Murder suicides by men should get no sympathy: Cleary

A matter of control: Geoff Hunt murdered his wife and three children in rural NSW last week.
A matter of control: Geoff Hunt murdered his wife and three children in rural NSW last week.

Men who murder their children and families, before killing themselves, should not receive society's sympathy but its condemnation, says a former Labor MP and anti-violence campaigner.  

Phil Cleary, a former federal MP whose sister was choked to death by her former husband in a fit of jealous rage, said the death of women and children at the hands of a husband and father - such as the alleged murder-suicide of the Hunt family in Lockhart last week - was "a patriarchal murder".

"It is still driven by a view of women and children as commodities to be controlled by a man. Even if a man makes a decision to kill his family because he thinks it is virtuous, it is a disgraceful act that we should condemn." 

Former MP Phil Cleary says there can be no excuse for violent men.

Former MP Phil Cleary says there can be no excuse for violent men.

If Geoff Hunt was mentally ill, his neighbours and friends say there were no signs, something that is typical of many suicides, particularly by men. But Mr Cleary points out that "the logical extension of depression is not murder". 

Although murder-suicides grab the headlines, they are very rare. They account for less than  2 per cent of the 2500 suicides, said the Black Dog Institute's chief researcher Professor Helen Christensen, who heads the NHMRC research centre for suicide prevention. 

In NSW, there have been a total of 51 murders of children under 18 by a parent in the past 10 years, peaking at 11 in 2008 and in 2011, falling to two in 2013. These statistics don't reveal whether it was the mother or father who killed the child, but most experts agree that more men kill their children and their wives than women kill their families. Around one woman is killed by her partner or former partner each week.

Cindy Gambino's three sons were murdered by her former husband Robert Farquharson in 2005.

Cindy Gambino's three sons were murdered by her former husband Robert Farquharson in 2005.

The statistics are similar in the United States, where about 800 of the 38,500 deaths by suicide are murder-suicides, says expert Thomas Joiner. In his controversial new book, The Perversion of Virtue: Understanding Murder Suicide, he argues that many men who kill their families are perversely motivated by virtue.

"To mention virtue's involvement in atrocity is surprising, and many cringe reading that," he admits.  But there was often a distorted belief by a male perpetrator that his children and wife would be worse off without them, or that they are doing the right thing by ending their suffering. 

"You are sure that people you care for will suffer badly, and that death will bring a quick end to their ongoing ordeal. Imagine further that you are quite certain that death is best for them. "  

Dr Joiner cites the Lupoe family, where the recently laid off parents killed their five children, aged two to eight, before killing themselves.

"So after a horrendous ordeal my wife felt it better to end our lives and why leave our children in someone's else's hands," Ervin Lupoe wrote in a suicide note. 

Mr Cleary says Dr Joiner's theory is questionable, even if the perpetrator is mentally ill. "It may be that a person thinks that, but it is a perverted view based on patriarchal notions on the control of women," he said. Referring to the case of Robert Farquharson, who murdered his three sons in Victoria in 2005, he said: "When Farquharson drove his children into the dam, that was a crude revenge killing. My sister's was a revenge killing."  

smh.com.au