Dr Helen McGrath is currently an adjunct professor at both Deakin and RMIT Universities.
Cheryl Critchley is a prolific investigative journalist.
The fifteen crimes analyzed in this book, all carried out in Australia, involve three women and twelve men. The criminals were generally not diagnosed with a severe mental illness, however, they were all diagnosed as having a mental disorder, such as a personality disorder, and they were well aware that what they were doing was wrong. The difference between mental illness and a personality disorder is explained in detail at the beginning of the book.
The various personality disorders are delved into at length by the authors. MIND BEHIND THE CRIME is well set out, divided into chapters and parts e.g. each chapter is devoted to one specific crime with the offender and victim/s involved in that particular crime listed at the beginning of the relevant chapter. Parts of the book are divided up into the specific, diagnosed disorders as they relate to each perpetrator’s behaviour and decision-making in the lead up to their horrendous crime.
PART 1: Filicide and familicide – Killing Your Own Family
‘Men commit nearly all familicides and filicides (92-97 %) and there is evidence that such mass murders are increasing in Australia.’
Filicide is the term used to describe a situation in which a parent intentionally kills one or more of their children …the parent may or may not then kill themselves. The motive and case history of each of these crimes is explored thoroughly. Familicide and familicide-suicide are the two terms most commonly used to describe a situation in which one family member kills or attempts to kill all members of their direct family and then often suicides. Classification schemes are used to aid the reader in identifying the behaviours and mental disorders that motivated these murderers.
Family annihilation is described as a subcategory of mass murder, defined as the killing of four or more members of the one family in one location and during one event. Family annihilators are mostly men.
‘Associate professor Carolyn Harris Johnson, a leading expert in filicide and familicide…points out that the media frequently romanticises (saying they acted out of love) and sanitises this type of crime, to soothe the anxieties of the audience because the subject matter of child murder is taboo, or too confronting for most people. But this approach distorts the public’s understanding of why these events occur and the extent of the perpetrator’s responsibility. This makes it much more difficult to identify actions that can be taken as early warning signs and prevent such child murders in the future.’ [my emphasis]
A summary of each of four categories are:
The self-righteous killer-seeks to blame their partner for damage to family, breakdown of relationship, etc. Has been controlling and possessive in the past, engages in over- dramatic behaviour and comments, may attempt suicide to avoid facing the criminal justice system.
The disappointed killer – concludes their family has let them down, their family is an extension of their own needs and aspirations, self-obsession prevents them from seeing their children as separate entities.
The anomic killer – perceives they have damaged their family’s income or lifestyle, have lost their economic status, lost their job.
The paranoid killer – perceives there is an external threat (real or imagined) that will destroy their family e.g. social services may take their children.
PART 2: Narcissistic personality disorder and malignant narcissism – arrogant, dangerous and sometimes vulnerable.
PART 3: Dependent personality disorder – desperately needy.
PART 4: Paranoid personality disorder – you can’t trust anyone
PART 5: Antisocial personality disorder – Life outside the rules. People with ASPD can be dangerous and difficult to detect. They lurk in homes and workplaces, playing the role of the perfect partner or colleague until they decide to use and abuse those around them for their own ends.
PART 6: Criminal autistic psychopathy and sexual sadism disorder –
a dangerous combination:
1. autistic spectrum disorder.
2. Asperger’s syndrome.
3. pervasive developmental disorder.
A diagnosis of this disorder can be made when there is evidence of behaviours such as those listed in the following two categories:
1. behaviours that indicate deficits in social communication and interaction. (Deficits in social communication and interaction are listed in more detail in this section).
2. restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests or activities.
Every one of the above disorders is explained at length in each section to help the reader understand the mind and behaviours of the perpetrator at the time the crime was committed.
All of the cases chosen for this book are recent high-profile Australian murders most readers will already know about. MIND BEHIND THE CRIME refers to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual and other classification schemes to help explain each disorder and the subsequent motives of the perpetrators involved.
The authors argue that no amount of mild to moderate depression excuses killing those closest to you. It is never justified and the perpetrators should be called what they are – murderers. They go on to say:
“A common myth about these crimes is that parents who kill their children do so out of love and that the extreme love they feel for their child/children means they can’t bear to be separated from them…loving fathers and husbands don’t kill their kids. And unless the public’s perception of these murderers changes, other men will continue to feel that if life gets too tough they, too, can take this option and be eulogized by their loved ones in the media rather than condemned as they should be.’ Most children were killed in a brutal and violent way; in their last moments knowing that it was their father who killed them.
‘The positive way many of those who kill their children are described in the media has the potential to influence others to commit the same crimes. Such coverage also detracts from the victims’ suffering and makes the crimes seem less horrifying. It implies that nothing can be done about these killings because they are neither predictable nor preventable. This would not be the case if, as a society, we accepted the hard reality about these crimes and focused more on identifying potential warning signs.’
It is clear at the outset that the authors care deeply about the victims involved in these crimes. They warn of the dangers that men with these disorders pose to their wives/partners and children. There is an appendix at the rear of the book: ‘Where to go for help and support’.
This is a book for our times, and I recommend it to readers who may know of someone in their family who is at risk, or for anyone interested in trying to make sense of why these murders are occurring across Australia. There is also widespread concern that Australia’s Family Court system requires reform to ensure that justice is done and that families and children are better protected.
-Anne Frandi-Coory 14 December 2018