There is nothing more unforgivable in this world than for a parent to murder his or her own child. And yet, at least in the United States, cases of filicide happen nearly 3,000 times a year. What drives a mother or a father, the very people who, in the natural order of things, are meant to protect their children and guard them with their lives, to commit such shocking crimes? Furthermore, why do most murderers who kill their entire families seem to live behind a veneer of such an idyllic life? Maybe those who have been found guilty of such horrifying crimes, such as those on this list, can shed a little insight into the mind and motivation of a psychopathic child killer.
8. John List
On the surface, John List appeared to be an ostensibly ordinary accountant from New Jersey. In reality, he had been unemployed for months and was experiencing financial difficulties, so much so that instead of disclosing the news to his wife and children, he meticulously planned to murder them instead, and then disappear to start a new life with a new identity. On November 9, 1971, List first shot his wife and his mother at the his home, and then shot two of his three children, Patricia and Frederick, once they returned from school. Disturbingly, List then proceeded to go watch his son, John Jr., play in a soccer game at school, before driving him home and shooting him too. Immediately after the murders, List vanished, and remained a wanted fugitive for nearly 20 years until America’s Most Wanted broke the case and discovered Robert Clark, as List was now known, living in Richmond, Virginia. He was finally arrested, sentenced to five consecutive life terms in prison for the murders, and died in custody in 2008.
7. Kenisha Berry
Men may kill their children as often as woman do according to statistics, but the ways in which women murder their children sometimes takes on a much more sadistic quality, almost as if it’s some sort of punishment for making them a mother in the first place. Take Kenisha Berry of Texas for example. On November 29, 1998, she placed duct tape across the body and mouth of her four-day-old son, and then placed him in a black plastic trash bag and left his body in a dumpster to rot, resulting in his death. It took five years to identify the newborn; only after Kenisha dumped another newborn child into a ditch during June of 2003. The child was covered in hundreds of fire-ant bites, resulting in a month long hospitalization due to seizures brought on by the bites. Finally, in 2004 Kenisha Berry was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for murdering her baby.
6. China Arnold
Easily one of the more shocking cases of filicide, China Arnold was already a degenerate with 2 previous convictions from Dayton, Ohio before, on August 30, 2005, she was accused of killing her 3-week-old daughter. After an argument with her boyfriend over whom the child’s father was, Arnold placed the baby, Paris, into a microwave and, according to medical examiners “literally cooked her for at least 2 minutes.” As many times as Arnold has appealed her sentence of life in prison without parole, she has always done so to no avail. As Judge Mary Wiseman told Arnold during her trial, “no adjectives exist to adequately describe this heinous atrocity. This act is shocking and utterly abhorrent for a civilized society.” Couldn’t agree more.
5. Josh Powell
Tumultuous times in a relationship can sometimes drive a man insane. In Josh Powell’s case it drove him to the mouth of madness. While his marriage was on the rocks, Josh’s 28-year-old wife Susan Powell went missing on December 7, 2009. Josh claims he returned home from camping with the couple’s young sons, Braden and Charlie, to finds Susan missing. Given how cold the temperatures were in Utah in December, investigators didn’t buy Josh’s story, and he soon became a suspect. With mounting evidence linking him to his wife’s disappearance, Josh lost custody of his children to his wife’s parents, and was only granted supervised visitation. With the loss of custody of his children, and mounting evidence that he was responsible for Susan vanishing, Josh finally snapped. On February 5, 2012, while a social worker was taking his sons to Josh’s house for a supervised visit, Josh managed to pull his children inside the home and locked the social worker out. He then proceeded to attack his sons with a hatchet before blowing up his house in a premeditated murder-suicide.
4. Robert Fisher
A few weeks before her death, Mary Fisher told several of her friends she was going to divorce her husband. Sadly for her, her husband was Robert Fisher, an obsessive, controlling, angry man who was so traumatized by his own parents divorce at a young age he decided he’d rather risk suicide, or worse, than allow his children to go through what he went through. Apparently getting wind of the fact that his wife was planning to divorce him, Fisher made good on his promise that his kids wouldn’t experience the trauma of growing up with divorced parents. He ensured they’d endure much worse though. On April 10, 2001, authorities responded to a powerful explosion at the Fisher home in Scottsdale, Arizona. Upon entering the home, police found the remains of Robert’s wife, Mary, and children, Brittney and Bobby Jr. Mary had been shot, and all three of the victims had their throats slit prior to the explosion. Robert and the family’s SUV were gone. Speculation as to whether Fisher committed suicide, or whether he is living under an assumed identity elsewhere remains an ongoing topic of debate, but until any trace of him appears, he remains a fugitive on the FBI’s most wanted list.
3. Diane Downs
It is horrifically inconceivable that a mother would kill her own children in order to continue an affair with a man who didn’t want children in his life, but that is precisely what Diane Downs did. May 19, 1983, a woman named Diane ran into a hospital in Springfield, Oregon and proclaimed that her three children, Danny, Cheryl, and Christie, were all in the back of her car and had been shot. Diane herself even had a gunshot wound in her left forearm. Downs claimed that an unknown attacker attempted to carjack her on a rural road, and had then shot at her and her children. Diane’s daughter Cheryl was pronounced dead from her wounds, but Danny, though paralyzed, and Christie, who suffered a disabling stroke, managed to survive the attack. Investigators were suspicious immediately. Evidence from the car didn’t match Diane’s description of events, and her calm demeanor throughout the ordeal, as well as Christie’s terror whenever in her mother’s presence, further fuelled speculation of Diane’s guilt. Ultimately it was Christie that testified her mother perpetrated the shootings. When she was well enough to speak again, she told police her mother shot her and he siblings. Investigators later uncovered that the main motive for the crime was to continue an affair with a man who didn’t want children in his life. Diane Downs is serving life in prison plus 50 years.
2. Susan Smith
Another cold-blooded psychopath who felt that an affair with a man was more important than her own children, Susan Smith was a South Carolina woman who must have used the Diane Downs playbook on how to keep your affair, while ridding yourself of your children. Similarly using the car jacking story, Smith made a frantic call to the police to report that she had been carjacked, and that the man drove away with her two sons, three-year-old Michael and fourteen-month-old Alex, still inside. Smith’s report set off a massive police search for the vehicle, and set off a media frenzy after she went on television to plead for the safe return of her children. Soon, however, police became suspicious of the inconsistencies in Smith’s story, and after a polygraph test showed clear signs of deception, Susan Smith admitted to killing her children by rolling her car into a lake and drowning them. Again, like Diane Downs, Smith was having an affair with a man who had no interest in having kids of his own, and felt that removing her kids from the equation might make 1+1= 2 again. Unfortunately for Smith, she’ll instead be sitting behind bars to serve out her life sentence.
1. Andrea Yates
Easily one of the most controversial cases of filicide, particularly in recent memory, Texas’ own Andrea Yates has been called both a monster and a victim; a severely mentally ill woman with no control over her actions or a psychopathic killer who deserves to die. Whatever side of the fence one chooses be on, the fact remains; Andrea Yates murdered all five of her children. As early as 1999, Yates began to attempt suicide, leading to numerous psychiatric hospitalizations, which ultimately lead to a diagnosis of post-partum psychosis. Following her diagnosis, Yates was strongly advised not to have any more children; ignoring doctors’ orders, she gave birth to her fifth child in November of 2000. True to the fear her psychiatrists if she chose to have more children, Andrea Yates completely snapped on June 20, 2001, when she drowned all five of her and her husband’s children in the bath tub.
The ensuing legal drama became more engrossing to the public than the actual reason for it in the first pace. Originally, Yates was indicted on capital murder, and plead not guilty by reason of insanity. In 2002, a jury rejected the insanity defense, but also did not seek the death penalty, instead sentencing Yates to life imprisonment. And it gets more convoluted. In 2005, the conviction of life in prison was reversed based on the fact that one of the prosecution’s witnesses had submitted false testimony. Finally, in 2006 Yates was found not guilty in a court of law by reason of insanity, and committed to a mental hospital where she remains locked up today. But still, the debate rages on. Was Andrea Yates a mentally ill woman driven to her breaking point after the birth of her fifth child, or is she the evil monster that many others call her, a wicked woman who, in full capacity, murdered her children. Regardless of who or what she is, the fact remains, all five of her children are dead because of her. Sometimes the media, and those who wish to protect this woman, or demonize her, fail to remember that.