September 8, 2010

8 Characteristics of Family Annihilators


mcfall-murders.jpg
guess why

The case of Hugh McFall (from the BBC):

[He] beat his wife and daughter to death with a rubber mallet before hanging himself...

Hugh McFall, 48, of Oswestry, Shropshire, was found hanged on 5 February, hours after wife Susan, 55, and Francesca, 18, were found dead.

An inquest heard how he left a note by his body saying "I hope I rot in hell".

Why did he do it?  More specifically: why does the news report say he did it?

I.

No one is surprised when the news reports murders; they're interesting in a pornographic way.  ("Now I have these feelings, whatever shall I do with them?")

But the murder is secondary to the report; the murder is an excuse to release an already worked out narrative.  Murder suspects and victims become unpaid actors for a reality show  CBS calls "The News."

An example from this week:

"Hundreds Attend Vigil for Slain Kansas Cheerleader." 

When you click on the link, what do you want to see?

Here is a picture of a tiger and nitrogen while you consider your prejudices:



monkey and sky.jpg

Be honest: you want to see a picture of a cheerleader.  You sure as hell don't want to see a picture of a vigil-- but "vigil" = "pics of her while alive." Also: "Kansas"= white, which means she's hot.  Otherwise they wouldn't have used the word "Kansas," they would have used the word "Trenton."

And what kind of a guy would kill her?  How about "Rocco?"

longoria.jpg
Three burly cops="violent predator."  Do I need to tell you what his criminal history is?  If I told you that Rocco has a history of burglary but no prior rapes or sex offenses, would that make you suspect him less?  No, because we all understand how a cheerleader might end up dead.  Well, how did you come to understand that? 

GREAT BEND, Kan. -- A 14-year-old central Kansas girl whose charred remains were found at an asphalt plant last week was a vivacious teen who loved bright colors and preferred wearing flip flops over any other type of shoes, according to those who knew her.

Hmm.  Doesn't really match the cheerleader type.  In fact, this girl wasn't really a cheerleader-- she was going to be a cheerleader when she started 9th grade in the fall.  She was also going to be in geometry class, but they left that out.

That he killed a cheerleader makes sense; but killing some random 8th grader-- was he a first time pedophile?-- makes less sense.

Calling her a cheerleader certainly draws in the viewers, but at a huge societal cost.  Most of us learn about murder through the news, and empirical evidence (news stories) tell us they're right, so we adopt their narratives.  Narratives aren't necessarily bad-- unless they're wrong.  I'm not saying he did/didn't do it; I am saying that when you put "cheerleader" in the headline, I am surer that he did it in spite of my attempts at being objective.  I'm surer because you're surer.

And narratives are hard to unlearn.  Now that we know that she's an 8th grader and that he has no history of prior sex offenses, do we double back and give him the benefit of the doubt?


alicia.jpg

II.

Filicides, the killing of your kids, is no different.

There are broadly five types: altruistic, psychotic, unwanted child, accident by neglect, spousal revenge.  Although filicide is perpetrated in equal numbers by mothers and fathers, spouse + kid murderers are overwhelmingly men.

That said, the media like to report on only three of these types of filicides: mothers who are psychotic (weak) ; women who are looking to get/please a new man (evil); and fathers committing "altruistic filicide" in which the father thinks he is sparing his family worse suffering by killing them (snapped).

The case of Hugh McFall (from the BBC):

A florist beat his wife and daughter to death with a rubber mallet before hanging himself amid fears he would lose a big customer, an inquest heard.

Hugh McFall, 48... was found hanged on 5 February, hours after wife Susan, 55, and Francesca, 18, were found dead.

An inquest heard how he left a note by his body saying "I hope I rot in hell".

We're about to get a standard altruistic murder story highlighting the role of the employment, which completely misses the important subtleties.  Here are the more important ones, with  some interventions. 


1. He's not losing a job, he's losing his ability to keep up the lifestyle:

The self-employed flower salesman was facing accusations of invoice discrepancies from his main customer - which had suspended his contract - and feared a police investigation into his accounts... "His financial world had collapsed, his source of business income or at least 90 to 95% of it, had disappeared in a moment.  Their lifestyle, as he knew it, would be over."

1b. The lifestyle often involves some kind of "soft" illegality (accounting irregularities, the use of drugs, etc).   The news may cite jail as the main stressor; but the general fear is the irrreproducibility of the lifestyle (e.g. even if he doesn't go to jail, he'll never be able to make that kind of money again, legally.)


2.  A sudden, temporary, but unshakable realization that there is no way out of this. "This is the end of me," "it's over," "I'm dead," etc.

Business associates told the hearing that Mr McFall had considered himself "finished" after a meeting about alleged invoice discrepancies the day before his death.

If you hear a man say, "I'm finished", believe it.   Especially if it doesn't seem as bad as he thinks it is.  It's his inability to see alternatives (which would require another person's perspective) that makes him dangerous.


3.  While anyone can see how severe the problem is, no one else sees the problem as insurmountable-- except him.   "Why didn't he just...?"

West Mercia Police said the case would probably not have ended up in court but an investigation would have been started if the owners of Stans Superstore had taken their concerns to police.

This is his inability to see things from another perspective except his own.  What's obvious to you is not obvious to him, and opportunities to intervene can be missed if you think he "would have thought of that himself."  Be concrete, be basic.  "Look, are you a legal scholar now?  Let's get a lawyer."  A lawyer? Really?  "Yeah-- I know a guy-- and let him tell you what he sees; if they can get OJ off, they can get you off.  If nothing else, it's going to buy you some time..."

The longer he can experience his shame, the longer he will be able to live with his shame (or create a rationalization that will let himself live with it.  The goal isn't to solve his problems, but delay him until he can think straight.


4.  Media says family murders= financial problems, but the money is merely the cover for the real shame:

The coroner said Mr McFall's fears about his sexual health may have been "going through his mind" when he killed his family, as well as his business worries and concerns over his "social standing".

And from another article:

A computer expert and senior forensic investigator told the inquest he had examined two computers as part of the investigation, one from the McFall's home and the other from his business premises.  [An investigator] said someone had been accessing pornography, escort and massage parlour sites and seeking advice for diagnosing HIV.

Illegal activity, affairs, drugs...  the money is important because it hides those things, allows him to present himself as something he wants to be. 

Sometimes the financial narrative is so compelling it seduces even experienced criminologists.  Criminology professor David Wilson:

"They've previously had wealth, had possessions, they went on foreign holidays. The annihilator feels 'given that I can't give my family any of this any longer' as an act of almost mercy, as they would see it, 'I'll take their lives so as to prevent them having experiences of any hardship'."

Wrong, always.  It is impossible to think your children are better off dead unless you are unable to see their perspective.  If you asked them, what would they say?   Why wouldn't you believe them? Why do you think you know better than they do?

They aren't better off dead; you're better off if they're dead.  That's the secret that must be undone.

5.  SHAME.

 
"I can't give them what they deserve" is a deflection from "I can't give them what they deserve."    The panic is about them becoming aware of your failure.

[the criminologist] believes where they lived was a factor: "Oswestry is a face-to-face society. Those kinds of societies often provide a great deal of support, but if the wheel comes off in this type of society, then everybody knows your business... It's not like they are in a big city where they can simply disappear and become anonymous.

The same applies to honor killings.

The money is most often the final straw; without the money, you can't keep up the appearances...


Murders happen before the exposure, before "everyone finds out."  Once they've found out, there is no reason for the murder.  So either tell his family, or make him think you have.  But then:


6.  Sometimes he kills himself, and sometimes he doesn't.

He kills his family because he can't face them knowing.  He kills himself because he can't face that they know.

The other reason for the suicide is the sheer number of people who are going to know-- can't kill 'em all.

The likelihood of suicide increases as guilt increases, and decreases the more you can be convinced other people won't know/won't care.


7.  A very fine line: it was both spontaneous, and premeditated.

Two years ago another family murder took place near Hugh McFall's town, and McFall was horrified:

I remember Hugh saying 'How could you do that? How can it get so bad that you could do that to your family?...  It just doesn't make sense, surely there's other ways out however bad things get?'"

And certainly he wasn't thinking about killing his family before the financial problems hit.  But as soon as he decides he's "finished,"  he starts planning the murders-- weapons/tools obtained, the biggest threat is killed first (i.e. wife before kids), etc.


7.  Get out of the house, or at least the bedroom.

75% occur in the home, usually in the bedroom.  It is extremely unusual (6%) for the man to kill only the children and not the wife.  Since the purpose of this is to avoid shame, leaving the wife alive would be contrary to the point.

If you're the wife, don't go home, especially if he says he'll kill the kids if you don't.  


--


More on family annihilators 

A case of one such man

A case of American honor killing







Comments

"Be honest: you want to see... (Below threshold)

September 8, 2010 12:31 PM | Posted by DCF: | Reply

"Be honest: you want to see a picture of a cheerleader."

Jesus Christ dude, I can honestly say that is NOT what my brain was telling me it wanted to see after reading the title of that link.

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Why is the word "societal" ... (Below threshold)

September 8, 2010 12:35 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Why is the word "societal" becoming so popular on the internet? "social" sounds too liberal or something?

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I'm disappointed by your la... (Below threshold)

September 8, 2010 1:33 PM | Posted by RC: | Reply

I'm disappointed by your lack of the word narcissism, but otherwise a good post. *grin*

BTW, there's one little typo: you have two number sevens.

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Societal is less warm, more... (Below threshold)

September 8, 2010 1:39 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Societal is less warm, more sanitary or clinical. It is easier to detach and objectify societal than social.

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I did think that I would se... (Below threshold)

September 8, 2010 2:03 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I did think that I would see a cheerleader...I'm pretty honest with my base nature though :D

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I think societal and social... (Below threshold)

September 8, 2010 2:11 PM | Posted by Ben: | Reply

I think societal and social have two different meanings (not like 'ironic' and 'ironical', which is just wrong). 'Social' just means that there's something more than 'individual' going on. When people get together and start thinking alike, the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts and capable of things like war, opera, Burger King, etc. But there's no minimum size. 'Social' is involved just as much in chats with the wife as in tax policy. 'Societal' is in reference to a society in question as a whole. The society might be 'western civilization' or the crew you took acid with in high school, but the adjective pertains to the whole unit.

I hope that helps. Sorry if I went all schoolmarm on you.

Great post, as usual. I recommend inserting another link to: https://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2010/02/the_other_ego_epidemic.html

The advice you provide here is probably of some use to the ladies, but the other has some for the myopic gents.

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I think an important elemen... (Below threshold)

September 8, 2010 2:28 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I think an important element you are missing is that these types of killings are heavily about control. They usually occur when a man, a provider, head of his household, respected in his field, community, whatever... he suddenly loses all his face and power for whatever reason (financial ruin, or the threat of some kind of shameful secret being exposed such as an affair, or being exposed for a fraud in your profession).

The man, having no control at all anymore (as he perceives it) freaks out and does whatever he can to regain control - killing his family. Taking the lives of his wife and children is a very pathetic and borderline psychotic way for this shattered individual to regain some semblance of control over his life and his fate.

I am not buying narcissistic shame is the trigger, because any narcissist realizes doing bad deeds publically is something to be covered up, hid, minimized... unless of course they are also a sociopath/psychopath and don't care. It just doesn't make sense to me that a man motivated by image, a fantasy story he is living, would snap and murder so as to regain esteem. I don't doubt these people are highly narcissistic, but the primary motivation for these types of murders is power and control. The man loses all his power and control (or feels it is inevitable) and so he freaks out and murders his entire family to regain it.
Imagine what it must feel like to have the thought process of "I'm going to destroy my wife and children". Imagine what it must feel like to actually carry it out. The primary motivation I'm feeling during those thoughts is control... a critical loss of it, and a desperate attempt to get it back .

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While certainly you may hav... (Below threshold)

September 8, 2010 2:37 PM | Posted, in reply to DCF's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

While certainly you may have been feeling the shock/horror feelings we are supposed to feel when we read such a headline... it is simply dishonest to say that describing the victim as a "kansas cheerleader" isn't intentionally posed so as to pique our interest sexually.

When sex is involved, murder is more intense/interesting/conflicting (like a car crash you can't stop looking at but feel horrible about the curiosity). The media know this and thats why they sexualize violence at every given opportunity. Why else would they call the victim a cheerleader? An innocent young white girl, is so much more interesting to viewers than some random 55 year old homeless schizophrenic black guy, (unless of course there is a serial killer targeting such individuals then it becomes interesting).

And of course the most interesting murders are those involving sex, an element of perversion (lots of perverse violence or bizarre sexual motives), and a predator who does it again and again... this is why we all know charles mansons name, dahmer, so on, and why serial killers are almost like rock stars in their fame, infamy. Serial killers are like historical figures in our culture, as if they did something notable and important, we remember their names, assuming they were successful ENOUGH in killing many people in a bizarre and sexually perverse enough way.

It doesn't make you a bad person to admit that, it's only human. No one thinks we troll the news to look at pictures of victims for our jollies, but it is a simple fact that a murder victim who is a "kansas cheerleader" will get more interest/link clicks than a victim who is described as an "overweight math fanatic".

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I'm 20, balding, and this a... (Below threshold)

September 8, 2010 4:34 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I'm 20, balding, and this all applies to me.

Boy, this is marvellous.

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Slightly OT, but what I don... (Below threshold)

September 8, 2010 5:21 PM | Posted by Francisco: | Reply

Slightly OT, but what I don't get is how they manage to pull it off. Let's say the wife is not in shape, but how can they (they've been a few here) murder teenager that are in much better shape than they are, usually. Don't they defend themselves? A rubber mullet is not something that will knock you out cold, it's something that will put your adrenaline to 11.

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It's all about surprise. </... (Below threshold)

September 8, 2010 6:24 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

It's all about surprise.

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You're thinking from your o... (Below threshold)

September 8, 2010 7:25 PM | Posted, in reply to Francisco's comment, by A different kind of self defense: | Reply

You're thinking from your own perspective, not the daughter's. In your case, it's you beating up someone else's father.

Out of the blue, your father starts beating you. It's never happened before. It's hard to say what someone would do in this situation, even if they had the ability to do something. Would you kill your own father? (Understood that you could beat him to a pulp without killing him) But if you knew he just killed your mother...maybe she just gave up.

I wonder if the likelihood decreases if it's a father of teenage sons. There comes an age where son strength > dad strength, esp. if son does sports / martial arts. This underlying fear might keep the "snap" from occurring. But this decrease might be canceled out by firearms.

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It's like historic vs histo... (Below threshold)

September 8, 2010 10:56 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Reader: | Reply

It's like historic vs historical. "historic occasion." "historical fact." An individual can have social problems, but a society can't. Societal suggests something that is hardwired into the system at large.

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But this decrease might ... (Below threshold)

September 8, 2010 10:58 PM | Posted, in reply to A different kind of self defense's comment, by Reader: | Reply

But this decrease might be canceled out by firearms.
Maybe I have a selection bias, but it seems that murder/suicides are rarely committed with firearms. I think there's a reason, but I'll avoid arm chair psychiatry and leave it at that.

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First, thanks for your post... (Below threshold)

September 9, 2010 1:01 AM | Posted by Karen: | Reply

First, thanks for your posts & your site - I admire & appreciate the breadth and depth of your thoughts & criticism, on narcissism, science, popular culture, all of it.

I'm wondering if _your_ narrative would change based on considering his wife and daughter's perspective here:

"He kills his family because he can't face them knowing. He kills himself because he can't face that they know."

Based on personal experience, I'd suggest that they already did know, and they'd known, and had dealt with, acts of narcissistic rage for the life of their family, but they didn't have the name for it/a way to know how ultimately dangerous it would be. And, heck, I think even most people who are aware are willing to play the odds that it won't come to this.

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Anonymous:"I'm 20... (Below threshold)

September 9, 2010 1:23 AM | Posted, in reply to Francisco's comment, by acute_mania: | Reply

Anonymous:
"I'm 20, balding, and this all applies to me.

Francisco has a solution for you; a rubber mullet. Wear it and nobody will know you're bald.

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I agree with the person who... (Below threshold)

September 9, 2010 3:52 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I agree with the person who says it's more about control. Yes he is shamed, yes he feels finished, but the damage is already done. The family finding out has already played out in his mind. It doesn't matter that from the perspective of the wife and kids them finding out hasn't happened yet. Their perspective doesn't matter, remember. Now the man has to find a way to move past all this. Now he has to get rid of the reason why he ever cared about his facade in the first place. It's a purge. Once that purge is complete, he's unburdened and free to create a new facade, one that no one from the past is left to come and discredit. Key word here is: Purge.

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Once that purge is compl... (Below threshold)

September 9, 2010 4:04 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Once that purge is complete, he's unburdened and free to create a new facade, one that no one from the past is left to come and discredit. Key word here is: Purge.

Correction, he's then free to make a new facade, or die peacefully unburdened. I imagine these men feel a lot of relief as they turn the gun on themselves. Even redefining himself as the man who hopes he burns in hell has meaning for him. Men like this have felt in hell their whole lives. They are their own tormentors.

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heck, you're all right: nar... (Below threshold)

September 9, 2010 4:26 AM | Posted by Trei: | Reply

heck, you're all right: narcissism is a defense against the fear of losing control. against the fear of death, if you want to be specific.

this fear finally caught up with him - "I'm finished" - so, in line with world, built on his favorite defense of being 'special', he does what he can to be special to the end: you won't get me, I'll get me. I'll have the last word. I'm in control of death.

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Anon said"I am not... (Below threshold)

September 9, 2010 5:06 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Steve: | Reply

Anon said

"I am not buying narcissistic shame is the trigger, because any narcissist realizes doing bad deeds publically is something to be covered up, hid, minimized..."

but people will assume he did it for financial problems, he can count on some form of sympathy from the public. It's consistent with narcissism. Even the note, "I hope I rot in hell" is to elicit sympathy.

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Reader,An indiv... (Below threshold)

September 9, 2010 8:03 AM | Posted, in reply to Reader's comment, by Jack Coupal: | Reply

Reader,

An individual can have social problems, but a society can't.

Your claim's totally false.

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just because it's worth say... (Below threshold)

September 9, 2010 10:25 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

just because it's worth saying:
this blog is consistently some of the most incisive social commentary to be found in all the internets. this post being a great example.

it's so powerfully good to not see "he just went/was just crazy" as a facile terminus for the train of inquiry.

thanks.

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I'm not sure that narcissis... (Below threshold)

September 9, 2010 11:06 AM | Posted by Anonymo