A Meta-Synthesis of Filicide Classification Systems: Psychosocial and Psychodynamic Issues in Women Who Kill Their Children

Marie E. Mugavin


J Foren Nurs. 2005;1(2):65-72. 

In This Article

Classification for the Medical Examiner

Guileyardo, Prahlow, and Barnard (1999) suggested that although several filicide classification systems had been proposed, they failed to include many types of filicide seen by the medical examiner's office. The reason is that the systems were derived primarily from psychiatric literature, and cases seen by a psychiatrist are likely different than those seen by the medical examiner. Resnick's (1969) classification based on motive provided a foundation for their schema. Guileyardo et al. (1999) then added categories which included additional motives, precipitating factors, and typical situations they felt were sufficiently characteristic to deserve separation. Some of Resnick's (1969) terms were modified to improve compatibility with forensic practice.

The following is a list of 16 filicide subtypes developed by Guileyardo, Prahlow, and Barnard (1999).

  1. Altruism

  2. Euthanasia

  3. Acute psychosis

  4. Postpartum mental disorder

  5. Unwanted child

  6. Unwanted pregnancy

  7. Angry impulse

  8. Spouse revenge

  9. Munchausen by proxy

  10. Sexual abuse

  11. Violent older child

  12. Negligence and neglect

  13. Sadism and punishment

  14. Drug and alcohol abuse

  15. Seizure disorder

  16. Innocent bystander

By comparison, the following list shows Resnick's filicide classifications:

  1. Altruistic

  2. Acutely psychotic

  3. Unwanted child

  4. Accidental

  5. Spouse revenge

  6. Neonaticide

In part, the goal of Guileyardo et al. (1999) was to underscore the difficulty in classifying filicide because of the multidimensional nature of the crime. In an effort to illustrate their point, the authors introduced a rare case of familial filicide in which twin sisters both attempted to kill their children (only one succeeded). One of the twins, a 41-year-old mother, brutally stabbed her two children and herself to death. She had expressed fear of being stalked and believed that organized crime groups were planning to torture and kill her and the children. The mother sent warning signals before the filicide when she visited her minister distraught and asking for help. She also left photo albums with him requesting they be given to her ex- husband. After evaluating investigative and autopsy information of the mother and her two children, the authors identified the case as maternal suicide with double filicide.

Three years before this event, both this mother and her fraternal twin sister were receiving psychiatric care. The fraternal twin was also concerned that she was being stalked and thought she and her children faced torture at the hands of criminals. She overdosed herself and her two young sons while pregnant a few months later, but all three survived.

The practical value of Guileyardo's et al. (1999) system utilizing 16 filicide subtypes is that it allows comparison of a case at hand with previously described patterns of behavior. For instance, features of more than one category may be present because more than one motive or underlying cause may have led to the filicide. In addition, many of the categories also apply to general cases of child homicide even if the perpetrator is not the parent.


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