Not all killer kids are evil
Contrary to what you see in the movies, children who murder family members are not necessarily psychopaths
Children who murder family members are often not psychopaths, repeat offenders or even naughty at school.
“The movies create this story that everyone has to be a psychopath. Everyone has to be these evil children born this way,” Dr Melanie Moen from the Faculty of Education at the University of Pretoria (UP) said.
Moen and criminologist Professor Christiaan Bezuidenhout from UP published some of the first research in South Africa on children who kill family members, in December in the Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe (Journal for Humanities).
They reviewed the background of these children, their crimes, psychiatric assessments and media reports to find common threads.
According to Stats SA, just under one in four of all murders (24,9%) are committed by family members or someone living in the house. According to the police’s crime statistics, seven out every 10 serious crimes are committed by someone the victim knew.Bezuidenhout said it is difficult to predict human behaviour and how children will react if they reach a “breaking” point.
“There is a complex relationship between a specific person’s genetics and their environment. No one has accurately predicted those underlying factors in every person’s environment, Bezuidenhout said.
“If you are in an environment of abuse, neglect, hardship, negative peers, etc, that stimulate these genetic factors, then you’re sitting with a recipe where there will be a problem.”
They found these children often had weak or no attachment to their primary caregivers, had an unsafe family environment with little support, experienced rejection, felt their emotions were overlooked, and received no support when they experienced loss or disappointment.
Father figures were largely absent, abusive or authoritarian and children were often expected to fit into the parents’ idea of an “ideal” child.
Additional factors included abusive families or extreme parenting styles, such as abuse, neglect and ridicule. These led to anxiety that manifested in aggression over several years, leading to an “explosive catharsis or murderous event” followed by reduced anxiety.
The researchers referenced research that found most children bond with their primary caregiver within the first eight months. This bonding process develops during the first four years of a child’s life.
Bezuidenhout said: “I often think the child attaches with the parent, but the parent does not attach to the child.”Some murders happened after family members suddenly applied sanctions or “tough love” after a child had been spoilt for many years, he said.
“Some children, that often have disorders, believe they will inherit their parents’ money, house, farm or car when they die. The murder is thus premeditated and has a monetary or other reason.
“Let’s say you manage to be a good, balanced, fair, respected, average parent. You’re strict when you have to be. You developed a moral compass and you guide your child to the best of your ability. The odds are very little that this child in a stable, loving home will kill you because they hate you.”
Other children will kill after prolonged abuse to destroy the source of their pain.
“Other children commit murder to hide something that can land them in big trouble.”
Moen said these children often rarely reoffend after the murders. “Some of them go on to get married and have children.”She believes psychological counselling is the solution, because even if a child is guilty, the loss of a parent is a traumatic experience.
However, Bezuidenhout said rehabilitation might not work with children who have personality or behavioural disorders.
“Especially psychopaths do not learn from previous experience, show no remorse and are emotionally switched off. They are poor candidates for rehabilitation and see nothing wrong with their behaviour.”Bezuidenhout said children who go to prison rarely undergo individual therapy and specialised rehabilitation apart from generic anger management programmes.
Moen advises schools to look out for physical signs of abuse or in the writings and drawings of children.
“A lot of children struggle with interpersonal relationships.”
Moen believes communities are often apathetic.
“In some communities it is a feeling of: ‘I don’t want to get involved. I am already overwhelmed with everything that I have to do every day. Now I have to help you as well’.”
Moen said some children show no emotion during the court case, but most crack after the murders, because they do not have the cognitive abilities to withstand the pressure or questioning from the legal system or family.
“Brain development often continues until the mid-twenties.”Murders are often committed with items readily available, such as an axe or a cricket bat. Weapons are often used in households where children were trained how to use a gun from a young age.
Bezuidenhout said girls will often manipulate their boyfriend or a male to kill on their behalf, while boys would commit the murders themselves. He said women often do not commit the murders themselves due to social stigmas and taboos.
“Women are the caretakers and gentle and do not want blood on their hands. It is also often the case with women who want to murder their husbands, who would rather pay someone to do it.”
Don Steenkamp was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison in August 2014 for the triple murder of his father, mother and sister. Don shot Deon, 44, Christel, 43, and Marthella, 14, on Good Friday in 2012 on their farm Naauwhoek near Griekwastad in the Northern Cape. Marthella was also sexually assaulted. Don “discovered” the bodies and told the police he found them after he returned from doing chores in the barn, about 50m from the house. A police official, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Sunday Times at the time that R60,000 was still in the safe after the murders.Phoenix Racing Cloud Theron and Kyle Maspero
Kyle Maspero in 2015 was sentenced to 13 years in jail after strangling the mother of his girlfriend Phoenix Racing Cloud Theron. Rosemary Theron, 39, was a performance artist who was killed in her home in Clovelly, Cape Town on March 7 2013. Maspero strangled Rosemary with a rope. Phoenix Racing Cloud is serving an effective 15 years in jail after she reached a plea agreement.Lotter siblings
Nicolette and Hardus Lotter killed their parents in 2008 in their house in Westville, Durban after they were allegedly brainwashed by Nicolette’s former boyfriend, Mathew Naidoo. Hardus told the court he attacked his mother, Riekie, with a stun gun, hit her with his fists and sat on her for about 15 minutes before Nicolette stabbed her repeatedly. Hardus also strangled his father, Johan, with an electric cable. Naidoo proclaimed himself to be the “third son of God”. Judge Shyam Gyanda said in his judgment the man on the street may find the siblings’ brainwashing theory laughable, but experts have found that thousands of people around the world have been conned by charismatic leaders. Naidoo was sentenced to an effective 25 years in prison, Nicolette to 12 years and Hardus to 10 years.Riaz Kadwa
Riaz Kadwa shot and killed his parents in their bedroom in October 2005 in Mayfair, Johannesburg. Riaz shot his father, plastic surgeon Anwar, eight times. While Anwar lay dying and gasping for breath, Riaz shot his mother, Munira, in the head. He told police intruders killed his parents. Judge Fritz van Oosten referred to Kadwa as a “self-confessed master of conceit”. He was sentenced to 22 years’ imprisonment.
Schalk du Plooy
Drug addict Schalk du Plooy and his friend, Morné Labuschagne, were convicted in 2012 for killing Schalk’s adoptive parents in their home in Dunnottar, Gauteng on December 6 2010. Schalk hit Schalk snr and Theresa on the head with a cricket bat and stabbed them repeatedly with a kitchen knife. He left them for dead in the house before meeting Labuschagne at a garage where they used crack and heroin. They returned to the house and found Schalk snr had moved from the passage to the bed. Schalk took the knife and stabbed his adoptive father in the back. Labuschagne helped Schalk jnr to wrap the bodies and put them in the family’s 4x4 before they were dumped in Brakpan. They also tried to clean the house.
Pending:Henri van Breda
Henri van Breda is currently awaiting his fate after allegedly murdering his father Martin, mother Teresa and brother Rudi with an axe on the night of January 26 and morning of January 27 2015 at the family’s home in the De Zalze Golf Estate in Stellenbosch. His sister Marli survived the attack after she was found bleeding and unconscious. She had major surgery and is said to have retrograde amnesia and no memory of the attacks. The trial was postponed until May 21 in the High Court in Cape Town.