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Open Access Research article

Differences between homicide and filicide offenders; results of a nationwide register-based case-control study

Hanna Putkonen1*, Ghitta Weizmann-Henelius1, Nina Lindberg2, Markku Eronen1 and Helinä Häkkänen34

Author Affiliations

1 Vanha Vaasa hospital, PO Box 13, 65381 Vaasa, Finland

2 Helsinki University Central Hospital, Department of Adolescent Psychiatry, PO Box 590, 00029 HUCH, Hesinki, Finland

3 Department of Psychology, PO Box 9, 00014 University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland

4 National Bureau of Investigation, Forensic Laboratory, PO Box 285, 01301, Vantaa, Finland

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BMC Psychiatry 2009, 9:27  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-9-27

Published: 29 May 2009

Abstract

Background

Filicide, the killing of one's child, is an extraordinary form of homicide. It has commonly been associated with suicide and parental psychiatric illness. In the research on filicide, nationwide studies with comparison groups, specific perpetrator subgroups, and assessment of possible risk factors have been called for. The purpose of the current study was to provide all that.

Methods

In this nationwide register-based case-control study all filicide offenders who were in a forensic psychiatric examination in Finland 1995–2004 were examined and compared with an age- and gender matched control group of homicide offenders. The assessed variables were psychosocial history, index offence, and psychiatric variables as well as psychopathy using the PCL-R.

Results

Filicide offenders were not significantly more often diagnosed with psychotic disorders than the controls but they had attempted suicide at the crime scene significantly more often. Filicide offenders had alcohol abuse/dependence and antisocial personality less often than the controls. Filicide offenders scored significantly lower on psychopathy than the controls. Within the group of filicide offenders, the psychopathy items with relatively higher scores were lack of remorse or guilt, shallow affect, callous/lack of empathy, poor behavioral controls, and failure to accept responsibility.

Conclusion

Since filicide offenders did not seem significantly more mentally disordered than the other homicide offenders, psychiatry alone cannot be held responsible for the prevention of filicide. Extensive international studies are needed to replicate our findings and provide more specific knowledge in order to enhance prevention.