Twice as many fathers as mothers committed filicide-suicide in our study. This is in keeping with findings in previous studies and the higher male suicide rate. Two-thirds of fathers attempted to kill their wives, while no mother attempted to kill her husband. This may be related to a more proprietary attitude of men toward the family.21 The sample spans many years before the women’s liberation movement when men were likely to be the only breadwinners.
The most frequent method of filicide-suicide was by shooting, a method that is likely to succeed in both filicide and suicide. Similarly, in U.S. newspaper reports of homicide-suicides, 90 percent of perpetrators used firearms.22
Dietz described familicide perpetrators as:
Family annihilators, usually the senior man of the house, who is depressed, paranoid, intoxicated or a combination of these. He kills each member of the family who is present, sometimes including pets. He may commit suicide after killing the others, or may force the police to kill him [Ref 23, p 482].Our sample is consistent with this description. Of the 11 men who attempted to kill the entire family, 5 were depressed, 3 were paranoid, and 2 had alcohol in their systems.
A North Carolina study of homicide-suicide included seven cases of familicide-suicide.24 None of the men had histories of domestic violence, while three had histories of mental illness, and two had criminal histories. Of our sample of 11 men who committed familicide-suicides, 2 had a known history of domestic violence, 5 had utilized mental health services, and 2 had criminal histories. Morton and colleagues noted familicide-suicides were often "preceded by a range of factors including severe depression and suicidal ideation in the perpetrator, ongoing marital conflict, perpetrator anger over separation, and illness in the victim and perpetrator’s child" (Ref. 24, p 97). Our sample showed many of the same themes, with the addition of financial stressors.
Perpetrators of familicide have been classified as accusatory killers or despondent killers.21 Accusatory killers had a grievance against their wives and often a history of violence. The despondent killer is described as "a depressed and brooding man, who may apprehend impending disaster for himself and his family, and who sees familicide followed by suicide as ‘the only way out’" (Ref 21, pp 287–8). Our data showed more altruistic killings—that is, committed by despondent killers rather than accusatory ones—though occasionally characteristics of both types were seen.