There seems to have been a run on parents, murdering their children recently. We are shocked, it is such a heinous crime; the tears, the weeping hits us all, when we see on our televisions, the tiny coffins leaving the church. Only last week, in the UK, Christopher Grady was sentenced to life imprisonment, for the murder of his daughter, Gabby, and the attempted murder of his son, Ryan.
Eugène Delacroix. Medea about to Kill Her Children. 1838. Oil on canvas. Louvre, Paris, France
I think that it is always the case, that when something is so horrible, so difficult for us to comprehend, we can always find a parallel story in the Greek myths to compound our emotion. I am talking here about the story of Jason and Medea.
“Medea is known in most stories as an enchantress and is often depicted as being a priestess of the goddess Hecate or a witch. The myth of Jason and Medea is very old, originally written around the time Hesiod wrote the Theogony. It was known to the composer of the Little Iliad, part of the Epic Cycle.
Medea is pleased with her revenge thus far; she has successfully murdered Glauce, Jason’s new woman and also Glauce’s father Kreon; but resolves to carry it further: to utterly destroy Jason's plans for a new family, she will kill her own sons. She rushes offstage with a knife to kill her children. As the chorus laments her decision, the children are heard screaming. Jason rushes to the scene to punish her for the murder of Glauce and learns that his children too have been killed. Medea then appears above the stage in the chariot of the sun god Helios; this was probably accomplished using the mechane device usually reserved for the appearance of a god or goddess. She confronts Jason, revelling in his pain at being unable to ever hold his children again:
"I do not leave my children's bodies with thee; I take them with me that I may bury them in Hera's precinct. And for thee, who didst me all that evil, I prophesy an evil doom."
She escapes to Athens with the bodies. The chorus is left contemplating the will of Zeus in Medea's actions:
"Manifold are thy shapings, Providence! Many a hopeless matter gods arrange. What we expected never came to pass, What we did not expect the gods brought to bear; So have things gone, this whole experience through”!”
I was lucky enough to see Fiona Shaw’s performance of Medea, a while ago now. I remember that Fiona Shaw was weeping as she came on stage.
Startling performance as spurned wife By BBC News Online's Helen Bushby. Thursday, 1 February, 2001
“A strong stomach is often needed to sit through Greek tragedy, and Deborah Warner's compelling version of Medea, starring Fiona Shaw, is no exception.
Shaw is terrifying as the woman whose fury at her unfaithful husband erupts like a volcano before a stunned audience.
Written in ancient Greece, the play tells the tale of Medea, whose beloved husband Jason is trading her in for a younger princess.
To add insult to injury, the princess's father, King Kreon, banishes Medea and her two sons from his land. Shaw gives a moving yet repellent portrayal of the grief-stricken wife, whose hurt pride and love for Jason tear her in two. The murderous Medea wreaks havoc. After poisoning her husband's betrothed and the king, she slays both her children to spite Jason, leaving him without family and future. Shaw manages the fine balance of Medea's character with finesse, showing vulnerability and hatred in equal measure.”
Last week Christopher Grady was found guilty by the jury and sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of his daughter Gabby, and the attempted murder of his son Ryan.
From Worcester News.
“During the trial, jurors heard that Grady had warned the children's mother, Kim Smith, she had 10 seconds to say goodbye to them before he drove into the water at Hampton Ferry.
Miss Smith, 37, said he arrived at her house in Abbot's Walk, Evesham, at around 9.15am, telling her to say goodbye, before driving away shouting the word "river". She said his face was "contorted" and "vile" with anger.
The jury of seven women and five men took five hours to find Grady guilty of both counts. He had denied the charges, telling the court it was "an accident".
The judge told Grady: "You took from Miss Smith her daughter, and from Ryan his sister. You left your family to grieve.
"She says that what you did has shattered everyone in her family. She says that what they go through every day is like a recurring nightmare."
The judge read an extract from Miss Smith's victim impact statement to the court in which she said: "I can see his (Ryan's) suffering every day, he lost his best friend in the whole world, his sister who he always thought he would have.
"I miss her so much it hurts every day. The hurt, the pain, it will never go away."
Moments after jailing Grady, the judge praised the "extraordinary and heroic" actions of all the emergency services who rushed to the river.
The judge said police, fire fighters, paramedics and staff at Birmingham Children's Hospital saved two lives and "spared nothing" to save a third.
While the judge conceded that it would be invidious to mention only some of those present at the scene by name, he noted that Inspector Sean Kent and fireman Jason Mayhew had both risked their own lives.
The court heard that Mr Kent entered the water to save Ryan, while Mr Mayhew spent up to five minutes in the Avon, diving to the car in an attempt to attach a hook to the vehicle to save Gabby.
"I commend them and each of their colleagues for everything they did," the judge said. "Such work often goes unrecognised and it should not."
On the court steps after the hearing, Miss Smith said: "I can't say I am wholly pleased with the minimum tariff Mr Grady has received today.”
In the week when one father murdered his four children, and another was jailed for life, Lorna Martin investigates the motives and twisted minds of the men Americans call 'family annihilators'. Are they driven by hatred, revenge or mad, possessive love? Taken from Lorna Martin The Observer, Sunday 5 November 2006. “Fathers who kill their children.”
“It isn't surprising that we tend to recoil in horror at such tragedies and seek comfort in the belief that they are isolated incidents, senseless - and, as a consequence, impossible to avert. But the truth may be slightly less palatable. Although rare, figures show that a child in the United Kingdom is far more likely to be murdered by his or her parent than by a stranger. Even more disturbing is that many experts insist that they are virtually all premeditated.
The most recent crime statistics, for 2002/03, show that 99 people under the age of 16 were murdered in England and Wales, and seven in Scotland. More than half were killed by a parent, another 10 per cent by someone else they knew, and fewer than 20 per cent by a person unknown to them. Further analysis of the figures has shown that it is more likely that your partner is going to kill your children if you leave him than that they are going to be killed by a stranger in the park. In the past week alone, there have been two cases of what American criminologists have dubbed 'the family annihilator'.
In Northampton, 33-year-old Gavin Hall, a hospital radiographer, was jailed for life for murdering his three-year-old daughter, Amelia, known as Millie. After discovering sexually explicit emails sent by his wife, Joanne, to a part-time judge whom she had met on the internet, Hall set out to destroy his family. The night before he murdered Millie, he killed their two cats. Police believe he intended to kill Millie, her one-year-old sister, Lucy, and himself that night, but received a text message from Joanne, who was working nightshift, that led him to believe the marriage might not be over.
The following night, however, after a row with his wife, he realised it was. When Millie woke up during the night, he brought her downstairs and asked her repeatedly whether she wanted to 'come with daddy'. When she said she did, he gave her sleeping tablets and anti-depressants, then covered her nose and mouth with a handkerchief soaked in chloroform, before strangling her.
In August, John Hogan, a 32-year-old businessman from Bristol, threw his six-year-old son, Liam, to his death from a hotel balcony in Crete. Moments later, he jumped from the same fourth-floor balcony with his two-year-old daughter, Mia. Both survived with broken bones. In this case, there were also marital problems: his wife, Natasha, 34, was threatening to leave. Again, the response was to kill his children and himself. Hogan, whose two brothers had committed suicide, has since tried again to take his own life and remains in a psychiatric hospital in Athens, accused of murder and attempted murder.
While the perpetrators of murder-suicides are usually men, in 5 per cent of cases it is the mother who is responsible. On Friday, a court in Hull heard that Angela Schumann, 28, had jumped 100ft from the Humber Bridge with her two-year-old daughter, Lorraine, in her arms. Schumann had written a note on her stomach, blaming her estranged husband. Both survived, but Schumann, who had left a note saying she 'didn't have to be a prisoner ... or his slave', faces imprisonment after admitting the attempted murder of her daughter.
Another case involving a mother as the perpetrator occurred in April, when 40-year-old Alison Davies jumped from the same bridge, killing herself and her 12-year-old autistic son, Ryan.
At the heart of this is a question wrapped in such complexity that it can never be satisfactorily answered. What drives an individual to carry out an act of such unspeakable brutality against his or her own children? Is it hatred or despair, revenge or a madly possessive love? And what - if anything - can be done to prevent it?
The subject has been most widely studied in America, where there are 10 murder-suicides each week. According to Professor Jack Levin, a leading expert from North-Eastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, the most significant factors are family break-up, male sexual jealousy, a need to be in control and extreme possessiveness.
‘The profile of a family annihilator is a middle-aged man, a good provider who would appear to neighbours to be a dedicated husband and a devoted father,' Levin said. 'He quite often tends to be quite isolated. He is often profoundly dedicated to his family, but has few friends of his own or a support system out with the family. He will have suffered some prolonged frustration and feelings of inadequacy, but then suffers some catastrophic loss. It is usually financial or the loss of a relationship. He doesn't hate his children, but he often hates his wife and blames her for his miserable life. He feels an overwhelming sense of his own powerlessness. He wants to execute revenge and the motive is almost always to "get even".'
'To the outside world, these crimes seem to come out of nowhere,' continued Levin. 'The perpetrators have not previously been involved in criminal behaviour. Nor do they tend to be on drugs or drinking heavily when they commit the crime. However, if psychologists had seen them in advance, they would have spotted the warning signs. They would have noticed how the person reacted to things not going his way - the irrational rage and the blaming of others. These people often also regard their partner and children as their own possessions.'
In the majority of cases, if the perpetrator fails in his own suicide, as in the Hogan and Hall cases, they almost always plead some form of insanity.
But Levin rejected this: 'These are executions. They are never spontaneous. They are well planned and selective. They are not carried out in the heat of the moment or in a fit of rage. They are very methodical and it is often planned out for a long time. There are certain people the killer blames for his problems. If a friend came along, he wouldn't kill him or her. He kills his children to get even with his wife because he blames her and he hates her. The killer feels he has lost control. Annihilating his family is a way of regaining control. It is a methodical, selective murder by a rational, loving father. That's why it is so terrifying.'
Although these cases are more common than child murders by a stranger, they often do not receive the same media coverage. Part of the reason is that the perpetrator often takes his own life as well - meaning there is no court case. But Levin said he also felt people were reluctant to think too much about such abhorrent crimes.
'People don't want to think about it because it makes them feel very vulnerable. When most people think of crime, they typically think of something happening in the street, being mugged or robbed or attacked by a stranger. People don't want to think it is more likely to happen in their own home. It's supposed to be a safe haven, an enclave where we can feel secure.'
Dr Alex Yellowlees, consultant psychiatrist and medical director of the Priory Hospital in Glasgow, said there were distinct differences in the minds of men and women who harm their children. Women, he said, tended to be mentally ill, often suffering from postnatal depression. In contrast, men tended to be struggling to deal with feelings of rage, jealousy, revenge and hatred.
'Most men and woman go through life experiencing distressing circumstances such as relationship breakdowns or financial problems, and they have developed strategies to deal with them. Most people, especially women, tend to speak to their friends, perhaps go and get drunk, sometimes chop the sleeves off their partner's suits or destroy his books or favourite CDs.
'But there are people, less functional people, who have not developed those coping skills. They have very low self-esteem. They are almost always very controlling and are less able to handle rejection. They cannot talk about it - it is as if they have failed - and they simply cannot accept it. They feel utterly humiliated and respond with the ultimate act of revenge - if I can't have you, no one can. They know that she will suffer for the rest of her life if he kills the children and leaves her alive.'
As to whether such crimes can be prevented, most experts agree that it is an almost impossible task. It can take years before a woman realises that her husband regards her, and perhaps their children, as his possessions, says Levin. 'Initially, a woman can feel flattered if her partner is jealous or possessive. It can be very hard for a woman to leave a possessive husband. When she does, or even when she tries to, that is when she is at the greatest danger.”
From Slate Magazine Researchers, By Dahlia Lithwick Tuesday, March 12, 2002,
“Building on the work of Phillip Resnick, has shown that women tend to kill their own offspring for one of several reasons: because the child is unwanted; out of mercy; as a result of some mental illness in the mother; in retaliation against a spouse; as a result of abuse. Frequent themes are that they themselves deserved to be punished, that killing the children would be an altruistic or loving act, or that children need to be "erased" in order to save or preserve a relationship. Contrast this with the reasons men kill their children: Most frequently, they kill because they feel they have lost control over their finances, or their families, or the relationship, or out of revenge for a perceived slight or infidelity. The consistent idea is that women usually kill their children either because they are angry at themselves or because they want to destroy that which they created, whereas more often than not, men kill their children to get back at a woman—to take away what she most cherishes.
Women still believe that they have sole dominion over so little property that arson and armed robbery and rape make no intuitive sense to them. But the destruction and control of something deemed to be a woman's sole property sends a powerful message about who's really in charge, and this message hasn't changed since the time of Jason and Medea."