Fathers Who Kill
When describing in The Mad, the Bad, and the Innocent cases of what she dubs "designer defenses," forensic psychologist Barbara Kirwin details a shocking triple murder by a father whom she calls Gerald Long. From her perspective, the case was a clear example of a man who just couldn't take the increasing pressures of his life anymore so he eliminated the source: his wife and children.
Long had worked in an insurance company for two decades, but lost his job and could not find other work in his field. He tried driving a cab, but had to sell it to pay his debts. In part, his poor financial straits were due to the care his handicapped son, who was blind and deaf, had to receive and to mounting bills from his own growing depression.
Kirwin says that in February 1978, after his wife had gone to work, Long decided to act. He first struck his healthy son, who was asleep, twice with a baseball bat, killing him. With him out of the way, the others would be easier. Long then went into another bedroom, where his handicapped son snuggled in bed with Long's third child, a daughter. As the children watched television together, Long said he wanted to play a game with them and instructed them to close their eyes.
Then with the bat, Long killed the little girl, right next to her brother. Since the boy could not hear or see, he was confused about what was occurring. But before he had a chance to realize anything, he, too, was battered to death.
Long brought his other dead son into this room and sat there with all three for several hours. He was waiting for his wife. He could not allow her to know what had happened. When she walked through the door, she would meet her fate as well.
When she arrived, Long told her to stand in the middle of the living room with her eyes closed. She obeyed, expecting a nice surprise to relieve the burden she had carried so long with the care of their disabled child. Instead, she felt the blow of the bat as it struck her in the head - the same bloody bat that had killed all of her children.
Kirwin dismisses Long's attorney's reasoning at trial as a primitive type of designer defense, which showed Long as a man with a "weak underpinning" who could not tell on that fateful day what was right or wrong. He simply "snapped" and then acted as a machine. He was saving his family from the poverty into which they were sinking.
Even so, the prosecutor conceded that he could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Long had known that what he was doing was morally wrong. The psychiatrist he hired came to the same conclusion as the psychiatrists for the defense: this man had not been aware of what he was doing at the time of the offense. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Julie Salamon, who explored the case fully and who identified Gerald Long as Bob Rowe in Facing the Wind presents Long/Rowe as a male Andrea Yates—a man who desperately tried to fight against homicidal impulses brought on by stress and mental illness but who in the end lost the battle. He did seek help and he did take medication. His defense was no sham. He had genuine problems.
It began with his fears for his handicapped son—what would become of him as he grew up and became an adult? His wife, Mary, was more optimistic and tried to make the best of things, joining groups of other parents with disabled children. To one such group, Bob had said that he and Mary did not intend to be martyrs. He insisted they would find a way to be happy without living a life of sacrifice. If Christopher, their disabled son, was going to make a tragedy of their lives, he had to go.
Some time after Bob lost his job and could see no way out, he began to unravel. He once asked a neighbor to tie him to a fence to keep him from "doing something terrible." His psychiatrist came over to take him to a hospital. He got out but was soon in again with a diagnosis of psychotic depression. He became preoccupied with his dead mother. He admitted having some anxiety over possibly hurting his wife. Then he worried about how he would pay for his hospitalization. He found it humiliating that his wife might need to work to support the family.
After the incident, Rowe remained in the house with the bodies for more than a day, and then drove out to throw himself off a bridge. But he could not do it, so he returned to the house, took sleeping pills, turned up the gas stove, put a plastic bag over his head, and waited for death to come. Instead, a neighbor smelled the gas and called the police. Officers pulled him out of the house and brought him back to consciousness. The DA searched in vain for some self-centered motive for what he had done—insurance, an affair, anything. It seemed Rowe had killed his family because he believed he simply could not support them and they would suffer. He said that while he was killing them, he was loving them.
After Rowe was acquitted, he was treated for a time at a psychiatric institution and then released. He got remarried, had another child, and was able to get back on his feet. Yet he struggled with illness and dementia, and in 1997, Rowe died from cancer.
After a familicide, some men are caught, some admit what they've done, some kill themselves as well, and some try to stage the incident as a stranger murder, as was the case with the Camm family.