Over the past four weeks, five men, including one particularly brutal New York case, have killed their families, then themselves. Though among the rarest of crimes, accounting for 1 to 2 percent of the 15,000 recorded homicides a year, these familycides have alarmed (the very few) experts in the field.
"We have never seen anything like this before," says Kristen Rand, legislative director of the Violence Policy Center in D.C. Like her colleagues, Rand believes that the economy is the largest motivating factor for what experts call "family annihilators" - men who unleash their biblical wrath and devastation on their wives and children, sometimes killing themselves, sometimes not.
What's happening now is in stark contrast to our most comparable economic decline, the Great Depression. That era provoked a spike in suicides, the proverbial men jumping out of windows (there were 18 suicides per 100,000 deaths in 1932). But this recession, for reasons unknown, seems to be spurring far more brutal behaviors.
Last fall, Christopher Foster, a 50-year-old British millionaire whose business had just collapsed and who was facing $1.8 million in debt, shot his wife and 15-year-old daughter to death before killing his three horses, four dogs, setting fire to his estate and shooting himself to death.
Two weeks ago, a 34-year-old Maryland man named Christopher Wood shot his wife and three toddlers to death and almost decapitated them all before turning the gun on himself. He was over $450,000 in debt and owned a house in Florida that was about to be foreclosed upon.
In the New York case, a 59-year-old Long Island man named William Parente bludgeoned and smothered his wife and two daughters in a Baltimore-area hotel room before slashing himself to death. He was under investigation for running a $20 million Ponzi scheme.