Murder-Suicide: When Killing Yourself Isn’t Enough

Although murder-suicides are relatively uncommon, they account for 5% of all homicidal deaths in this country, and murder-suicides appear to be occurring with increasing frequency in the USA. Medical studies estimate that between 1,000 and 1,500 deaths...


Murder-suicide, homicide-suicide, and dyadic death all refer to an incident where a homicide is committed followed by the perpetrator's suicide almost immediately or within 24 hours after the homicide. Although murder-suicides are relatively uncommon, they account for 5% of all homicidal deaths in this country, and murder-suicides appear to be occurring with increasing frequency in the USA. Medical studies estimate that between 1,000 and 1,500 deaths per year. Nearly all the victims were unaware of the perpetrator’s plan.

The Facts

  • 90% of the perpetrators are men.
  • 80-90% of their victims are spouses or intimate partners.
  • Adults aged 55+ have homicide-suicide rates that are twice as high as younger adults.
  • Homicide is the only crime that regularly results in offenders taking their own lives following a criminal act.
  • 25% of the cases involve more than one victim
  • Men tend to kill their children and their intimate partners prior to suicide.
  • Women tend to kill their children but spare their partners.
  • Over 75% of murder-suicides occur in the home.
  • Within the home, more murder-suicides are committed in the bedroom than any other room.

 

Increased Risks         

  • Killing an ex-spouse/lover increased the risk of suicide the most (13X)
  • Killing a child (10X)
  • Killing spouse (8X)
  • Boyfriend or girlfriend (6X)
  • Friend (2x)

 

Reasons behind Murder-Suicide

Murder-suicide cases make pretty sensational headlines. Here are some recent examples: “Grandkids Find Bodies in Possible Murder-Suicide” (July 2012); “Arizona Murder-Suicide Dad Had a Brain Tumor” (June 2012); “Breakup Led Buffalo Doctor to Kill Lover, Self” (June, 2012); “Florida Mom Kills Kids — Shoots 4 Children, Turns Gun on Herself” (May, 2012). Everyone wants to know “why”? The following offers the most frequent reasons why an individual chooses to end the life of another and then take their own.

Dominant Themes: Ages 18-55

At the core of a murder-suicide lies a frustrated, turbulent, intimate, long-term personal relationship. The perpetrator has had a strong ambivalence about the relationship, vacillating between anger and love. Perpetrators suffer from jealousy and/or morbid jealousy (a delusion that one’s sexual partner has been sexually unfaithful). "Amorous jealousy", involves one half to three quarters of all murder-suicides in the U.S. The triggering event is most often a separation or threatened separation from the loved one. The perpetrator feels helpless and powerless in the relationship; the homicidal act is the culmination of this sense of intolerable powerlessness. When the perpetrator realizes his guilt after the crime, he proceeds with a suicidal impulse. In this age group, suppressed rage is the most common reason for homicide followed by suicide scenarios.

Over-controlled men with dependent personality types are the most likely to commit abandonment/ estrangement murders, to attempt suicide after the murder, and to kill "reactively". Most murders followed by suicides occurred during a failed reconciliation, or when a partner first announces her plan to leave the perpetrator. These types of homicides are more impulsive in nature and frequently involved “overkill” (5-25 lethal actions towards victim).  

Risk Assessment: Younger Adults

The greatest risk factor for murder-suicide is when one partner feels anxious and unsafe without the compliant presence of the other. In another, more extreme and dangerous form, one partner feels or believes they are "incomplete" without the other.

To appropriately assess the risk, officers need to evaluate both the material and the emotional "overlaps" between people's lives. How much does the abuser's sense of self depend on the relationship?   Has the abuser ever said, "I'd be lost without you" or (being ordered into counseling or drug/alcohol treatment,) "I can't do this without you" or "If you leave me, I have nothing to live for"?

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