IPT Book Reviews

Title: Fatal Families: The Dynamics of Intrafamilial Homicide  Positive Review
Author: Charles Patrick Ewing
Publisher: Sage Publications, 1997

Sage Publications
2455 Teller Road
Thousand Oaks, CA 91320
(805) 499-0721
$25.50 (p)

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 newspaper accounts.

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 family homicide.

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.

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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, 12, 417-443.

Rodriguez, S. F., & Henderson, V. A. (1995). Intimate homicide: Victim-offender relationship in female perpetrated homicide. Deviant Behavior, 16, 45-57.

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