Familicide is the name given to a particular kind of multiple murder – where one member of a family kills virtually everyone else in the family. If the perpetrator commits suicide afterwards (which occurs in 60% of such cases), it is referred to as familicide-suicide.
A systematic review of the literature on familicide in 2011 found a number of common factors in such incidents.
The first is that in 95% of cases where both parents were killed, the perpetrator was the father. Only 1% of familicides are committed by an adult son. The reviewer found:
“In cases where (one of the) sons killed both parents, the research indicates that the perpetrator is always either severely abused, suffering from severe mental disorders (usually psychotic) or psychopathic. There are no identified cases where the son exhibits none of these pathologies and does not commit suicide.”
Second, many of these fathers displayed symptoms of depression prior to the killings. Fellow teachers described Robin at the time of the killings as “deeply depressed, to the point of impairing his ability to do his job of teaching children”. Mr Cyril Wilden, a former teacher and registered psychologist visited the Taieri School from time to time. The Privy Council wrote:
“He noted Robin’s depressed state of mind. Robin appeared to be increasingly disorganised and struggling to cope. Mr Wilden formed the view that Robin was clinically depressed with a form of reactive depression.” (Privy Council, 2007, para 42).
Robin also published graphic and inappropriate stories of violence and killings by his 9-year-old pupils in the school newsletter; one of those stories involved the murder of an entire family. The president of the Taieri Principals’ Association at the time, found this“unbelievable” and regarded the publication of these stories as “the clearest possible evidence that Robin Bain had lost touch with reality due to his mental state” (Privy Council, 2007, para 41).
It appears Robin Bain never sought professional help for depression, but this is another point of commonality; fathers who commit familicide tend to view themselves as the head of the family, and “control their outer image closely, rarely confiding in people or seeking help”. When it was suggested that Robin could be the killer, family and friends rejected this notion saying that he appeared to be fine. This is consistent with other familicides; the men who commit these crimes tend to internalise their personal sufferings in order to project a ‘normal’ public appearance.
Angry vs despairing perpetrators
The literature also suggests there are two types of familicide perpetrator. At one end of the continuum, there is the angry type – men who have displayed a well-established history of anger and hostile behaviour, especially towards women. For this type, the killing of one’s partner and children is an act of revenge or punishment, usually following parental separation. At the other end of the continuum, there is the despairing type of perpetrator who has no previous history of hostile behaviour and is generally well regarded in the community. This description applies to Robin Bain. For this type, familicide, followed by suicide is “an escape both for himself and his family from an intolerable future”.
In addition to feelings of depression and anger, the literature shows that familicide is generally preceded by a prolonged build-up of shame. This usually follows parental separation or a serious breakdown in the relationship; loss of employment or significant financial losses may also be involved. These lead to a psychological loss of control and/or a perceived loss of social status. Robin Bain also fits this profile. He and Margaret had been estranged for several years and by all accounts, he was unfulfilled in his job. He had applied for a number of other teaching positions, but was unsuccessful.
But for Robin Bain, there may have been an even greater source of shame. He was a Christian and a respected member of the community. At the second trial, witnesses said he had been committing incest with his youngest daughter, Laniet, ever since the family came back from Papua New Guinea. If indeed he had been molesting her, this would have created intense feelings of guilt and internal conflict. It seems that “despair is the end-state for these perpetrators”.
The triggering event
The research also found that in most cases of familicide there is usually some kind of triggering event, one which leads to a sense of “ignominy, terminal public shame, mortification and self-disgust”. Testimony at the second trial suggests Laniet was about to reveal to the rest of the family what her father had been doing to her. It seems the potential loss of face Robin Bain was facing was so great, he not only killed everyone else in the family (except David), he also shot himself. This is another point of commonality. In over 60% of familicide cases, the offender subsequently commits suicide. As the Privy Council wrote:
“If the jury found Robin to be already in a state of deep depression and now, a school principal and ex-missionary, facing the public revelation of very serious sex offences against his teenage daughter, they might reasonably conclude that this could have driven him to commit these acts of horrific and uncharacteristic violence” (Privy Council, para 106).
In summary, David Bain did not have an identified motive, did not have a mental health disorder and did not commit suicide. Robin Bain did, or had, all three. In every single aspect of this case, it is Robin Bain rather than David Bain, who fits the profile of the typical perpetrator of familicide, followed by suicide.
Ian Binnie’s perspective on familicide
In his investigation into David’s claim for compensation, Ian Binnie examined this theory about familicide put forward by Joe Karam. Binnie accepted it may have some validity as a theoretical framework to explain what happened and why, but rightly pointed out that it was not ‘evidence’. He wrote:
Studies of men convicted of familicide may be useful for after the fact analysis of the phenomenon but cannot be used as a diagnostic tool to attribute guilt to someone like Robin who was never convicted. “(Para 140)
“Mr Karam’s theory may be valid but it falls short of the required standard of proof” (para 143).
Although Binnie said this theory did not meet the standard of proof required, he acknowledged it was useful for ‘after the fact analysis’. In contrast, it is remarkable that throughout the entire history of the case, the prosecution never came up with a motive or theoretical framework which explained why David was, or might be, the perpetrator. All the police had was circumstantial evidence – all of which was contested in the Privy Council and the retrial and found to be wanting.
Articles on familicide
- Familicide-Suicide: From Myth To Hypothesis And Toward Understanding, Carolyn Johnson & Mark Sachmann, Family Court Review, Vol. 52 No. 1, January 2014 100–113.