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.”

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