of Beloved when Marilyn Lemak killed her children and again when that woman in Hoffman Estates stabbed her children hundreds of times because she was sure the pastor of her church was going to abduct them and sell them as sex slaves. It's just the way fiction helps us process things. To imagine the unimaginable.

Debi Ketner said...

A typo (I assume) at the end of the piece. Daniel LaMere killed himself and his family on Memorial Day 1998. You can check other stories for accuracy on this, but I have the correct date. He was the godfather to one of my sons.

Kevin Guilfoile said...

Debi, thanks for pointing out the mistake. I'm sorry that you lost very close friends in such a tragic way.

I certainly don't meant to pry (and if you don't wish to answer, don't feel obligated to reply) but if you have any insight on the subject we'd love to hear it. Distant observers like us (in and out of the media) tend to see men who commit such acts as caricatures of evil. Obviously that's not the reality. Each of these people was loved by family and friends. They were sons and buddies and, of course, godfathers as well as dads. I think we'd all be interested in seeing a more complete picture of Daniel LaMere.

Debi Ketner said...

Kevin, thank you for the kind words and also asking for insights about Daniel LaMere who was my dearest friend since 1985 and as I wrote previously, the godfather to my son, Lance who was born in 1990.

The man I knew was always a kind and gentle, loving man who stayed with us often for days on end and was always there to help my family in time of need. We were always very close, so close that he proposed to me several times in the mid 90's (when I was single). All of our friends here in Norfolk, VA and even my now grown children say that had we married, he never would have done what he did. They know I always understood on a deep personal level the amount of grief and suffering he was dealing with and that I would have made sure he got the help he needed. I agree.

Dan's biggest problem, I feel, is that he had never gotten over the extreme amount of survivor guilt he suffered after his Navy ship, the USS Stark, was missiled in the Persian Gulf on May 17, 1987, killing 37 of his shipmates.

Newspaper accounts of the inquest after he killed his wife, children and himself say the coroner was convinced Memorial Day had nothing to do with the killings. I disagree. I spent many a Memorial Day with him over the years and because it came so soon after the anniversary of the ship's missiling, he would drink to excess and put his head in my lap as he wept.

That he could commit such a heinous crime against his wife and his stepchildren is still a very difficult thing for us to accept. The man my kids and I knew wanted a happy life and a good marriage. He loved children and seemed to only date women who had kids over the years. The public doesn't know that he lost his only biological child in his first marriage to a woman who said she was taking their daughter to Spain to visit her family there but never came back. I don't think he ever got over the pain of never seeing his baby girl again, either.

Dan was not a gun enthusiast, never one to own a gun. How he came to use that 12-gauge shotgun on that Memorial Day to kill himself and his family in Gurnee, IL is a complete mystery to me. Maybe it belonged to his wife, I don't know.

I have to admit I was never that crazy about Nancy, his wife...when they would call me together long distance, often she would try to instigate an argument over the phone with him. He would say, "We have to go now," making it apparent that he was pissed about her behavior. Still, I wanted him to be happy and always hoped they would work out their differences, not having been married that terribly long. She had wonderful kids - the son, 14, and daughter, 10, who were killed that day. We continue to grieve over the three of them as much as we do Dan.

Here's the thing that I feel matters most: The military needs to do more for our veterans like Dan who are struggling and fail to cope. There needs to be more psychiatric counseling and support for these people in the long term. Dan clearly needed help and didn't get it before he left the Navy in 1995. We all tried, as close friends, to bring him to a point of understanding and acceptance but he never reached it.

To know that the man we loved for so long took ultimately his life and the lives of his family with him is something we will be grieving forever.

Oh, how I miss Dan and his little family. This is honestly the worst thing that has ever happened to me in my life. I don't think I'll ever get over it.

Thank you for the chance to tell you and the others about someone I loved this much.

Debi

Kevin Guilfoile said...

Debi,

Thank you so much for sharing that. While we rarely get answers to why such things happen it's so important to remember that these names belong to real people.

I can't tell you how much we appreciate your willingness to open part of your life to us like that.

truth said...

Let me add to the "more complete picture." Daniel was also an abusive alcoholic. Let's not forget that this coward murdered his family... my family.

katherine moshiri said...

truth said
I know your pain. It is amazing how people can forget that no matter what the circumstances it is wrong and henious to commit murder, especially to innocent children. I hope this man is burning in hell for what he did along with my husband Shahin Moshiri who murdered 2 of my children(16 & 4) and attempted to murder me and our youngest daughter (2). I will never fathom how a man walks up to a child that loves and adores him and shoots. The media and public need to stop making excuses for these murderers. If you are unhappy with your life, kill yourself, but nobody has the right to take another life. My husband knew the kids and I would be fine without him, that is what he could not live with.... And to the poster that speaks ill of Nancy, shame on you, no matter what kind of person she was, she certainly did not deserve the fate she recieved at his hands. Wake up people, this happens more than is reported and to seemingly "normal & happy" families with no warning signs. I did not die that day but my world ended and not a day will go by that my heart does not ache for my children. Meghan survived, but she does not and never will have the life and abilities she should.

Prissc said...

Debi. Please contact me. Prisscx@gmail.com.