|| Fatal Families: The Dynamics of Intrafamilial Homicide
||Charles Patrick Ewing
||Sage Publications, ©1997
2455 Teller Road
Thousand Oaks, CA 91320
Nearly half of the over 20,000 homicide victims in the United States are
related to or acquainted with their killers. The most common victims of
intrafamilial killings are wives, followed by husbands, sons, daughters,
fathers, brothers, mothers, and sisters, and the most common relationship
between killer and victim is husband-wife. This 196-page book uses a case
study approach to examine the various types of family homicide. The cases
are actual homicides, and references in the footnotes are primarily from
Ewing provides an overview of the different categories of family homicides
and explores their dynamics and causes. There are chapters on husbands who
kill wives, wives who kill husbands, Munchausen by Proxy mothers, postpartum
depression homicides, child abuse that ends in homicide, children who kill
parents, child abuse fatalities, people who kill their entire families,
and mercy killings among the elderly. The book ends with a chapter on preventing
For someone who is unaware of the dimensions and complexities of these tragedies,
the book provides a good overview. However, the content is often oversimplified.
The chapter about men who kill their wives, "Batterers Who Kill,"
provides chilling examples of men who terrorized, assaulted, stalked, and
eventually murdered their wives because of their pathological need to control
the lives of the women. But the chapter about women who kill their husbands,
"Battered Women Who Kill," depicts women killers as reacting to
years of being battered and threatened. Although these categories may fit
many cases of homicide involving partners, the actual situation is much
more complex. Despite the fact that it has not been seen as a social problem (Lucal, 1995), wives also engage in severe violence towards their partners,
and for reasons other than self-defense or retaliation. Not all women who
kill their partners are battered women, and domestic violence is a human
problem, not a male problem (e.g., Grandin & Lupri, 1997; McNeeley &
Robinson-Simpson, 1987; Rodriguez & Henderson, 1995).
Another area that could have been covered in more detail is when a naive
adolescent hides her pregnancy, even denying to herself that she is pregnant,
and then gives birth alone and kills her baby. Although I am unaware of
statistics concerning the frequency of this, there have been many such cases
in the press, and we have personally consulted in two. At a conference this
year, several members of the audience indicated that they had encountered
similar cases. But this category of homicide is only briefly touched on.
This book is recommended for readers who want a brief introduction to the
problem of intrafamilial homicide.
Reviewed by Hollida Wakefield, Institute for Psychological Therapies.
Lucal, B. (1995). The problem with "battered husbands."
Deviant Behavior, 16, 95-112.
McNeely, R. L., & Robinson-Simpson, G. (1987). The truth about domestic
violence: A falsely framed issue. Social Work, 32, 485-490.
Grandin, E., & Lupri, E. (1997). Intimate violence in Canada and the
United States: A cross-cultural comparison.
Journal of Family Violence,
Rodriguez, S. F., & Henderson, V. A. (1995). Intimate homicide: Victim-offender
relationship in female perpetrated homicide.
Deviant Behavior, 16, 45-57.