It was the American sociologist and criminologist Professor Jack Levin, from Northeastern University in Boston, who first coined the term “family annihilator” in the mid-eighties to describe a father who kills his children, and possibly also his spouse and himself. The high body count distinguishes it from “filicide”, which usually denotes a single victim. But the sex of the culprit tends to be the same.
“Murder is a masculine pursuit,” says Levin, who has studied family annihilation and massacres for more than 30 years. “Not just family murder – any kind of murder.” In the US, 71 per cent of all family murders and 61 per cent of all infanticides are committed by men.
Levin puts this down partly to testosterone, but he says to understand why a father could kill his child we have to take on board fundamental differences in the male psyche. “We glorify and romanticise fatherhood. But not every father is thrilled with fatherhood. You could argue ad nauseam whether it’s nature or nurture, but women have an intimate bond with their young children – they are the ones who get pregnant, give birth, nurse the child. The man sees himself as the breadwinner – but that is from a distance.”