According to research by Katherine van Wormer, Professor of Social Work at the University of Northern Iowa (see her article at "Help Starts Here"), certain patterns have emerged in cases in which men have ended up murdering their spouses and/or children or others, as well as in the common "murder-suicide" cases (the below excludes elder murder-suicides, which have a different dynamic). The presence of some of these factors should create extra caution. (The lack of all factors being present, however, should not be taken to indicate the absence of risk.) The statistics and statistical charts are available athttp://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/intimate/overview.htm Prof. Wormer writes:
The pattern that emerges in these cases involves intimate partners in the 20 to 35-year-old range: The man is abusive, psychologically and/or physically. Obsessed with the woman to the extent that he feels he can't live without her, he is fiercely jealous and determined to isolate her... Primary among the risk factors are an abuser's lack of employment compounded by a lack of education. Significant relationship variables are plans by the wife or partner to separate from her abuser and having a child in the home who is not the partner's biological child.
Other factors that can help predict homicide are an abuser's heavy use of alcohol and illicit drugs, a history of sexual jealousy, growing up in a violent home, violence and verbal abuse, an age disparity with the husband being significantly older, a threat of separation by the woman, and antisocial personality and/or an overly dependent personality, stalking and access to firearms. Threats of use of a weapon were common in these cases... The key distinguishing factor between this and the more usual form of domestic homicide is the presence of depression and suicidal ideation.
Characteristically, suicidal murderers have little regard for the lives of other people; they would be considered, in mental health jargon, to be antisocial. Yet they are so emotionally dependent on their wives or girlfriends that they would sooner be dead than to live without them. When the girlfriend/wife makes a move to leave, her partner is absolutely distraught in the belief that he can't live without her.
The State of Maryland has instituted a Lethality Assessment (download) Program (LAP) in many of its counties that has been having some success. The success may be because the questions are asked, rather than the assumption being made that the significance of risk factors will be known to the complainant and the information thus volunteered. An assessment tool was created by Johns Hopkins University nursing professor Jacquelyn C. Campbell; it is debatable whether this can or should be used in court "as" an assessment tool. (Read more about this in the Maryland Daily Record, 10/13/08.)
High risk factors:
The parties were married or a close equivalent. Statistically, most of these cases involve the man's perceived loss of family and home, however in recent years, formal marriage as a factor has been declining.
The man is significantly older than the woman. Statistically in these cases, the male perpetrator averages 6.3 years older than a female victim; the woman is in the 20 to 35-year-old range.
The woman has made the decision to leave the man; there is a threat of separation even if it has not yet occurred. Note: the lack of a family support system, wife or significant other, coupled with a recent family loss (death, divorce), are indicators for suicide in a depressed person, and suicidal depression is a risk factor for murder-suicide.
The woman has a child in the home who is not the man's biological child. This may be related to sexual jealousy. (A significant portion of cases do not fit this pattern, however, so again, caution should be taken that the absence of a risk factor does not create unwarranted perception of lesser risk. Not enough is known about weighting the various factors under different circumstances.)
The man has had depressed episodes or suicide ideation, or currently is depressed. Statistically (as we might guess), depression is more likely to be present in murder-suicide cases than in the cases of murder without the perpetrator's suicide. Of particular note, the man has made threats to kill either himself or the woman or children.
There is a history of physical abuse, particularly choking. For this purpose "history" should not be limited to adjudicated history, or any other "history that has come to the attention of authorities." In too many of the news articles we read, the neighbors and friends express "surprise".
There is a history alleged of psychological abuse. Of particular note are attempts at controlling behaviors and sexual jealousy, even without demonstrable physical abuse (verbal abuse, accusations, spying, stalking).
The man is unemployed or under-employed, chronically or recent job loss or reversal.
The man has abused alcohol (drunk episodes, not necessarily diagnosed alcoholic), or used illegal drugs.
The man has or can get access to a hand gun.
Also see: RESEARCH -- WHY HE KILLS
NOTE: Citation to the social work website and assessment tool is NOT an endorsement or recommendation by thelizlibrary.org for judges to hire forensic psychologists, social workers, or custody evaluators to provide "risk assessments". There is no instrument or expert who can provide a risk assessment to any "reasonable degree of scientific certainty" (e.g. see Baerger, 2001; Bednar, R., Bednar, S., Lambert, M., & Waite, D., 1991; Otto, 1992). One more time: Mental health professionals canNOT predict who will or will not be dangerous or when, and for this reason their opinions should not be permitted to substitute for those of potential victims and protective parents. No mental health professional can say that a person is "not dangerous". Nowhere in the research literature is there any documentation that clinicians can predict dangerous behavior beyond the level of chance. (Stromberg et al., 1988, p. 522). Rather, the information provided on this webpage can and should be used directly by judges in weighing testimony and evidence in court. Judges must take seriously the concerns of immediate family members and potential victims, and in cases of doubt, must err on the side of caution. It does not require expertise to apply common sense. (Yes, this is profiling, and sorry, there are no crystal balls.) RETURN TO TEXT