Who slaughtered five members of the Bain family in Dunedin, New Zealand in 1994? Was it the father or was it the son? Speculation about this case captured public attention in New Zealand for 22 years – ever since David Bain (the eldest son) returned home from his paper run on 20 June 1994 and called the police reporting that both his parents and his three younger siblings had all been shot to death.
Who did it?
Police and neighbours initially speculated that Robin Bain, the father, had killed his wife and three children while David was out of the house – and then shot himself before David got home. But after a cursory investigation, the police arrested David four days later, even though they were unable to establish a possible motive. David was tried for murder and spent 13 years in prison. After numerous appeals he was tried again in 2009 – before finally being found not guilty. At both trials, the Crown argued that David shot and killed his mother and three siblings, went on his paper run (which took about an hour) – and then shot his father when he got back.
After the not guilty verdict at the second trial, retired Canadian Judge, Ian Binnie, was appointed to investigate David’s compensation claim for wrongful conviction. Binnie described the ‘four before (the paper run), one after’ theory put forward by the police as ‘inherently implausible’. David’s father used to sleep in a caravan in the back garden. He often woke up early and could have come into the house while David was out on his paper run; if so, he would have discovered the carnage and called the police. After a 12 month investigation, Judge Binnie went on to say that the police had made numerous egregious errors in their investigation and had prosecuted David even though ‘no plausible motive ever emerged’. His views reflected those of the judge at the first trial (in 1995) who, after David was found guilty, said:
“… that these events were so bizarre and abnormal that it was impossible for the human mind to conceive of any logical or reasonable explanation”
There is a compelling explanation…
As we now know, the judge and jury at the first trial did not have all the facts. So no wonder the police version of the story seemed bizarre. But during the next fifteen years, as former All Black, Joe Karam kicked the case up the field of Appeal all the way to the Privy Council in London, new witnesses came forward. David’s legal team learned that his parents had been estranged for years and that prior to the killings, his father had been very depressed. They also heard allegations that Robin Bain had been having an incestuous relationship with his youngest daughter, Laniet.
A number of people testified that prior to her death, Laniet had told them what her father was doing to her. One witness said “the whole neighbourhood knew about the incest accusation.” Others said she was threatening to tell the rest of her family. In other words, Robin Bain was already in the process of being exposed by Laniet’s disclosures. Ashamed of his depraved behaviour, his failed marriage and fearful that he might spend the rest of his life in prison, Robin must have snapped. He wiped out everyone in the family except David, and then committed suicide.
This is a credible explanation of what probably happened. It emerged slowly and took years of hard work and dogged determination by Joe Karam, who wrote four books about the case. In 2007 the Privy Council listened to this new evidence and declared a ‘substantial miscarriage of justice’ had occurred. The jury at the retrial also listened and in 2009, David was finally found not guilty. Robin Bain was the only other suspect and the testimony of numerous witnesses, who came forward after the first trial, all pointed the finger of blame at him.
Research on familicide
When someone kills two or more members of their own family, the term used to describe this is familicide. Such crimes are rare. But when they do occur, 95% of the time the father is the perpetrator. Although it is hard to understand why anyone would want to kill their entire family, such perpetrators have usually experienced an overwhelming sense of failure in their business or personal lives and/or have deep seated feelings of shame and depression. Robin Bain’s marriage had failed years earlier and he was living in a caravan in a state of squalor. Teaching colleagues testified that prior to the killings, he was so depressed, he had ‘lost touch with reality‘. One said he was robotic and like a ‘walking cadaver‘.
Research on familicide describes two types of killers: they are either ‘angry’ or ‘despairing’. The way in which this research points directly at Robin Bain is covered here. It describes the psychological impact on a ‘despairing’ type of perpetrator when a prolonged build up of shame combines with a potential ‘triggering event’ – such as public disclosure.