Fathers Who Kill Their Children: An Analysis of the Literature

Authors

  • Sara G. West M.D.,

    1. Department of Psychiatry, University Hospitals/Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, 11100 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44106.
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  • Susan Hatters Friedman M.D.,

    1. Department of Psychiatry, University Hospitals/Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, 11100 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44106.
    2. Forensic Psychiatry, Northcoast Behavioral Healthcare, 1756 Sagamore Road, Northfield, OH 44067.
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  • Phillip J. Resnick M.D.

    1. Department of Psychiatry, University Hospitals/Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, 11100 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44106.
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Additional information and reprint requests:
Sara G. West, M.D.
Department of Psychiatry
University Hospitals
Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine
11100 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44106
E-mail: sara.west@uhhospitals.org

Abstract

Abstract:  Roughly half of filicidal acts are committed by fathers, though the majority of the literature focuses on maternal filicide. This paper reviews the existing literature on paternal filicide with the goal of identifying characteristics common among these fathers. Fathers who killed their children were, on average, in their mid thirties. The mean age of their victims was five. They may have multiple victims. Sons and daughters were killed in equal numbers. Reasons included death related to abuse, mental illness (including psychosis and depression), and revenge against a spouse. The method often involved wounding violence. Suicide following the act occurred frequently. After being tried for their crimes, filicidal fathers were more frequently incarcerated than hospitalized. Given the range of those capable of this act, mental health professionals must be alert to the possibility of filicide in a variety of fathers. Considering this risk, clinicians should inquire about thoughts of harming children, partners, and themselves.

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