“Till death do us part”: the familicide phenomena

How do we make sure women feel safe around men?

Chris Watts with his seemingly-perfect family, just months before killing his pregnant wife Shanann Watts and their two young daughters.

Courtesy of MGN

Chris Watts with his seemingly-perfect family, just months before killing his pregnant wife Shanann Watts and their two young daughters.

Catherine Wall, Staff Writer

True crime in the last decades or so has come to occupy an important place in the everyday lives of people in the United States. Whether it is consuming it as a pastime or simply seeing it in the news, one cannot deny how allured we are by true crime. 

People find it salacious, scandalous and engrossing, but one subset that seems to capture the nation is that of family annihilators, a person who decides to murder their entire family. 

Many of these cases have usually involved the husband or father, and they tend to white, middle-class men. Last month, Utah man, Michael Haight, shot his wife, five children and his mother-in-law because his wife wanted a divorce, and he did not. 

It leaves people wondering, why is it that this demographic is always the one to murder their wife, children or other relations? The idea that men could be driven to commit such horrible acts against their loved ones is hard to understand. 

According to Dr. Stephanie Leit, a psychologist in West Hartford, Connecticut, said these men “are trying to fix a problem, and the really horrible solution they have come up with is to kill their families.” 

There are usually three categories for why these men have committed such dreadful deeds. The first is experiencing psychosis or hallucinations with satanic forces or something akin to God telling them to kill. The second there is stress involving something like financial hardships that causes them to kill on the basis of not wanting their family to experience the humiliation that comes with possible poverty. 

This was the motive behind the heinous slayings of John List’s family, as he had filed for bankruptcy and lost his job. He claimed that killing them spared them a hard fall from grace and the wealth they had known, and that they were better off in heaven. 

The third category involves men who simply wish to be untethered from their families that they can no longer tolerate, whether it be divorce, an affair or losing custody of the children. 

The infamous case of Chris Watts personifies this last category, as he had had an ongoing affair with another woman and was fed up with his marriage to wife, Shannon. Instead of a divorce, Watts murdered his pregnant wife and their two young children. 

Brian Walshe is another example,who was  arrested in January of this year for the murder and dismemberment of his wife. It has recently surfaced that he stood to inherit his wife’s $2.8 million inheritance,which he would not have received if they were to divorce. 

For the question of why men are the usual suspects, it could have something to do with society itself, as men are raised to not show their emotions so as to not appear weak. Additionally, they must be the man of the house and take care of their family. 

But when a divorce, for example, is threatened, these men snap. Is it because they cannot, and will not, express emotions in a less dangerous way? Is it because the threat of divorce or bankruptcy wounds their pride? 

With women being the primary targets of men’s aggression, it is hard for them to feel safe around men in their personal lives and strangers. Grace Holme, freshman computer science major, describes some ways she keeps herself out of harm’s way. 

“I like to walk with my keys tight in my hand,” Holme said. “I also have an app on my phone. If I press it, it calls, like, three  emergency numbers or sends a text, or I will walk with 911 on speed dial.” 

Rose Wagner, senior mass communication major, also takes precautions to ensure her safety from men. 

“If I am on public transport, I avoid sitting close to men,” Wagner said. “I try to sit next to women, so no men can sit next to me. I also always lock my car the second I get inside of it.”

It is hard for women to ever feel truly safe when, instead of a stranger, a loved one could harm you. Family annihilators are a frightening occurrence that sees, perhaps one could say, the problems with how society expects men to conform in terms of emotion and ego.