Probably the most horrific of all crimes is the family annihilator.
A family annihilator is a person who can hate, more than love his or her own family. And having enough hate to do actually do the unthinkable. Family annihilators are not a new thing, as long as there has been relationships gone bad, there have been these evil people whose sole purpose is to either wipe their whole family off the face of the earth, or to punish the person who dared to leave them.
And it isn’t just men who are the killers. Although rarer, women have been known to also be the annihilator. The scary thing is that Australia seems to have just as many cases of Family Annihilation as the United States does. And the trend of these killers is rising.
David Wilson, from the Birmingham City University, did a study on Family Annihilators and said a reason for the increase could be that
‘Family Annihilators feel they need to exercise power and control over their family’.
‘Their view of the family is very black and white, and doesn’t reflect the increasingly dynamic role that women can play in the economy and in the institution of the family itself.’
It seems to come down to shame. These murderers don’t know a way out, and don’t want the world to know that they failed….
1. What are the key characteristics of a Family Annihilator?
- 55% of Family annihilators are aged in their 30’s
- Family Annihilators are more likely to be Caucasian man.
- The Family Annihilator is usually the father, son or brother of the victims, or a combination.
- The children of the family annihilator are often too young to yet be in school.
- Usually has no former criminal history or history of mental health
- Has a high profile or high paying job
- Geological isolation is a key factor in most family annihilator stories.
- Death is often carried out in a violent manner: Gunshot, knife, hammer.
- The killer will often ensure escape routes are cut off in advance.
- Has taken out a life insurance policy on his wife or family or both.
Fact: 20% of all types of Family Annihilation occur in the month of August
2. Key Drivers of A Family Annihilation
- Expulsion from the family home
- A real threat of separation
- Alleged or perceived infidelity
- Access to Children
- To be free of their family so they can take up with a mistress
- To hide financial problems eg spending on a mistress or a gambling problem
- The burden of a new pregnancy and additional children that they cannot afford or do not want to raise
- Not being mentioned in a will.
Fact: 81% of Family Annihilators will attempt suicide after the fact.
3. Psychological Profile of a Family Annihilator
Professor David Wilson identified common areas that ‘might’ be the cause of these disturbing murders. They are:
- A breakdown in the family
- Access to the children after a relationship breakdown
- Financial Hardship
- Honour Killings
- Mental Illness
Professor Wilson quotes: “Family annihilators have received little attention as a separate category of killers, often treated like spree or serial murderers, a view which presupposes traits, such as the idea that the murderer ‘snaps’, or that after killing their partner or children the killer may force a standoff with the police.”
4. The Four categories of Family Annihilator
- The Self-Righteous Family Annihilator
- The Disappointed Family Annihilator
- The Anomic Family Annihilator
- The Paranoid Family Annihilator
Let’s go through each to see the differences:
The Self-Righteous Family Annihilator
The Self-Righteous Family Annihilator is the most common. They often hold the wife totally responsible for the breakdown of the family unit. They are often overly dramatic and tend to choose to carry out their murders on dates that are important to the family. They tend to be unsure in their roles as a provider in the family and are threatened by their wives’ careers or financial windfalls.
Often the perpetrator is ‘paranoid’ and has ongoing mental health issues. He is willing to kill his children because he fears that he will lose custody of his children to his wife. Horrifically, often he will call his spouse as he is doing the killing – so he can hear her distress.
Example: Robert Farquarson killed his three sons on Fathers Day by driving his three young sons into a dam after his wife left him.
Robert Farquharson and Cindy Gambino at their sons’ funeral
The ‘Disappointed’ Family Annihilator
The ‘Disappointed’ Family Annihilator believe that they have done right by their family, but the family has not done right by them. For example, a child can come out as gay or oppose the family’s religious beliefs. Honour killings are placed into this category.
Example: Mohammed Riaz killed his family by setting fire to the family home after his daughters had become Westernized.
The Anomic Family Annihilator
Anomic Family Annihilators see their family as an extension of their own success. So if the success eludes the family eg bankruptcy or a public scandal, the family is no longer serving this function.
Example: John List killed his mother, wife and three children to hide the fact that he had financial problems.
The Paranoid Family Annihilator
The Paranoid Family Annihilator sees a perceived threat to the family and feels they are ‘protecting them’ by killing them. Examples are that the children will be removed by the legal system or they will not gain child access after a divorce.
Fact: 49% of Family Annihilator Murders happen on the weekend, usually on a Sunday
5. List of the Most Notorious Family Annihilators
- Where: Colorado, United States
- Motive: Desire for a fresh start with his mistress, burden of an additional child
- Victims: 4
From the outside, Chris Watts looked like he had it made. He had two beautiful daughters, Bella aged 4, and little Celeste 3. His wife, Shanann was 15 weeks pregnant with a much-wanted baby boy. He had a successful job for a Gas and Oil company and from the outside, the family had an idealistic life.
But inside, the family were crumbling. The couple had extensive financial problems. Medical bills had stacked up as Shannan had a severe case of lupus. They had previously filed for bankruptcy and their credit card bills were out of control. Shanann had a job working in a call centre, and her own small business in a multi-level marketing position was taking off which was taking her away from the family home on the odd weekend for meetings and training.
Watts had supported his wife throughout her illness and the couple were shocked when she first becomes pregnant as they had been told it would be nearly impossible for her to conceive due to lupus. A second precious daughter came along soon afterwards.
But Chris Watts was tired of family life. He yearned to be a bachelor. He wanted a life free from the constraints of raising children and being financially responsible.
Watts had started an affair with a co-worker. He had told his mistress he was seeking a divorce from Shanann. Shanann had noticed her husband’s suspicious behaviour and had confronted him repeatedly after noticing restaurant and hotel charges on the credit card.
On the 13th of August 2019, Shanann was returning from a business trip in Arizona. She had her best friend Nickole pick her up from the airport and drop her home. Nickole knew of their marital troubles and had told Nickole that Chris didn’t want another baby and that he felt that they were no longer compatible as a couple. Shanann had also told her friend that she didn’t feel safe with Chris after what he said about the baby.’
It was the last time she was seen alive.
Later the same day, Nickole became concerned when Shanann failed to attend a prenatal appointment and wasn’t returning her text messages or calls. She reported it to the police. The police undertook a welfare check on the family.
The house was searched by Police where they found Shanann’s handbag, mobile phone and car keys. Both the girl’s car seats were also inside the home.
The Police started their investigation. The Watts’ neighbour had a surveillance camera that proved that Shanann had not left the house, but showed Chris Watt loaded suspicious-looking packages into the back of his vehicle. But Watt’s was unconcerned about his family’s whereabouts. He had un-enrolled the girls from their pre-school and had set up appointments to sell the family home. He was also seeking deals for a holiday in Aspen.
The Police arrested Watts and on suspicion of murder. He subsequently confessed that Shanann had strangled the two girls, and he had killed his wife in a fit of rage. Police located the bodies of Shanann and their two daughters in oil tanks at his place of employment.
Chris Watts eventually pleaded to the murders of all three of his family members, and his unborn son, Niko.
He has been sentenced to life without parole.
Netflix has just released a documentary about the murders. “American Murder: The Family Next Door”. The documentary uses raw first-hand footage of Shanann and the girls and the lead-up to the terrible events.
- Where: California, United States
- Motive: Desire for a fresh start with his mistress, burden of a child
- Victims: His wife, Laci Petersen and their unborn son Connor.
Laci Petersen was eight months pregnant with a baby boy when she went missing just before Christmas. It was the 24th of December. Her husband, Scott Petersen said that he had left to go fishing Berkely Marina. He had told other people he had planned to play golf on Christmas Eve. Scott said that when he left home, Laci was about to take the dog out for a walk. Later that day, the Petersen’s dog was found wandering with a leash attached. There was no sign of Laci.
Scott Petersen returned home later in the day. There was no sign of Laci, even though her vehicle was in the driveway. At 5:15 pm, Scott called his Mother in Law and Laci’s Stepfather, who called the Police. The Police arrived to find the dining room table of the Petersen house was fully set for Christmas. Laci’s purse, keys and sunglasses were on the bench. A huge scale search was undertaken to look for Laci. Scott Petersen didn’t seem worried, and this worried the police.
After a few weeks and still, no sign of Laci, a member of the public, Amber Frey, called the Police. She couldn’t understand why her boyfriend, Scott Petersen, was on the television and billboards looking for his wife. Petersen had told his mistress, Amber, he was single, he also told her he was over in Paris. All of this was whilst Scott was attending a memorial service for his wife. Police had Amber tape multiple phone calls with Scott, trying to get him to confess to the murder of his wife. Amber fully cooperated with Police and recorded an astounding 27 hours of recordings, whilst trying not to let him know the Police were onto him.
In April, the remains of a male fetus washed up ashore near where Scott Petersen had been fishing. The next day, the partial remains of a female washed up – no head, no arms or legs. DNA proved that the remains were that of Laci Petersen and their unborn son, Connor.
Petersen was arrested soon after as he had changed his appearance and the Police feared he would try and run. He had with him camping equipment, four mobile phones, had grown a goatee beard and had dyed his hair blonde. He was charged with two counts of murder.
Although no forensic evidence could be found for the murders, it was the overwhelming circumstantial evidence that put Scott Petersen behind bars. The fact he had a girlfriend who knew nothing of his wife, the fact he went fishing when she disappeared and the contents of the taped telephone calls. Petersen had also taken out a $250,000 life insurance policy on his wife.
The prosecution for the case says the reason for the killings was that Scott and Lacy had increased debt, the pressure of a child, and Scott’s desire to be single again.
Here is the video taken by Police seeing Scott Petersen reacting to his wife’s disappearance.
- Where: New Jersey, United States
- Motive: A fresh start.
- Victims: 5
John List lived with his wife and three children in Westfield, New Jersey. John worked as a laboratory technician and had a Masters Degree in Accounting. In 1965 he accepted the position of Vice President and Comptroller at a bank. The lucrative position allowed the family to move to a 19-room Victorian mansion in a swanky area. Helen, John’s wife had been a long term alcoholic. When they moved, John’s mother Alma also moved in with them as she needed additional care.
On the 9th November 1971, John shot his wife Helen in the back of the head. He then shot his mother in the eye. When his children arrived home from school, he shows each of them in the back of the head. John made himself some lunch and then went to his employment to close his bank account, and that of his mother. He then went to watch his eldest son, John Jr play a soccer game at his school. Once he had driven his son home, he shot him repeatedly in the chest and face.
The bodies were all placed in the ballroom of the mansion, except for his mother who he moved to the attic. He penned a letter to his local Pastor explaining that he saw too much evil in the world, and had killed his family to ‘Save their souls’. John then removed his face from every photograph in the house, meticulously cleaned the crime scene and disappeared.
The bodies of the family were not found until a month later. This was due to the fact that John had stopped the milk and newspaper deliveries and had advised the kid’s school that they would be away for an extended period of time. The neighbours finally called the police when they noticed the lights in the mansion were on both day and night, with no sign of movement. Police found John’s car in the car park of the airport in New York.
There was no sign of John – for the next 18 years.
You see, John had changed his name, changed how he looked and moved to Denver, Colorado. He married a woman and settled in Virginia.
When the case appeared on America’s Most Wanted in 1989, a neighbour recognized the comfit of John and called the Police. A fingerprint match proved his identity.
When the case went to trial, List said that the pressure of having a wife with alcoholism, financial difficulties and losing his prestigious job at the bank had all contributed to his actions. To hide the fact he was unemployed from his family, he spent his days in a train station. His wife Helen had also contracted syphilis from her first husband and had pretended to be pregnant to ‘trick’ him into marriage. The untreated condition had turned an attractive woman into an ‘unkempt and paranoid recluse’.
The court psychiatrist testified that John List had Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder. He was convicted of five counts of first-degree murder.
List died in prison at age 82.
There is a full documentary on the List Murders – here is a link to the Youtube Video.
- Where: Mornington, Australia
- Motive: Burden of an additional child, to potentially hide the sexual abuse of his daughter
- Victims: 3
John Sharpe and his wife Anna had been arguing. They were arguing a lot lately. Anna was pregnant with their second child but John didn’t seem to care about the pregnancy. He didn’t attend the ultrasound, and hardly even murmured a response when Anna told him the sex of the baby. John had struggled with the birth of their daughter Gracie a few years back. Gracie had hip dysplasia, which meant she had to be strapped into a corrective harness. This made Gracie irritable, she cried a lot. She had trouble eating and trouble sleeping to the point where Anna had to seek professional help.
John was disillusioned by both his wife, who wore the pants in the family, and his child, who did nothing but cry. He didn’t want another child. So he took care of it.
In 2003, John Sharpe went down to the local fishing supplies store and bought a speargun. He spent hours in the backyard firing the gun, practising. Learning how it worked. He hadn’t shown any interest in spearfishing before.
On the 23rd of March 2004, the couple argued yet again before bed. John casually got up, retrieved the speargun from the shed, and fired it into his wife’s temple. But she didn’t die. So John fired a second spear into Anna’s head. This one had the desired effect. He covered Anna’s body with towels and went to bed on the downstairs sofa-bed.
The next day, John took Gracie to daycare. When he got home, he tried to pull the spears from his wife’s body, but could only remove part of them. He then buried her in the backyard. He went back to the fishing supplies store to purchase more spears.
Six days after killing his wife, John put Gracie to bed and downed a few potent alcoholic drinks. He loaded the new spear and fired it into Gracie’s skull. Gracie screamed John went running to grab the two spears he had removed from his wife and fired both into Gracie. But she still lived. So he pulled one of the spears out of Gracie, and again, shot the spear into her head. He bundled her body into a garbage bag and disposed of her body at the local transfer station.
John then pretended that Anna had taken Gracie and gone to live with Anna’s new lover. Anna’s family were suspicious – it wasn’t like Anna never to call. Then Anna’s mother received a bunch of flowers from Anna with a note – her mother then knew something terrible had happened.
It took two months for Police to investigate the disappearance of Anna and Gracie.
Finally, after multiple Police interviews, he admitted to the murders of Anna, her unborn child and their daughter Gracie. John Sharpe told Police he had killed Anna because she was moody and irritable and tended to be controlling. He said their marriage was ‘loveless’.
Police believe that Sharpe may have killed Anna because she uncovered the sexual abuse of Gracie by her father.
The bodies were recovered and Sharpe was sentenced to two consecutive life terms of imprisonment. He resides in protective custody due to ongoing threats of harm by other prisoners.
- Where: Australia
- Motive: To punish his ex-wife for moving on with a new man.
- Victims: His three sons
Robert Farquharson was pissed. He and his wife Cindy had separated a few months back. He hadn’t taken it well. He was prescribed anti-depressants and saw a psychologist to deal with the breakup. But now, Cindy had a new man. They would never be together again. She lived with her new man in HIS house, with HIS sons, and they were driving THE GOOD CAR. All he drove was a crappy Commodore. How dare she. She got everything, and Robert perceived that he got nothing. Robert wanted vengeance. He wanted Cindy to pay.
On Father’s Day in 2005, Robert Farquahason did the unthinkable.
He was due to drop his three sons back to Cindy. He never arrived. Instead, he drove his car with his three sons strapped into the back into a cold, dark, deep dam. He then flagged down the first car he could find. Instead of calling the Police, Robert only wanted to do one thing, to see Cindy. The driver dropped Robert off at his ex-wife Cindy’s home where he knocked on the door. When Cindy answered he said ‘I’ve killed the kids’.
Cindy’s new partner flew to the dam and tried desperately to save the boys. But it was too late.
The vehicle was retrieved from the water 2 am the next day. All three boys were still inside the vehicle, although Jai, the eldest son, was out of his seatbelt. It is believed he tried to get his brothers out of the car.
Robert told police he had a coughing fit and blacked out, and that’s why the car ended up the dam.
However a few months before, he had told a mate that he intended to kill his children to get back at his wife.
Robert Farquharson was charged with life imprisonment with a 33-year minimum.
6. Other Notable Cases of Family Annihilators:
- Osmington Shooting (Western Australia)
- Cairns Child Killings (Queensland)
- Christian Longo (United States)
- Marcus Delon Wesson