The Saga of Filicide


Prof Hoosen Vawda – TRANSCEND Media Service

The Epitome of Mental Illness

22 Sep 2021 – The 21st Century has traditionally come to acquire the hallmark of the citizenry of the entire world migrating from their birthplace and the country of origin, they regarded as home for decades, to other places which they consider as haven for the safety of their families and future economic, as well as personal progress. Simply described as “Greener Pastures”[1].

In Biblical times, Prophet Moses[2], the Hebrew Prophet Moshe, led the children of Israel, across the Red Sea to escape the oppression and persecution of the excesses of the Egyptian Pharaoh, most probably Ramses 11[3], according to Egyptologists and historians, to the Promised Land, where freedom from the bondage of the oppressor was assured.  The people of Moses suffered harsh conditions en route and due to their transgression, were destined to wonder in the Sinai Peninsula[4] for 40years according to the Old Testament.[5]

Similarly, Eastern Europe was the scene of mass migration in the 12th Century from the marauding Mongol invaders led by Genghis Khan[6] and his ferocious tribesmen across eastern Asia, decimating villages, towns and major cities in his path.  Entire cities were sacked, burnt and the citizens, including women and children were beheaded by the Mongol hordes. The residents were forced to migrate and relocate in other countries for their personal safety in the face of the brutal Mongol invaders. One such, prominent individual was Moulana Rumi, who migrated to Konya in Turkey to escape the Mongol onslaught. Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi[7] was a 13th century Persian poet, an Islamic dervish and a Sufi mystic born in Anatolia.  When the Mongols invaded Central Asia sometime between 1215 and 1220 CE, Rumi’s father, Baha adDin Walad, with his family and band of disciples, set out westwards.[8]

Just before the beginning of and during the World War 11, thousands of Jewish inhabitants of Germany migrated to United States, to escape the Holocaust.[9]  Interestingly they took the recently invented 35mm Leica camera and sold them for US$800 in New York.[10]  This was the “Leica Freedom Train”[11] This was a rescue effort for the persecuted Jewish people, in which hundreds of Jews were smuggled out of Nazi Germany before the Holocaust by Ernst Leitz II of the Leica Camera[12] company, and his daughter Elsie Kuehn-Leitz.

In the past two decades with the American war on terror[13] since the sad events of 9/11, the overthrow of regimes of Saddam Hussein[14], in Iraq, Colonel Muammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi in Libya[15], Syria, the Afghanistan hunt for Osama bin Laden[16], by the Obama Administration[17] and the destabilization in Africa by various terrorist groups such as Boko Haram and El Shabab. These countries have been taken over by potent terrorist groups such as the ISIS and its associates. This has caused mass displacements of large communities and has caused untold stresses on the people so displaced by forced migration.  This has also happened in Myanmar with the plight of the Rohingyas due to persecution by the Buddhist Government in Myanmar

In South Africa, the minorities are experiencing reverse apartheid by the ANC Government with affirmative action and equity based on demographics.  This is compounded by systemic corruption in high government echelons, as demonstrated by the resignation of the Minister of Health, the suspension of the Registrar of the Health Professional Council of South Africa, amongst many others, rampant crime, and brutal violence such the “farm murders” of White farmers throughout South Africa by Black militants, who then expropriate their land without compensation.  These criminal activities, which the police are eternally investigating, with no arrests, nor convictions insight, cause a wasteful expenditure of taxpayer funds, in the process.

The immediate impact of such neo-discrimination against minorities has led to migration of minorities as it occurred in Uganda under the Idi Amin[18] regime causing the Ugandan Asian Crisis[19], with the expulsion of People of Indian Origins and more recently, In Zimbabwe, under the racially discriminating policies of the late Robert Mugabe’s government[20].  Similar In south Africa, the minorities, mainly the skilled, economically empowered, professionals are emigrating from the increasingly economically embattled South Africa, to Australia, New Zealand, UAE, Qatar[21] and Canada, when they are readily welcomed by the White governments.  Hordes of highly qualified nursing staff, specialists in health care as well as highly skilled minorities are constantly emigrating to safer countries, officially.

These migrated and officially resettled families, as well as individuals experience untold stresses of resettling in the adopted countries, where the cultures, the work ethos, their interactions with closed communities where they have settled, a totally different work environment and lifestyles, all have to be adapted to, in the new adopted homelands.  This creates tremendous psychological challenges, social and domestic stresses, religious conflicts and work conflicts, racism with the local citizenry in the new countries these South African have migrated to.

If the emigrated individuals are emotionally string and adaptive to the challenges encountered, then it is easy to integrate into the communities in their adopted country.  However, in a significant number of South Africans who have emigrated, the new lifestyle is to overbearing and stressful to manage and if they are predisposed to neurosis of different types, the condition could readily transform itself to frank psychoses, with disastrous outcomes.  These disturbing outcomes could range from reactive depression in adults to poor scholastic performances in children of the newly immigrated family at their new schools or tertiary institutes. In addition, there have been cases recorded of South African immigrants developing rare diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis in families who have emigrated to cooler climatic conditions as experienced in North America, especially Canada.

Furthermore, emigrated families face marital disharmony often leading to divorce amongst couples who were happily married for decades, when they emigrate to other countries.  The impact of this is even noted in the first-generation children of emigrated families to first world countries.  Often these children, as they grow up, they meet up with opposite gender from the local populations in whom the cultures, religions and lifestyles are totally different.  These fundamental social and cultural differences results in ongoing stresses amongst the juniors and even if they marry, the state of matrimony is short lived and ends up in separation of the pair.  Fir this reason, often some South Africa families opt to select a partner for their children from their country of origin to obviate the impact of socio-cultural irreconcilable differences which could result in doomed interpersonal relationships.

The statistics show that serious problems are encountered by these immigrant families or individuals in the destination countries.  Some immigrant families even resort to homicide of varying degrees and even filicide, as was shockingly discovered, in a small town, a week ago in New Zealand, committed by a recently immigrated, professional couple.  The potential for the occurrence of these type of problems, in immigrants, are, in most cases are not screened for by the immigration authorities in the selected countries.  The author highly recommends that such psychosocial testing must form an integral part of the screening process, as a significant part of the applicant’s health record, pre-immigration.

Before the New Zealand case of filicide is discussed, it is important to understand this category of murder, itself.  Filicide is the deliberate act of a parent killing their own child. The word filicide is derived from the Latin words filius and filia (son and daughter) and the suffix “-cide”, meaning to kill, murder, or cause death. The word can refer both to the crime and to the perpetrator of the crime.[22] Generally, in cases where animals are involved, the killing of their infant is described as infanticide.  Filicide is a specific term reserved for humans intentionally killing their offspring.[23]

A 1999 U.S. Department of Justice study concluded that mothers were responsible for a higher share of children killed during infancy between 1976 and 1997 in the United States, while fathers were more likely to have been responsible for the murders of children aged eight or older.[24] Parents were responsible for 61% of child murders under the age of five.[25] Sometimes, there is a combination of murder and suicide in filicide cases. On average, according to FBI statistics, 450 children are murdered by their parents each year in the United States.[26]  An in-depth longitudinal study of 297 cases convicted of filicide and 45 of filicide-suicide in the United Kingdom between 1997 and 2006 showed that 37% of the perpetrators had a recorded mental illness at the time. The most common diagnoses were mood disorders and personality disorders rather than psychosis, but the latter accounted for 15% of cases. However, similar findings in a large Danish study, the majority had not had contact with mental health services prior to the murders, and few had received treatment. Female perpetrators were more likely to have given birth as teenagers. Fathers were more likely to have been convicted of violent offences and have a history of substance misuse and were more likely to kill multiple victims. Infants were more likely to be victims than older children, and a link to post-partum depression was suggested.[27]

Dr. Phillip Resnick[28] published research on filicide in 1969 and stated that there were five main motives for filicide, including “altruistic,” “fatal maltreatment,” “unwanted child,” and “spousal revenge.”[29] “Altruistic” killings occur because the parent believes that the world is too cruel for the child, or because the child is enduring suffering (whether this is actually occurring or not). In fatal maltreatment killings, the goal is not always to kill the child, but death may occur anyway, and Munchausen syndrome by proxy is in that category. Spousal revenge killings are killings of children done to indirectly harm a domestic partner; they do not frequently occur.[30] Glen Carruthers, author of “Making sense of spousal revenge filicide,” argued that those who engage in spousal revenge killings see their own children as objects.[31]

In 2013, in the United States, homicide was in the top five causes of deaths of children, and in the top three causes of death in children between 1 and 4 years old.[32] A direct correlation has been identified between child abuse rates and child homicide rates. Research suggests that children who are murdered by their parents were physically abused victims prior to death.[33]

Based on large-scale studies of populations of filicidal offenders, the existence of several groups and classifications of filicide has been revealed, and each classification has distinct offenders with their own common characteristics and factors motivating the offence[34]  Classification systems of filicide are based on various factors.

Classification based on motive show in large-scale reviews, have been the most significant publications in terms of classifying filicide, and from these reviews, several organisational systems have been proposed for the different types of filicides. The first, and one of the most prominent, was created by Resnick[35], which was established from 131 case reports from world literature on child murder by both mothers and fathers from 1751-1967 and is based on the apparent motive for the act. The five categories in this system are “altruistic” filicide (64 cases, 48.9%), “acutely psychotic” filicide (28 cases, 21.4%), “unwanted child” filicide (18 cases, 13.7%), “accidental” filicide (16 cases, 12.2%), and “spouse revenge” filicide (5 cases,3.8%). Resnick described cases of altruistic filicide as murders committed out of love (Resnick, 1969). Unwanted child filicide occurs when mothers, for reasons such as illegitimacy or uncertain paternity, kill their children through acts of aggression or through neglect; spouse revenge filicide occurs when the parent seeks to “get back” at his or her spouse for some reason, usually revenge for infidelity; in acutely psychotic filicide, the parent kills the child under the influence of a severe mental illness or psychotic episode. Resnick considered neonaticide (24 out of 131 cases), in which a child is killed less than 24 hours after birth, to be a separate categorisation.

Classification based on an impulse to kill is though useful, classification based on motive, as described by Resnick, can be potentially problematic, however, because a motive is almost always procured by police and forensic psychologists, at a point in time when the offender is likely to be very vulnerable and defensive and individuals are concerned with potential criminal charges. Scott[36] suggested a classification system based on origin of the impulse to kill, which is more objective than motive, which he saw as being subjective, over-determined, or defensive. Scott also observed that filicidal mothers tended to commit the offense when they were acting at such a primitive level that sophisticated motives such as revenge or altruism may be inappropriate. His classification system has not been widely used, but the focus on impulse has been influential. D’Orban’s[37] Modification of Impulse to Kill Classification Data suggests that most murders of children under 12 years old are committed by mothers, and because of this finding more modern classification systems focus on the characteristics of the female parent.[38] used a modification of Scott’s system in a six-year study of all the women remanded to a particular prison under charges of murder or attempted murder of their children. This study of 89 women is important in that it comprises a population sample (Stanton & Simpson, 2002). D’Orban’s six categories are:

  1. battering mothers,
  2. mentally ill mothers,
  3. neonaticides,
  4. retaliating women,
  5. unwanted children,
  6. mercy killing.

These categories are similar to Resnick’s, with the exception of the exclusion of the “acutely psychotic” classification, and the addition of the “mercy killing” category, which is basically a form of euthanasia for a sick and suffering child. Cheung[39] applied D’Orban’s categories to 35 women in Hong Kong, who constituted all the women charged with killing, or attempting to kill, their biological children. These studies identified the three most common groups that had similar characteristics in all three studies: neonaticides, battering mothers, and mentally ill mothers.

There are also subgroups in the classification. The neonaticide group is the most clearly defined group and the group that differs most markedly from the other groups. In crimes of neonaticide, which is virtually exclusively committed by women, mothers are younger, rarely married, poorly educated, have a low level of psychiatric disorders and psychosocial stressors, no history of criminal behaviour, and do not attempt suicide after the murders[40],[41]. These women generally do not seek out abortions and conceal or do not acknowledge their pregnancies[42]. These women are apparently motivated most prominently by a feeling of terror concerning the shame and guilt that commonly accompanies pregnancy and child rearing out of marriage.  One would question why these women would just not seek out abortions, but there are clear differences between the women who get abortions and those who commit neonaticide, with passivity being the most important separating factor. Women who get abortions are aware of the pregnancy and its consequences and their decisions are grounded in the reality of the issue. In contrast, women who commit neonaticide have made no plans for the birth and care of their child and their decisions are mostly based in denial and dissociation.[43]

The second largest group of filicidal mothers is the accidental filicide or battering mothers. Though less clearly defined than the neonaticide group, several similarities can be seen in mothers who commit this type of crime. Deaths from accidental filicide occur in the context of psychosocial stress and limited support and are the unintentional deaths that result from child abuse. There is no clear impulse to kill, but instead a sudden impulsive act characterised by a loss of temper. In several studies of large groups of filicidal mothers, these battering mothers suffered the highest rates of social and family stress, such as marital stress and housing and financial problems.

Mentally ill filicide is the third most common, but it is by far the most complex. In understanding mentally ill filicide, the mediating factor of impaired reality is vital but not sufficient, and the intensity of the suffering perceived in the mothers’ delusional state is of such an extreme magnitude that the filicide seems rational to them. Studies of mentally ill mothers who commit filicide have revealed that the women are older (late 20s, early 30s) and often married, have less marital and psychosocial stress than mothers who kill in the context of fatal child abuse, and their children were older. The individuals within this group differ from the mothers who commit neonaticide because of the age of the victims, but aside from the age difference killing a child older than one year indicates a much more profound disruption in emotional or mental status than does the killing of a new born as researched by Gold[44]  Research suggests that psychiatric conditions are not new to these mothers, who, as reported in D’Orban’s (1979) study are frequently in contact with social workers (60% of sample) and psychiatric services (17% of sample, 10 of 24 mentally ill mothers). The range of possible psychiatric disorders seen in these kinds of offences is great. In Resnick’s original study in 1969, the mentally ill mothers were diagnosed with schizophrenia, melancholia, manic depressive disorders, and character disorders.

In the more recent literature, due to the somewhat recent acknowledgement by the psychological and psychiatric fields, postpartum illnesses and psychoses are also noted as being prominent diagnoses. Postpartum depression reportedly affects 10-22% of adult women within the first year after the baby’s birth. These disorders are included in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV-TR (DSM-IV-TR, 2000)[45] but, even though the DSM-IV-TR recognizes the link between postpartum mental disorders and infanticide in the context of delusions, they are not treated as an individual classification, but categorized under the criteria used to diagnose psychosis. The “postpartum onset specifier” includes fluctuations in mood and a preoccupation with infant wellbeing that can range from over-concern to outright delusions, and the presence of delusional thoughts about the infant is associated with significantly increased risk of harm to the infant. The DSM-IV-TR also states that infanticide is most often associated with postpartum psychotic episodes that are characterised by command hallucinations to kill the infant or delusions that the infant is possessed. Postpartum psychoses this severe seem to occur in from 1 in 500 to 1 in 1,000 deliveries, and the risk of psychotic episodes is increased for women who have experienced prior postpartum mood episodes. Once a woman has had a postpartum episode with psychotic features, the risk of occurrence with each subsequent delivery is between 30-50% (DSM-IV-TR).

Previous psychiatric symptoms More recent studies have shown that 75% of filicidal parents had displayed psychiatric symptoms prior to the child’s death, 40% had seen a psychiatrist shortly before the crime, and almost half of the filicidal mothers had received inpatient psychiatric treatment. In a study encompassing a 50-year cohort of women admitted into mental institutions for killing their child(ren), suicide attempts after the act were seen in half of the cases. While mentally ill filicidal mothers generally have psychiatric histories, they do not usually have any history of child abuse, and they generally describe having experienced a clear intention to kill. In all studies impairment due to drugs and alcohol was rarely seen and was of little importance in the crimes. Intrapsychic processes A search for understanding filicide due to mental illness is centred on intrapsychic processes in women.

In Resnick’s “altruistic filicide” group and D’Orban’s “mentally ill mothers” group, the murder is seen as a rational act in the context of the mother’s delusional perception of the world.  These mothers are invested in being good mothers and feel that by killing their children they are saving them from some awful fate or suffering that is indicated from their delusional system, or from their child having to be motherless after their intended suicides[46] These mothers are generally very clear about acting in the interest of the children so that they would not have to suffer. The fact that these mothers kill for altruistic reasons, out of love, is the most important feature that distinguishes this type of filicide from all other homicides.

One widely accepted view states that mental illness is the result of environmental stress combining with individual vulnerabilities, and the interaction between mental illness, contextual factors, and developmental themes needs to be examined in order to understand the origins of filicidal behaviour. Mentally ill mothers are noted to have fewer psychosocial stressors than the battering mothers, for example, and they are older and have some support network available. The moderate stressors that they do have, however, may function differently when combined with a mental illness, and this can possibly increase the severity of the illness’s manifestations. Social Isolation One commonality that was seen among mentally ill filicidal women was that they each had been socially isolated except for a relationship with the father of the children, and this relationship had become the only major social interaction that each mother had. In these cases, the mental illness functions to limit the motivation or competence in engaging in supportive relationships.

While the mothers generally express how important it was to them and how much they loved their children, they tend to have a sense of personal inadequacy and lack of parental skills and coping mechanisms. Other features of a mental illness contribute to this horrific crime, including impaired impulse control, affective dysregulation, lack of cognitive flexibility, and unbalanced judgment also reported the findings that mentally ill mothers are less likely to acknowledge they had difficulties managing their children, even though difficulties were observed. Gender Differences Some age and gender differences in the victims have been seen to exist. Mothers most often kill young children, and fathers most often kill older children. Equal numbers of male and female babies are killed during the first week of life, from the age of one week to 15 years the rates of murder for males are slightly higher, and from the ages of 16-18 males are killed at a much higher rate. Little research has studied large samples of fathers who kill their children, and there is less information available about these fathers than there is for mothers who commit filicide[47]. The results that are available even show some conflicting results in terms of the frequency of gender differences in child murders, some say that mothers are more likely to kill their children, and others say that fathers more frequently commit filicide.

This discrepancy can most likely be explained, however, by the methods used to gather data. Inclusion of neonaticide in the general filicide data increases the number of mothers that kill their babies (neonaticide is primarily a mother’s crime) and studies done in prison collect data on mostly fathers because they are more often sentenced to prison. While the exact numbers of the gender differences are not firmly established, differences in the characteristics of the murders are clear. Data indicate that, compared to maternal filicide, a greater proportion of paternal filicide can be categorised as fatal child abuse with a correspondingly lower rate of mental illness. Altruism is much less frequently described as a motivation for killing, with most deaths usually occurring during emotional outbursts and/or as the result of severe disciplinary measures. Also, as previously stated in this report, fathers generally kill older children. Murderous fathers frequently have histories of drug and alcohol abuse, previous criminal records, and very high levels of environmental stress, and the murdered children often have had previous injuries. These factors completely contrast with the characteristics of women offenders.

Fathers in this category often show very little tolerance for the child’s crying and see the baby/child as a threat and as a willfully malevolent individual. This misinterpretation of behaviour, where the child’s actions are seen as threatening or rejecting- seems to be the primary motive in paternal filicide. One more stressor seems to be important; fathers who kill their children are very often going through a separation from their wife or other marriage/relationship problems, and this can be seen as an additional risk factor.

Methods used by parents to kill their children differ from the usual methods of homicide, and gender differences are also seen. In contrast to domestic homicide of adults, women do not use guns or knives as murder weapons, nor are they intoxicated at the time of the offense. Maternal filicide is usually committed using “hands on” methods that entail close and active physical contact between mother and child, such as shaking, manual battering, suffocation, or drowning, and some indirect methods such as arson or drowning while the children are asleep or sedated. In cases of paternal filicide fathers are more likely to use methods such as striking, squeezing, or stabbing, and they are also more likely than women to use weapons. Suffocation, strangulation, and drowning are the most common methods used to kill neonates.

Predicting filicide in a family can be a major challenge, somewhat like suicide.  Murder of children, especially one’s own children is hard to think about, even for clinicians and mental healthcare professionals. Because of the high rates of previous mental illness and contact with social services and psychological and psychiatric professionals before these acts, it is greatly important for people who are in contact with women at risk to remember the danger and be aware of the risks of assuming that a woman would not kill her children. Warning signs are often confusing and not clear cut, but large studies have shown some patterns for potential identification.

Devotion to the children is not likely to be a protective factor, and high levels of emotional investment could put the children more at risk, and this risk could be further escalated by the stress created by the pressure the women put on themselves to be good mothers. In all clinical situations where a mother (or father) is feared to possibly be at risk for doing harm to herself or her children, questions should be asked. Questions concerning the potential for harm of children are rarely asked to mothers (or fathers), whereas questions regarding suicide are common. It is in these cases where mothers (of fathers) show suicidal ideation that children seem to be at the highest levels of risk and clinicians should directly inquire about her (or his) plans for the children.[48] The relationship between mother and child is so close, and the potential for danger when a mother is mentally ill is so high, that when caring for a patient with children, clinicians should not only consider the needs of the patient/mother but also those of the children for whom this mother is responsible. In severe cases, the mother’s stress can effectively be treated by removing her from the stress of caring for her young children.

Historically, a famous case of filicide by the father, is that heinous offence committed by Tsar Ivan the Terrible.[49]  Ivan IV Vasilyevich, commonly known in English as Ivan the Terrible, was the grand prince of Moscow from 1533 to 1547 and the first Moscow ruler who declared himself Tsar of all Russia[50] from 1547 to 1584. This filicide is depicted in the famous painting in Moscow, “Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan on 16 November 1581”, is a painting by Russian realist artist Ilya Repin[51] as illustrated in the graphic below, made between 1883 and 1885. The work is variously referred to as Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan, with or without the date, or Ivan the Terrible Killing His Son.[52] The picture portrays a grief-stricken Ivan the Terrible cradling his mortally wounded son, the Tsarevich Ivan Ivanovich. The elder Ivan himself is believed to have dealt the fatal blow to his son.[53] The artist used Grigoriy Myasoyedov, his friend and fellow artist, as the model for Ivan the Terrible, with writer Vsevolod Garshin modelling for the Tsarevich.[54] In 1885, upon completion of the oil on canvas work, Repin sold it to Pavel Tretyakov, for display in his gallery.[55] Repin’s painting has been called one of Russia’s most famous paintings, and is also one of its most controversial.[56] It has been vandalised twice, in 1913 and again in 2018. It remains on display in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.[57]

Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan on November 16, 1581 (1886)

Another infamous, ruthless practitioner of filicide, was Empress Wu Zetian.[58] While ancient China boasted of many empresses, Wu Zetian was the only one to take the reins as a true ruling leader. As a high-ranking consort, Wu had first bore Emperor Gaozong a son and then a daughter. According to Chinese historians, Wu killed her own infant daughter and then claimed the barren Empress (Wang) had murdered the baby out of jealousy. The Emperor naturally did not believe a mother could murder her own child. Wu’s tears were convincing, so he had his wife put aside. Wu made her way up the monarch’s favourite list to eventually become Empress herself. Not long after reaching this goal, Wu had both the former Empress and the Emperor’s favorite concubine executed in a most grisly fashion.[59]

The second daughter of Marc Anthony and his wife, Octavia, was named Antonia Minor. She married Drusus, who was a close friend of Emperor Augustus. Together the couple had three children, including the future Emperor Claudius. While Antonia was renowned in her day for possessing many virtues, she also exhibited a very prudish nature. Her daughter Julia (Claudia Livia Julia) embarrassed Antonia by having affairs with some high-ranking officials. To save face Antonia locked Julia away in the family home and starved the young woman to death.[60]

Don Carlos[61], son and heir apparent of Phillip II, had never been a healthy or fortunate boy. He suffered from physical deformities (most likely from the in-breeding practiced within the Habsburg dynasty). He was also clumsy and showed signs of mental deficiency. At 14-years of age the young prince suffered the humiliation of seeing the pretty French princess he was contracted to marry wed off to his father instead. Two years later catastrophe descended again when Carlos took a bad fall down a flight of stairs. The injuries were grave. Because Carlos’ brain was swelling, the court physicians decided to trepan his skull (an operation to relieve cerebral pressure). Carlos survived the operation, but his mental health began to decline. His behavior turned erratic and often violent.

He spent lavishly, he had hallucinations. At one point he tried to stab the Duke of Alva. Soon afterward Carlos confessed to a priest of a desire to kill his father. The threat disturbed the priest enough that he went to Philip. Discovering his father knew of his intentions, Carlos made plans to escape to the Netherlands. Again, the young man was outed, this time by his trusted friend, John of Austria. Philip and his guards came to Carlos’ bedchamber and placed the prince under arrest. The windows were boarded up and everything that could be used to inflict bodily harm removed from the room. Carlos was now a prisoner.

His keepers were ordered to see to his needs, and he was permitted to speak with them and allowed devotional reading material. But Carlos soon took ill with malaria. Although his health did take a turn for the better, Carlos compromised the recovery by alternately overeating and fasting. He grew emaciated and weakened, then dysentery set in. After six months of confinement the mentally unstable Carlos died. Some historians have claimed Philip II hastened the prince’s death by poisoning his food. Whether this is truth or fiction, Philip’s imprisonment of Carlos was ultimately a death sentence for the troubled boy.

Tsar Peter the Great (Pyotr Alekseevich Romanov)[62] was regarded as a visionary in his lifetime, and is still considered Russia’s first true Renaissance man. As a supporter of science and invention Peter was the major force in bringing Russia out of feudal traditionalism and into the Age of Enlightenment. Peter was also a man driven by strong passions; he loved hard, he hated intensely and he firmly believed his actions were guided by a higher power. Every relationship in Peter’s life was affected by the unflinching belief in his personal standards of right and wrong. And this most notably included the turbulent relationship with his son, Alexei Petrovich.

Alexei disappointed his father in many ways. Peter had separated Alexei from his mother at a very young age and the boy resented this. The son’s values were more traditional than those held by Peter. As he grew into a teenager Alexei was only happy while in the companionship of those disillusioned with Peter’s new Russia. Peter mocked his interests and his taste in women. The marriage Peter arranged for Alexei was one made to promote Peter’s political convenience, but even at this, the Tsar did not hesitate to vocalise displeasure for his daughter-in-law’s looks. Through every humiliation doled out to Alexei his father expected him to be grateful. But it became apparent Alexei could not be bullied into changing his mindset.

This realization wounded his father’s ego. Peter began to indulge fantasies that his son wanted him dead. Alexei eventually fled to Europe. There he became acquainted with other royals who were sympathetic to his plight. Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, who was also Alexei’s uncle, grew worried that the Tsar meant to murder Alexei. Charles provided Alexei sanctuary and for a time the young man lived in peace. But Peter’s envoys found Alexei and assured him of his father’s good intentions. Alexei was lured back to Russia by Peter’s conveyed promise his son would not be punished and that he would be allowed to marry a woman he loved.

As soon as Alexei reached Moscow his father had him arrested. Under threat of torture Alexei was forced to say he was part of a royal murder conspiracy. This conscripted confession gave Peter an excuse to go after his son’s friends and allies. In a reign of terror reminiscent of Ivan IV’s merciless exploits, numerous persons were rounded up, tortured and put to painful deaths. The “confessions” wrought from Alexei and these unfortunates were all it took to condemn the son as a traitor. This did not end Alexei’s suffering. Peter continued to have him tortured in the hopes of eliciting further information he suspected his son to be hiding.

When it was finally clear Alexei had no further information to give, Peter ordered him to receive forty lashes with a knout (a heavy whip with multiple rawhide thongs). Alexei died two days after this last ordeal. Unlike Ivan the Terrible, Peter suffered no debilitating guilt over ending a son’s life. Such an ego as Peter’s would never allow remorse to tarnish his self-image as a great and enlightened man. Yet it was this same delicate ego that allowed Peter to kill Alexei, and with a parental arrogance and brutality that eclipsed even Ivan’s.

Other notable filicides were Joseph and Magda Goebbels[63], the Nazi propaganda Chief.  It is a known fact is the couple were not only devotees of Hitler, they were also fanatical followers of Nazism. As with other Nazis, the Goebbels valued Hitler’s ideology above the welfare of their offspring[64].

More recently, in 2013 Islamic preacher and television personality Fayhan al-Ghamdi[65] was found guilty in Saudi Arabia for the rape, torture and murder of his five-year old daughter. In addition to being repeatedly raped, little Lama al-Ghamdi suffered a broken back, a crushed skull and mutilation of her private parts. She lingered in a coma for several months before dying.  It is of grim interest to note that in Saudi Arabia a man cannot be executed for killing his children or wife. Likewise, in most Islamist cultures blood money set on the life of a daughter is valued at only half of what it is for a son’s life.

While the motives for filicide were variable in the historical cases, mostly related to superego ideals of parents and serious mental disorders, the case of the filicide in New Zealand not only resulted in the country going into a state of profound shock and standstill, but also had a serious impact, back in crime ridden South Africa, from where the professional couple had emigrated, less than a month ago. An orthopedic surgeon arrived home on the evening of Thursday 16th September 2021, to find his three daughters dead.  The biological mother was charged with murder of her three children in New Zealand, after the family emigrated from South Africa. The family moved into their new house a week after completion of mandatory quarantine.[66]  The three beautiful girls were allegedly strangled with cable ties.[67]  The mother may have been off her chronic medication for her mental ailment to meet the country’s strict immigration criteria.[68]

The most probable reason why the mother killed the three children, a set of twins and another sibling could be due to the stress of relocating, on a predisposed, pre-existing mental ailment which was not treated during the quarantine period has resulted in this family tragedy[69]  In the Facebook post on 30th  July,  Dr Lauren Dickason[70], the mother, herslf a medical doctor, posted an image with the quote, in Afrikaans:

“Ek is gebuig, maar nie stukkend nie. EK is hartseer maar nie hopeloos nie. EK is moeg maar nie leweloos nie. Ek is bang maar nie magteloos nie. Ek wou al opgee, maar ek het nie. Hoe kry jy dit reg vra baie mense, my antwoord bly dieselfde “want die Here gee my krag om staande te bly.”

This translates as:

“I’m bent, but not broken. I am sad, but not hopeless. I am tired, but not lifeless. I am scared, but not powerless. I already wanted to give up, but I did not. How do you get it right, many people ask, my answer remains the same because the Lord gives me strength to keep on standing.”[71]

While in the New Zealand filicide case, the mother has been charged with the murder of her three daughters, from past precedents, it is evident that the legal processes have generally tended to deal leniently with female filicide offenders (Stanton & Simpson, 2002; Stanton, Simpson, & Wouldes, 2000). Juries are often unwilling to convict a woman for neonaticide, possibly because of the failure for the accused woman to fit the societal stereotype of a murderer, or that they feel that she has enough guilt over the act to punish sufficiently. Even when they commit the same offense, men are much more likely than women to be sent to prison. Whatever the reason is, for no other crime is there such a lack of conviction.

This tendency to view women who kill their children as a group separate from traditional murderers also operates at an international level. In 30 countries around the world, including Canada, Britain, and Australia, murder charges are ruled out and women are allowed to plead to lesser charges (“infanticide”) if the murders are committed during the first year after birth, when a woman’s state of mind is presumably affected by childbirth or lactation. Because of the nature of the crime, a plea of insanity is often presented in the woman’s defence. Within the major population studies, specifically those of McKee & Shea (1998) a finding of insanity was seen in 20%, 27%, and 15% respectively. These figures are significantly higher than the normal rate of .1% found in other criminal cases in which the insanity defence is raised. In general, however, the success of insanity defences is not guaranteed in cases of filicide, for several reasons. In the case of altruistic filicide, even in a psychotic individual, the crime is voluntary, often premeditated, planned logically, and accomplished methodically, always in full consciousness and perfectly remembered.

In cases where children die as a result of beating/child abuse, parents have little claim to major mental illness and, according to Resnick, an insanity defence based on post-partum depression is rarely successful in the United States as described by Hausman.[72] In acutely psychotic cases, the parent may not know the nature or quality of the act if it occurs during a seizure or delirium, but an investigator must always consider issues of malingering. Ultimately, decisions regarding the applicability of the insanity defence to each individual case come down to the individual state’s definition of insanity, which imposes a variety of principles, such as the ability to know the act violates a law, the ability to refrain from committing the act, the belief that the act was morally justified, etc. (Hausman, 2002). According to Resnick, in cases of altruistic filicide, for instance, the success of the insanity plea depends largely on whether the applicable insanity standard uses the word “appreciate” or “know” to characterise the wrongfulness of the killing (Hausman, 2002).

Also, according to Resnick, juries often view acts of altruistic filicide intended to relieve suffering as a form of euthanasia, which does not derive from a mental illness, and they find the individuals unqualified for an insanity defence[73]. Certain details of the case can negate the applicability of the insanity defence, such as any efforts taken to avoid detection or to dispose of evidence, which indicates that the person recognizes the wrongfulness of the act (Resnick, as quoted in Hausman, 2002). In contrast, notifying police or other individuals that a crime was committed, which is frequently seen in cases of maternal filicide, has other implications to the jury and could help bolster the claim of an insanity defence.

The Bottom Line is that filicide is the murder, humiliation, mutilation, denigration, and abandonment of children by parents.[74]  Furthermore, despite the knowledge and insight which have been gained from large scale, multicentric and individual case studies, filicide remains an unthinkable, repulsive offence, which emphasises the workings of the primitive reptilian brain[75],[76] in humanoids, due to numerous precipitating factors. Cases where mothers or fathers kill their children continue to shock communities and even nations when they occur, especially in the cases where there are multiple victims and seemingly no salient reason for the misdeed. Studies of filicidal men and women have revealed several groups, patterns, and risk factors and, while prediction is still extremely difficult, a general awareness of the possibility of these offences under certain circumstances by both mothers and fathers will help healthcare professionals and families identify and hopefully prevent at least some of these categories of homicides in the future.

The major lifestyle change event, such as emigrating to another country, due to crime, violence and racial disharmony as is prevalent in South Africa, post 1994, to an increasing level, aggravated by the July 2021 civil unrest, is the precipitating factor in the genesis of the filicide, committed in New Zealand. This small country, with a human population of 4,860,643, as estimated by the United Nations in July 1, 2021, (it has 5.6 sheep per person)[77], (estimated number of possums in New Zealand in the absence of control is 47.6 million and post-control in 2008-2009 was possums present was estimated to be 30 million, which is an overall reduction of about 36%.)[78] The country is usually a peaceful and law abiding Commonwealth territory, with excellent community support mechanisms, superb law enforcement officers and above all a humane Prime Minister, as repeatedly exemplified by Ms Jacinda Ardern.[79]  It is trusted that a full Royal Commission of Enquiry[80] into this family tragedy and immigration process with be initiated by the Arden Government.
















































[24] Greenfeld, Lawrence A.; Snell, Tracy L. (2000-03-10). “Women Offenders” (PDF). NCJ 175688. U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.


[25] Friedman, S. H.; Horwitz, S. M.; Resnick, P. J. (2005). “Child murder by mothers: A critical analysis of the current state of knowledge and a research agenda”. Am J Psychiatry. 162 (9): 1578–1587. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.162.9.1578. PMID 16135615


[26] USA Today. Parents who do the unthinkable — kill their children




[28] Resnick, P.J. (1969). Child murder by parents: A psychiatric review of filicide.

American Journal of Psychiatry, 126, 73-82.

[29] “Spousal revenge rare motive for killing kids, experts say”. CTV News. 2010-11-16.




[31] Carruthers, Glen (July–August 2016). “Making sense of spousal revenge filicide”. Aggression and Violent Behavior. 29: 30–35. doi:10.1016/j.avb.2016.05.007








[35] Resnick, P.J. (1970). Murder of the newborn: A psychiatric review of filicide.

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[37] D’Orban, P.T. (1979). Women who kill their children. British Journal of

Psychiatry, 134, 560-571.


[38] McKee, G.R. & Shea, S.J. (1998). Maternal filicide: A cross national comparison.

Journal Of Clinical Psychology, 54(5), 679-687.


[39] Cheung, P.T.K. (1986). Maternal filicide in Hong Kong. Medicine, Science, and

Law, 26,185-192.


[40] Pitt, S.E. & Bale, E.M. (1995). Neonaticide, Infanticide, and Filicide: A review of

the literature. Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law,23,



[41] Stanton, J., & Simpson, A. (2002). Filicide: A Review. International Journal of

Law and Psychiatry, 25, 1-14.


[42] Stanton, A. & Simpson, J. (2000). Maternal filicide: a reformulation of factors

relevant to risk.Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health, 10, 136-147.


[43] Stanton, J., Simpson, A., & Wouldes, T. (2002). A qualitative study of filicide by

mentally ill mothers. Child Abuse & Neglect, 24(11), 1451-1460


[44] Gold, L.H. (2001). Clinical and forensic aspects of postpartum disorders. Journal

of the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law, 29, 344-347.


[45] American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of

Mental Disorders (4th edition, text revision). Washington, D.C.


[46] Palermo, G.B. (2002). Murderous Parents. International Journal of Offender

Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 46(2), 123-143.


[47] Marleau, J.D., Poulin, B., Webanck, T., Roy, R., & Laporte, L. (1999). Paternal

filicide: A study of 10 men. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 44, 57-63.


















































[72] Hausman, K. (2002, December 20). Classification tries to make sense of often

inexplicable crime. Psychiatric News, 37(24), 14.


















Professor G. Hoosen M. Vawda (Bsc; MBChB; PhD.Wits) is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment.
Director: Glastonbury Medical Research Centre; Community Health and Indigent Programme Services; Body Donor Foundation SA.

Principal Investigator: Multinational Clinical Trials
Consultant: Medical and General Research Ethics; Internal Medicine and Clinical Psychiatry:UKZN, Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine
Executive Member: Inter Religious Council KZN SA
Public Liaison: Medical Misadventures
Activism: Justice for All

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