Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Fathers Who Kill


A man was found slumped over the steering wheel of his truck in Teaneck, New Jersey. Also inside, his two children, 10 and 12, were dead. It looked like a murder/suicide that had failed in the second part. But what it seemed at first glance failed to hold up in light of the pattern of lies the "victim" had told over the years. The children, investigators learned, had been suffocated. The man had likely faked his suicide attempt. Given how much else he had faked, and how central he was in his own world, it seemed likely the children had just been hapless pawns.

Avi Kostner was described by some, says Seamus McGraw in the Bergen Record, as a con artist. He easily bragged about things he never had done, from helping to liberate Jerusalem to attaining impressive college degrees, and he managed to persuade people to believe him---even to support him. He often got free services and at one point a Jewish congregation was actually paying his rent. People soon learned to check the records, because it was more likely than not that Kostner was exaggerating his problems, his exploits, and his credentials, if not making them up altogether.

The records did show that his Amway business had failed in 1983 and he had declared bankruptcy. Afterward, he had sponged off his wife, who often worked several jobs at once to support them. But he still tried to control the money and he resented anything she spent on herself. She had converted to Judaism after they married, but eventually had enough of this freeloading con who was dragging them more deeply into debt. She had filed for divorce and remarried. At the time of the murders, she was planning to move to Florida with the children.

Kostner had been locked in a custody battle with her, but the children had pleaded with the court to not force them to spend time with their obsessive, volatile father. The youngest boy had grown increasingly troubled and had spoken of suicide.

Kostner had refused to pay child support and had wanted people in the Jewish community to pay his legal bills as he fought this law. Sometimes he succeeded in winning someone over, but people slowly grew alert to his narcissistic attitude of entitlement.

As the trial approached, Kostner pleaded guilty to killing his children. He had drugged them and then suffocated them. He also suggested a motive: Apparently he had been disturbed by the idea that his ex-wife might not raise them in the Jewish faith. She had converted back to Christianity and had expressed a desire to let the children decide their religion for themselves. Like many controlling men who believe their families are extensions of themselves, Kostner could not allow that. So he had killed them.

The death penalty was considered but ultimately rejected, and Kostner went to prison. In 2000, he died from cancer.

Even more deadly was the "Shoe-maker," whose story remains ambiguous. He not only killed one of his children, but committed what some psychiatrists call "soul murder" on another. Whether he was psychotic or psychopathic is anyone's guess.


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