Your children may, on occasion, may make you want to scream and pull your hair out. Many children have even been accused of causing their beloved parents to go grey prematurely (sorry Dad!) But, it’s highly unlikely that most parents have ever thought of actually murdering their own children.
While it’s true that over 50% of filicides – the murder of children by their parents — are committed by the mothers, fathers have also been known to carry out these killings. In fact, most cases of familicide — where the entire family is murdered at once — are committed by the father.
You may be familiar with the concept of patrias potestas as it existed in ancient Rome: it claimed the ultimate authority of the father – even allowing the patriarch of the family to murder other members of his unit if he deemed their behaviour dishonourable. But what of these murders in the modern day? What can we make of a father choosing to kill his own children?
The motivations behind these deadly attacks are equal parts sad and complicated, often driven by a variety of internal and external factors. Join us as we weave through the minds of some deadly dads.
At times, it appears that fathers turn to murder when the pressures of life abound. They feel that they aren’t able to cope with the increasing demands and the feeling of helplessness overwhelm them to the extent that they believe murder is their only way out.
Robert Rowe was a former lawyer who, in the years leading up to his shocking murder of his wife and children, had lost his job at an insurance company, failed to earn a living as a cab driver and suffered considerable financial strain as a result. To add to these problems, one of his sons was physically disabled, which unfortunately added even more financial pressure on the family. What he did next, he saw as an act of love for his family and a way to put them out of his suffering.
First, he beat his healthy son to death with a baseball bat as he slept in bed, followed by his disabled son and young daughter while they were watching television. When he wife came home, he bludgeoned her to death with the very same bat.
After several failed suicide attempts, Lowe was brought to trial where his lawyers argued that as a result of the intense pressure and stress, he simply snapped on that fateful day and had no understanding that what he did was wrong. Shockingly, he was eventually acquitted by reason of mental disease. Lowe even went on to remarry and start another family.
An end to the suffering
In some cases, the father sees death as a way to end the suffering of his family. Now, while this is not unlike the above case, it differs in that element of stress and external pressures is removed. As the head of the family, this father sees it as his responsibility to do what is best for his family, whatever the cost.
Dr. Anthony Paul lived in Philadelphia with his family. His wife was severely arthritic and his daughter was mentally disabled. His son was in a good state of health. Above all else, Dr. Paul wanted to end the suffering of his sick family members but he also didn’t want to leave his adolescent son to be a ward of the state. So, he made a suicide pact with three unwitting participants.
When the police arrived at the scene they found his wife, daughter and son in peaceful positions on beds in the master bedroom. They all had a tube attached to them that was connected to an intravenous solution — the “good” doctor had given them a deadly overdose of medicine. He had also killed himself. His suicide note read, in part:
“We lived together, we loved together, we die together.”
Revenge is sweet
Sadly, children sometimes become a pawn in a deadly game played between two conflicting parties: the mother and the father. In these situations, the father will murder the child, or even children as a way to “get back at the mother” and “teach her a lesson”. This could be because she is getting involved with other people or simply because of ongoing disagreements.
A shocking example of this revenge is that of John Battaglia. For years he had abused his wife before she finally left him. During a visitation with his two daughters who were nine and six, his ex-wife called him and he put the nine year old on the phone. Innocently, the little girl asked her mother why she was trying to put her father in jail, and then she cried out “No, Daddy, don’t!” Gun shots followed. When police found Battaglia shortly after, he was at a tattoo parlour getting a rose for each of his daughters tattooed on his arm.
Whole lotta history
Of course, in some cases, the death of children at the hands of their father is a product of long-term abuse. The deaths as a result of this abuse could be unintentional (as much as possible) or they could be as a result of a deliberate escalation of the level of violence.
Drugs and alcohol can both play a part in these situations, as they so often do. Other internal factors could be the need to control or possess the child or even jealousy of their new found relationships. Perhaps as the father sees the children as an extension of themselves, they take out their self-hatred on them.
Dad goes mad
In an incident that shook many, Vietnam veteran and war hero, Paul Harrington shot and killed his wife and two young daughters. He’d previously seen a psychiatrist with fears he might harm him family. He was haunted by a memory of his time in Vietnam where he had killed a mother and her children, and he claimed this moment disturbed him above all else.
Harrington was acquitted by reason of insanity at the time of the crime and even went so far as to sue his previous psychiatrist for not preventing this incident. He got away with murder and he profited from it.
He then went on to develop a substance abuse problems, claiming to have hallucinations in which he was told to kill people. And he did. His second wife and son. A double familicide.
Regardless of the fact that Harrington was eventually convicted for murder, untreated psychiatric disorders can prove deadly for the families of those men who they claim. However, it is true that while it often gains wide attention, the insanity defense is rarely called and even more rarely is it successful.
Your turn: Do you know any other stories of deadly dads? Share them with other readers in the comments below.