Men who are driven to murder-suicide are obsessed and controlling, leading them to take drastic measures when women decide to leave, experts in domestic violence say.
“The perpetrator thinks and believes he cannot live without her and he will not,” said Nancy Barton, executive director of Sistercare, which provides services for battered women in the Midlands. “He has got to have her, and you see this picture of real intense, constant jealousy. It’s ‘I’ve got to have her, and I’ll have her in death.’”
Since January, Richland and Lexington county police have reported at least five cases in which a man shot his wife or girlfriend and then turned the gun on himself. In those cases, 11 people died and one was seriously injured.
Two of those cases happened last week in Richland County. And earlier this month, Lexington County police and school officials intervened before a Saluda man, who was armed, reached his girlfriend at Gilbert High School. He shot himself as police were closing in and later died.
The cases grab headlines and stick in people’s minds as the public tries to understand what drives a person to such extreme violence.
“To me, these first five months of 2011 seems like there is a disproportionate number of domestic homicides and murder-suicides,” Barton said.
Unfortunately, research on the causes of murder-suicide is limited because overall numbers of those cases are low. Also, it’s especially difficult to understand what happened when there are no survivors, experts said.
For years, South Carolina has ranked in the top 10 in the country in domestic violence rates, said Rebecca Williams-Agee of the S.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.
The Violence Policy Council, which monitors gun crimes nationally, ranked South Carolina ninth in per capita cases of men killing women in its most recent “When Men Murder Women” report. That report studied 2008 statistics, finding that 39 women were murdered by men. Of those, only one woman was killed by a stranger.
The most common characteristics of murder-suicide in families are a prior history of domestic violence, access to guns, increased, specific threats and a prior history of poor mental health or substance abuse, according to the National Institute of Justice, which researches crime for the U.S. Department of Justice.
The most dangerous time for a woman is when she decides to leave the relationship, Williams-Agee said.
“The perpetrator has lost all control and is just trying to regain it and doesn’t care anymore,” she said.
When Brian C. Tindall in January shot and killed his wife, Victoria Williamson Tindall, and then himself, their relationship was ending, the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department reported. He had moved out of their home three weeks earlier.
Mix that volatile situation of a breakup with guns, depression and drugs or alcohol, and there is a recipe for violence. And the lethalness has the potential to escalate to murder-suicide, including the killing of children, Williams-Agee said.
Laura Hudson, executive director of the S.C. Crime Victims Council, said the availability of guns leads to the violence. And South Carolina does not have strong gun control laws, including those that would limit access to firearms for people previously involved in domestic abuse cases, she said.
“There is a lot to be said about an emotional moment to have that available when you’re not thinking,” Hudson said.
In 591 murder-suicides studied by the U.S. Justice Department, 92 percent were committed with guns. And states with less restrictive gun control laws had nearly eight times the rate of murder-suicide than other states.
All of the recent cases in the Midlands involved guns. In March, Chancey Foy Smith killed 27-year-old Amanda Peake and her two children, Cameron, 9, and Sarah, 6, with a .40-caliber Smith and Wesson handgun. He used the same gun to kill himself.
Lexington County Sheriff’s investigators said Smith, 32, had driven to the Peake home with violence on his mind. They found one assault rifle, two hunting rifles and more than 200 rounds of ammunition in his truck. Police reported that Smith had been drinking the entire day of the shooting.
Hudson also said the poor economy could be behind an apparent spike in domestic violence. Women are less likely to leave a bad situation when they do not have financial independence, she said.
The National Institute of Justice report said economic distress is a factor in murder-suicides although it is hard for researchers to understand exactly what role the economy plays because overall those types of crimes are rare.
Almost all cases of murder-suicide have prior incidents of domestic violence, experts said.
In Monday’s deaths of Amanda Ruth and Joseph Jarrard, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department had never been called to their Marbun Road home to deal with domestic disputes. But after Joseph Jarrard shot his wife in the back and then himself on the head sometime during the night, family members told investigators they knew the couple had been having domestic issues, the sheriff’s department reported.
It’s important for families and friends to recognize the warning signs of a potentially abusive relationship and try to get the couple to seek help, Williams-Agee said.
Warning signs include:
• A relationship that is fast and intense
• Increasing isolation from family and friends
• Public humiliation
• Physical and verbal threats
Clyde Flanagan Jr., a psychiatry professor at the USC School of Medicine, said therapy is essential. Undiagnosed mental problems such as depression or obsessive compulsive behavior can lead to an increase in violence in abusive relationships.
Flanagan said he can relate to that depression and obsession. When he was younger, Flanagan caught his wife cheating and went into a rage.
“I can remember I was pacing up and down in our downstairs and I didn’t know what to do and I was thinking about suicide,” he said.
Flanagan did not have an impulse to hurt his wife. And his medical training led him to seek therapy.
“That was a lifesaver,” he said.
Without help, however, he said, domestic violence will not end.
Murder-suicide in South Carolina
The S.C. Attorney General’s Violence Against Women Department collects statistics on domestic violence homicide, including murder-suicide, in South Carolina. The numbers are compiled in a book released each October during a ceremony at the State House to remember victims. The following numbers are the latest available.
Total domestic violence homicides
Number of murder-suicides