Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Her Father's Daughter - The Kathleen Folbigg Story

Looking for Answers

Following the trial, Melbourne University Associate Professor Anne Buist, an expert in post-birth psychiatric disorders, told reporters that genetic predisposition, along with the loss of her mother at a young age, could have led Kathleen Folbigg to murder her children. We know her father killed her mother, so we know there is potentially a genetic issue there, she said.

Professor Buist also discussed the issue of neglect or emotional abuse of young children. A lot of studies have shown this can affect your development very significantly, she said. Both your brain development, your actual structural biological development if it starts early enough, as well as development at the level of not having a good parenting model, self esteem.

Leading Sydney forensic psychiatrist Rod Milton, who gave evidence at Ivan Milats Backpacker Murder trial also agrees that the genetic implications of the case could not be rejected. We cant discount what the father said If I let her (mother) live she would have killed the kid'.

I mean, it might be true, and that raises the genetic issue . . . that maybe there's some sort of genetic tendency. We're in the land of not knowing, but to exclude it would be folly. The obvious genetic implications can't be rejected.

I think she must have lacked empathy for them, otherwise I don't see how she could have killed them," he said.

When asked if he thought Folbigg was mad or bad, he answered, She certainly wasn't mad. Whether she was bad is in the judgment of others and not for me to say.

When asked if it would be possible to rehabilitate her, he said, The idea of her being released while still of child-bearing age is one that doesn't inspire much confidence.

According to the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, infant homicides are classified as deaths purposefully inflicted by other persons on children less than one year old.

Studies from the same source also indicate that homicide is the leading cause of injury deaths among infants under one year of age in the United States and is the 15th leading cause of infant mortality from all causes.

In Australia, the Australian Institute of Criminology reports similar statistics: More infants under the age of one year are murdered each year in Australia than die in either motor traffic accidents, accidental poisonings, falls or drowning. Between 1989 and 1993 an average of 27 children aged under 15 were murdered each year in Australia. Almost two thirds of these children were aged five or less. Around half of all children killed by assault were under one year of age.

In a controversial article in Australias New Weekly magazine, Judy Wright, a criminologist at the Australia Institute of Public Safety in Melbourne, revealed the findings of her own investigation which she says shows that women are getting away with murder.

Her 1990 study revealed difficulties in prosecuting mothers that kill their children because a mothers role is revered in society. Her study also indicates that when women are brought to trial for killing their children they mostly rely on mental disorders as their defense, she said. Its all due to beliefs that no sane woman could be capable of wanting to kill her own child.

We look for explanations to say those mothers who kill must be sick not bad, just mad. Though we rather not think about it, women are capable of killing for the same reasons as men anger, revenge and power, she said.

To reach her findings, Wright examined hundreds of autopsy reports, coroners findings, Victorian Police homicide statistics and Supreme Court files as she investigated the deaths of seventy-four children between 1978 and 1990. She discovered that more than half had been murdered by their mothers, and in 11 cases women killed more than one child. Children had been drowned, set alight, stabbed, suffocated and one baby had even been thrown out of a window by its mother who was furious at her partner for paying attention to their dog.

There were other deaths where mothers sketchy explanations sounded suspicious, and 16 where the cause was undetermined. Many werent charged with murder, though there were clearly elements of rational planning in the offences. Those who were charged received lenient sentences after arguing they were traumatized, and others were given probation. Most were considered unwell and were treated accordingly.

As a result of her research, Wright also believes that many homicides have been falsely attributed to SIDS.

Its a tragic excuse because it really devalues the pain of parents who genuinely lose children to SIDS she says.

Allan Cala, the forensic pathologist who voiced his suspicions after conducting an autopsy on Laura Folbigg agrees saying that homicide, accidental death and illness should be fully explored before reaching a diagnosis of SIDS.

He also believes that many pathologists give SIDS as the cause on death certificates to spare parents the trauma of a coronial inquest.

This may have also been the case for Kathleen Folbigg had it not been for her habit of writing down her innermost thoughts as without the damning evidence they contained she may never have been convicted or even brought to trial.

Even more disturbing is that at the time her case went to trial she was considering getting married a second time. She may have even considered having more children.

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