Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Fathers Who Kill

Contagion Effect?

MaryJane Longo
MaryJane Longo

Well-publicized violent events sometimes trigger other people on the edge to act out in a similar fashion. They don't necessarily know that they're acting for this reason, but having seen the very act they may have been pondering put into effect may be just enough fuel for the fire. "It becomes part of the repertoire of coping methods that people might consider," Ewing said in an interview. There was much discussion about this effect in Oregon in 2002 after three families were found dead.

Christian Longo married Mary Jane Baker in 1993 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. They were both Jehovah's Witnesses and they remained in Michigan to work hard so they could afford to raise a family. By 2000, they had three children, a boy and two girls. Then Longo was caught and convicted of forging checks, and their fortunes went into a serious decline. They left the state in mid-2001 and went to Newport, Oregon, where Longo got a low-paying job at a Starbucks. He also got into trouble again. Then the family just disappeared.

Christian Longo in custody
Christian Longo in custody

On December 19, 2001, the body of the boy, Zachary, was pulled out of the water of Alsea Bay. They soon found Sadie Ann, the second oldest. A week later, MaryJane and the baby were found by divers. Both had been strangled and tossed into the water. Family possessions were located in a nearby trash can.

Longo was located in Cancun, Mexico, but he had already fled. They found him in a grass hut in Tulum, trysting with a German woman.

Bryant parents, portrait
Bryant parents, portrait

Less than three months later, in March 2002, the community of McMinnville, just south of Portland, was shaken when a family of six was found shot dead in their home. Landscaping contractor Robert Bryant apparently shot his wife, Janet, and their four children before turning the shotgun on himself. The children were all found in their beds. From all reports, they had last been seen at school on February 22, and no one had thought much about them disappearing for more than ten days. Like the Longos, this family had belonged to the Jehovah's Witnesses faith, but reportedly had been shunned by their former community for conduct not in harmony with the religion's principles. (Flaccus reports it was because Bryant believed he had been anointed for a special purpose.)

Bryant children, victims
Bryant children, victims

Bryant was described as deeply religious, mild-mannered, and devoted to his family, so the massacre came as a surprise to many who knew them. He'd had plans to build a nice home and nothing appeared to be so terrible in his life as to inspire such an act. There were rumors that he feared that relatives who belonged to the church would sue for custody of his children, so perhaps he was protecting them from that. Bryant had also filed for bankruptcy the year before, but had rebuilt his business and was getting back on his feet. The day he shot everyone and used the same shotgun on himself was his and Janet's 17th wedding anniversary.

The sudden deaths remain a mystery.

Mrs. Morris and children
Mrs. Morris and children

Nine months later, Edward Morris, 37, killed his pregnant wife and three young children. A hunter found their bodies in Oregon's Tillamook State Forest. Morris' wife and two sons had been shot, his 8-year-old daughter stabbed 18 times. He had fled, but after an international manhunt, was caught not far away in Baker City, Oregon. He, too, had been on the brink of financial ruin. He, too, was deeply religious, but as an evangelical Christian. He so hated violence that he had home-schooled his children to keep them away from disruptions at school. He doted on them as the centerpiece of his life. He had filed for bankruptcy in 1993 for his roofing business, but had not quite recovered from it. He had worked at a series of jobs and was plagued with financial problems. During pre-trial evaluations, he said that he'd been plagued by the voices of demons and had struggled against them, but they had told him to kill.

Edward Morris in court
Edward Morris in court

Christian Longo went on trial on seven counts of murder (in Oregon, the killing of a child under a certain age counts as two). Held against him was the 60-page down-loaded file found on his abandoned computer that detailed how to commit a murder. After killing his family, he had stuffed his wife and infant daughter into separate suitcases, reports Andrew Kramer for the Decatur Daily News, and dumped them into the bay. He had then tossed his other two children into a lagoon. He told FBI agents who caught him that he had "sent them to a better place." He said that he had been "disfellowshipped" by his church and he had no money, so things had been looking bleak. He had not wanted his family to suffer.

Longo, who was described by a psychiatrist as narcissistic, was convicted of the charges and sentenced to death.

These three are good examples of men who seek structure in their lives and failing to find it, fall apart and target those close to them whom they once loved but who have become burdens. While none of these three was considered psychotic, there are rare individuals who do buckle under increasing stress and literally lose their minds.

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