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Factors and Cases of Parricide in the United States

Jordan Gray, Erica Hutton
  • Author
    Jordan Gray

    Jordan has taught English 10 & 11, Creative Writing, Speech, and Mythology for the past 6 years. She has a Bachelor's Degree in English Education from the University of Kansas. She enjoys all things creative, reading, writing, researching, editing, and teaching.

  • Instructor
    Erica Hutton

    Dr. Erica Hutton is a Criminal Psychologist & Profiler; she teaches collegiate courses in Psychology & Criminal Justice & holds a PhD in Criminal Justice.

Learn about parricide. Read the matricide and patricide definitions, learn the etymological meaning of both terms, and see statistics of parricide in the U.S. Updated: 04/11/2022

What is Parricide?

Parricide is the unlawful killing of one's mother, father, or other close relatives. It comes from the Latin word parricidium, which refers to a homicide of parents or relatives within a family. Generally though, when people in law discuss parricide, it refers to the murder of parents.

While parricide is the umbrella term that refers to murder in the subset of a family, the killing of parents by their children is sometimes named based on the gender of the parent who was killed. For example, in the case of a father being murdered, this is referred to as patricide. If a mother is murdered, it is classified as matricide. If both parents are murdered, regardless of gender, the crime classification is parricide. Parricide can refer to the killing of both parents or the murder of one close relative.

What is Patricide?

Patricide is the murder of a father by their son or daughter. Broken down into literal meaning, ''patri'' comes from the Latin root pater, which means ''father.'' The suffix '"cide"' means ''killer'' or ''killing.'' Combined, patricide literally means ''father killer.''

Patricide, like any other form of murder, is considered a crime. Societies consider patricide to be a serious crime, no matter what led up to the murder. Offenders of patricide are subject to prosecution of their crimes, as they fall under the homicide laws of the country. People who commit patricide have committed an unlawful killing and will likely accrue murder charges.

What is Matricide?

Matricide is the murder of a mother by their son or daughter. Quite literally, matricide means ''mother killer.'' ''Matri'' comes from the Latin root mater, which means ''mother.'' The suffix ''cide,'' as previously stated, means ''killing'' or ''killer.''

As with patricide, matricide is considered a crime. Though matricide is sometimes committed due to a long history of mental or physical abuse, offenders are still subject to prosecution by the law. People who commit matricide have committed a crime and will likely be tried for murder.

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'll only 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 murder 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.

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Prevalence of Parricide in the U.S.

Parricide is a rare type of murder, constituting only two percent of homicides, so there is limited information regarding the prevalence. This makes research consisting of an unbiased group large enough to create a sample size difficult to conduct. There are sometimes more examples of parricide in popular culture and literature than there are in real life, depending on the year.

However, though this crime is uncommon, it still follows an overall pattern. In 2007, doctors Hillbr and Cipriano conducted research in order to study parricide more fully. They learned that it tends to relate to gender, and white middle-class males without a history of past criminal convictions are usually the culprits. Parricide is usually done to males and committed by males (meaning the father is murdered by the son in more cases than not), but as with all things, there are sometimes anomalies.

Dr. Hillbr and Dr. Cipriano learned that more often than not, sons kill their fathers rather than their mothers, and sons kill their fathers more often than daughters do. Offenders are usually older than age eighteen but younger than age thirty. History of mental illness is generally involved.

According to the FBI, there were a total of 15,129 victims of murder in the United States in 2017. Among those, 186 were fathers killed by children, while 169 were mothers whose children killed them.

In both 1999 and 2017, the FBI reported that parricide comprises only two percent of all homicides. While this number has not increased, the goal is to decrease it by focusing on reducing child abuse and retaining mental health.

Parricide Factors

Conflicted relationships and intense arguments play a huge role in the crime of parricide; 76% of patricide cases and 81% of matricide cases are direct results of these issues. Long-lasting conflict or childhood abuse is often cited by parricide-committers as the number one reason for doing so. However, there are a variety of factors that come into play when analyzing this crime.

Media and reporters often focus on adolescents who commit this crime, but it is generally committed by adult males who reside in their parents' homes. More often than not, adults who commit parricide only kill one parent, while adolescents who commit the crime tend to kill both parents. In regards to how the crime is committed, adolescents premeditate and use a firearm far more often than adults who commit the same crime. Adolescents use a firearm in 80% of parricide cases, while adults reportedly only use a firearm in 57% of cases.

The main reason adults are driven to commit parricide is generally due to ongoing conflict between themselves and their parents, but another main factor is a son or daughter with a severe mental illness, such as psychotic or depressive disorders or antisocial personality disorders. Schizophrenia plays an enormous factor in the drive for children to commit parricide. This is especially true in the instance of a male committing the crime because they are far more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia than females are.

Prevalence

There's actually limited information about the prevalence of parricide because it's a rare type of murder. It's 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 one to four percent of all homicides.

In a 2007 meta commentary, Dr. Mark Hillbr and Dr. Tracy 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:

  • That sons kill their fathers more often than their mothers
  • That sons kill their fathers more often than daughters kill their fathers

But 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 are typically immature and passive, display schizophrenia, and have mothers who are controlling and demanding. Conversely, sons who commit patricide are typically less dependent, also display schizophrenia, and have fathers who are aggressive and abusive. In terms of daughters who commit matricide, they're less likely to display psychosis, and they tend to have mothers who are controlling and hostile. And, finally, in terms of daughters who commit patricide, they're also less likely to display psychosis and typically have fathers who are tyrannical and violent.

In contrast, adolescent cases often involve severe physical abuse. A child that's being abused sometimes overcompensates and takes matters into their own hands, either for self-protection or because they simply can't 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 are often in their teens while displaying no psychosis, are motivated by long-term abuse but the crime is spontaneous, and are more likely to kill step-parents than biological parents.

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Video Transcript

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'll only 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 murder 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.

Prevalence

There's actually limited information about the prevalence of parricide because it's a rare type of murder. It's 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 one to four percent of all homicides.

In a 2007 meta commentary, Dr. Mark Hillbr and Dr. Tracy 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:

  • That sons kill their fathers more often than their mothers
  • That sons kill their fathers more often than daughters kill their fathers

But 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 are typically immature and passive, display schizophrenia, and have mothers who are controlling and demanding. Conversely, sons who commit patricide are typically less dependent, also display schizophrenia, and have fathers who are aggressive and abusive. In terms of daughters who commit matricide, they're less likely to display psychosis, and they tend to have mothers who are controlling and hostile. And, finally, in terms of daughters who commit patricide, they're also less likely to display psychosis and typically have fathers who are tyrannical and violent.

In contrast, adolescent cases often involve severe physical abuse. A child that's being abused sometimes overcompensates and takes matters into their own hands, either for self-protection or because they simply can't 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 are often in their teens while displaying no psychosis, are motivated by long-term abuse but the crime is spontaneous, and are more likely to kill step-parents than biological parents.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is patricide a crime?

Yes, patricide (like any other form of murder) is considered a crime. People who commit patricide have committed an unlawful killing and will accrue murder charges.

What is considered parricide?

The unlawful killing of one's mother, father, or another close relative (such as an aunt, uncle, or cousin) is referred to as parricide. Patricide and matricide (the killing of one's father and mother, respectively) fall under the umbrella term of parricide.

What is the literal meaning of patricide?

Patricide is the murder of one's own biological father. Broken down into literal meaning, "patri" comes from the Latin root pater, which means ''father,'' and the suffix "cide" means ''killer'' or ''killing.'' Therefore, patricide literally means ''father killer.''

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