Dr. Erica Hutton is a Criminal Psychologist & Profiler; she teaches collegiate courses in Psychology & Criminal Justice & holds a PhD in Criminal Justice.
What is Parricide?
Parricide is a Latin phrase meaning the homicide of one's parents or another close relative within the family. For the purpose of this lesson, we will concentrate upon the killing of parents by their children. When only one parent is murdered, we classify and name the crime based on the gender of the parent killed. If the case of a mother's murder, we classify the crime as matricide, and in the case of a father's murder, the term is patricide. When both parents are murdered, the appropriate crime classification is parricide.
There is limited information about the prevalence of parricide because it is a rare type of murder. It is hard to find a large enough unbiased sample size with which to conduct research, meaning a major limitation is the lack of generalizable findings. Another way to look at this, however, is that it is incredibly fortunate that this crime is so uncommon; some estimates say that parricide makes up only 1-4% of all homicides.
In a 2007 meta commentary, Dr. Hillbr and Dr. Cipriano found some interesting tendencies related to gender. In general, parricide is usually committed by males and done to males (meaning son-on-father crime), but recently that trend has been shifting. Though the ratios change depending on the study cited, some generalizations we can make include:
- sons kill their fathers more often than their mothers
- sons kill their fathers more often than daughters kill their fathers
Other Statistics and Factors
What drives a child to kill a parent? In approximately 81% of matricide cases and 76% of patricide cases, the murders are a result of conflicted relationships and intense arguments. While most parricide offenders are white adult males that reside in their parents' home, media concentrate more on the adolescents that commit these types of crimes. This could be due to the fact that most adolescent offenders kill both parents while adults typically murder only one. The killing of both parents is considered especially horrifying, and this effect is compounded when the perpetrator is an adolescent.
The central conflict that drives adults to parricide is typically relationship conflict and argument coupled with mental illness. Adults are more likely to have planned the murder in advance. In adult males especially, there is a high likelihood of schizophrenia, though other mental disorders include psychotic and depressive disorders. Consider the following general characteristics for adult children:
|sons who commit matricide||sons who commit patricide|
|immature and passive||less dependent|
|display schizophrenia||display schizophrenia|
|mothers are controlling and demanding||fathers are aggressive and abusive|
|daughters who commit matricide||daughters who commit patricide|
|likely to display psychosis||less likely to display psychosis|
|mothers are controlling and hostile||fathers are tyrannical and often violent|
In contrast, adolescent cases often involve severe physical abuse. A child that is being abused sometimes overcompensates and takes matters into their own hands either for self-protection or because they simply cannot withstand another day of the mistreatment, suggesting the crime is more likely to be spontaneous. Many trial juries have been faced with evidence of prior abuse and battering that children have endured which ultimately was the motive for murder.
|adolescents who commit parricide|
|often in their teens with no psychosis|
|are motivated by long-term abuse but crime is spontaneous|
|more likely to kill stepparents than biological parents|
We also observe differences in how adults versus adolescents commit the murder. Adults are less likely to use a firearm (occurring about 57% of the time) whereas adolescents use a firearm in 80% of parricides. Adolescents are also most likely to commit parricide in situations where the approach is completely non-confrontational in nature, using more covert or unsuspected methods to achieve the murder. This makes sense when you consider that adolescents are often in a position of less power and strength than his or her target. Female offenders of all ages are more likely to be overly violent, again likely because of perceptions of power and control.
Exploring Cases of Parricide
Some of the world's most infamous and noteworthy homicides are actually categorized as parricides, such as the Lizzie Borden case (her father and step-mother were killed with an axe), the Lyle and Erik Menendez case (the Menendez Brothers), and of course the DeFeo murders (the Amityville Horror case).
In 2014, Adam Sachs, age 19, shot and killed both his parents in San Juan, California. His 8-year-old brother was also shot, and as a result of his wounds, he was left paralyzed. His two sisters were unharmed. Sachs gave the eulogy at his parents' funeral and was not arrested for the murders until a month later. He stated that he had been planning the event for days before he followed through, and that he just wanted his parents to pay for his frustrations. In retrospect, he claims to be sincerely apologetic; his trial is currently underway.
In Wisconsin in 2014, Ashlee Martinson, a 17-year-old junior at Rhinelander High School, was arrested along with her 22-year-old boyfriend, Ryan Sisco. They were found in Indiana after a nationwide search for the murderer of her mother and stepfather. Ashlee shot her stepfather in the head and brutally stabbed her mother to death; she then locked her younger sisters in a room with food before fleeing the crime scene. Allegedly, her parents thought Ashlee's 22-year-old boyfriend was too old for her, and her parents had even threatened to press charges due to the fact that Ashlee was a minor. Ashley is pleading not guilty in addition to a plea of not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect in response to the two charges of first degree murder and the three charges of false imprisonment.
In summary, the topic of parricide pertains to the murder of parents or close relatives. This lesson focused in particular on the murder of parents by their children. A variety of relationship and mental factors play into the decision to commit parricide, and there are marked differences between adult and adolescent offenders in the causes of and actions during parricide. As our two example cases demonstrate, parricide is a complex crime concept.
To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account
Register to view this lesson
Unlock Your Education
See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com
Become a Study.com member and start learning now.Become a Member
Already a member? Log InBack