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American Roulette

The Untold Story of Murder-Suicide in the United States

Trends Identified From the Study

Listed below are murder-suicide trends and characteristics as discerned from the VPC analysis. Following each sub-section is an incident taken from the news clips collected for the study illustrating the sub-section's findings.

Following this section is an appendix that lists the number of murder-suicides by state. A separate accompanying document contains the newspaper clips collected for the study, arranged alphabetically by state and then chronologically by month and day. Each clip represents a single murder-suicide. States with no reported murder-suicides during the six-month period are not included in the clip section, but are listed in the appendix.

Seven states had more than 10 murder-suicides in the six-month period of the study. In order, these states were: Florida (35), California (29) and Texas (29), Pennsylvania (17), New York (14), Virginia (12), and Ohio (11). While most of these states have larger populations which would account for the higher number of murder-suicides, Florida seems to have an abnormally high number of incidents. This may be due to Florida's larger elderly population, and the increased risk for suicide among the aged.

Most murder-suicides involve a firearm

In the analysis, 94.5 percent of murder-suicide incidents involved a firearm. For all murder-suicides:

  • 38.9 percent involved a handgun,
  • 6.5 percent involved a rifle,
  • 7.5 percent involved a shotgun,
  • 34.1 percent involved a firearm which was not identified more specifically than "a gun," and,
  • 7.5 percent involved more than one weapon, but one of the weapons was a firearm.

The following chart, "Murder-Suicides with a Firearm," illustrates the distribution of firearm murder-suicides from the VPC analysis in regard to type of firearm used.

All major murder-suicide studies in the United States completed since 1950 have shown that firearms are by far the most common method of committing homicide, with the offender choosing the firearm for suicide as well. Estimates range from firearms being used in 80 percent to 94 percent of cases, but many other weapons, including aircraft, have been used. Firearms are used more often in murder-suicides than in spousal murders alone.6

OREGON: In February 2001, Constance Ihle, 27, called 911 to report that she had just been shot by her husband. When the police arrived, they found her husband, Timothy Ihle, 25, lying on the kitchen floor, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head with a 44 caliber handgun. They found Constance Ihle alive in the upstairs bedroom—she had been shot in the chest with a 9mm handgun by her husband. Before dying at the scene, Constance Ihle told the police that her husband had shot her during an argument.

Most murderers in murder-suicides are male

In this study, 90.4 percent of the offenders were male. Other studies analyzing murder-suicide have found that most perpetrators of murder-suicide are male—more than 90 percent in recent studies of the United States.7 Another study which only looked at murder-suicides involving couples noted that more than 90 percent were perpetrated by men.8 This is consistent with homicides in general, in which nearly 90 percent of homicides are committed by male offenders.9 However, most homicides involve male victims killed by male offenders (65 percent), whereas a male victim being specifically targeted by a male offender in a murder-suicide is relatively rare.

PENNSYLVANIA: In April, David O'Kon waited for his estranged wife outside her parents' home. When she arrived, he shot Marissa Rose O'Kon once in the hand and twice in the head with his 357 caliber Taurus handgun. He then shot himself in the head. Their two-year-old daughter was not injured. Despite attempts to resuscitate the couple, they were pronounced dead at the scene by the coroner. Marissa's cousin described her as "kind, gentle, and giving," before adding, "They always happen in the wrong order, these murder-suicides."

Most murder-suicides involve an intimate partner

The most common type of murder-suicide was between two intimate partners, with the man killing his wife or girlfriend because of a breakdown in their relationship.10 In this study, 73.7 percent of all murder-suicides involved an intimate partner. Of these, 93.5 percent were females killed by their intimate partners. In comparison, for all murders (where the relationship could be determined) 17.2 percent of murder victims were killed by an intimate partner.11 Of these, 61.7 percent were females killed by their intimate partners.12

Representing one half to three fourths of all murder-suicides in the United States, this type of murder-suicide typically involves a man between the ages of 18 and 60 years old who develops suspicions of his girlfriend's or wife's infidelity, becomes enraged, murders her, and then commits suicide—usually using a firearm.13 Often, he will also kill the children of himself and the intimate partner.

TEXAS: In January, Lucio Franco, Sr., 24, shot his wife and family with a shotgun before killing himself with the same weapon. Each of the family members, wife Maria, 21, and the children Lucio, Jr., five, Diana, four, Juana, two, and Isaac, nine months, had been shot at close range and had been found on a bed. Investigators believe that domestic discord and economic problems played a role in the incident.

Most murderers are older than their victims

While murder-suicide victims and offenders span all ages, on average the victims, usually female intimate partners, were several years younger than the offenders.14 In this study—excluding parents, in-laws, and children involved in murder-suicide, which would skew the age results—the average age difference between the offender and primary victim was 6.6 years. Overall, the age difference ranged from none to 48 years. Other studies on fatal violence for spouses have found that there is a greater risk of homicide victimization as the age difference between the husband and wife increases.15

MAINE: In February, Harold "Bones" Gray, 68, shot and killed his wife, Christina Gray, 24, and her sister, Vicki Morgan, 19, before turning the gun on himself. The Grays had been married for four years, but were separated and in the process of getting a divorce. Christina Gray had taken out a protection order on her husband in November 2000, an order he was arrested for violating in January 2001. All three were mortally wounded in the parking lot of a convenience store.

Most murder-suicides occur in the home

In this study, 76.0 percent of murder-suicides occurred in the home. For intimate partners, however, 79.5 percent of incidents occurred in the home. Though not specified in most studies, available data confirm that the home of the offender and/or victim is the deadliest place for murder-suicide. Within the home, more murder-suicides are committed in the bedroom than any other room.16

MICHIGAN: In February, the bodies of Richard Gordon Durham, 52, and Kelly Lee Durham, 37, were discovered in their Douglas Mobile Estates home after the couple had secluded themselves for the weekend. Richard Durham had shot his wife in the head and then shot himself. The police reported that he still had the gun in his hand when the couple was found. The Durhams had been married for four months.

The gender of the murderer makes a difference in murder-suicide victims

Women tend to kill their children and themselves, but not their intimate partners. Men, on the other hand, tend to kill their children, themselves, and their intimate partners as well. For example, if a parent kills the children and then commits suicide, but spares the other adult partner, the offender is usually the children's mother. Conversely, fathers are more likely to kill the entire family, including the other parent.17

In this study, one fourth of murder-suicide incidents with a female killer involved the woman killing her children and herself, with 71.4 percent of these women using a firearm. Less than one tenth of incidents with a female killer involved a woman killing her children as well as her intimate partner, with a firearm used in each incident. In contrast, 4.2 percent of murder-suicide incidents with a male killer involved a man killing only his children and himself, with all fathers using firearms.

COLORADO: In April, John Bishop, 41, shot his 38-year-old wife Sherrill, their nine-year-old son Andy, and their twin six-year-old daughters Kelley and Meghan, with a low-caliber rifle, before turning the gun on himself. Everyone in the family had been shot in the head. The police believe that money pressures were linked to the murder-suicide, yet the family was reportedly well-off financially, with both parents having master's degrees.

RHODE ISLAND: In March, Heather Whidden, 25, shot her son, Mingo Khalil Whidden, seven, and her daughter, Cordellia Miriam Whidden, two, with a 22 caliber semi-automatic handgun before shooting herself. She had purchased the gun earlier that month, telling the clerk she intended to use it for target practice. Police were alerted to the scene by a phone call from the woman's boyfriend, Gregory E. Procopio, 32, who was also the father of the little girl. The reason for the deaths was unknown.

Police may have higher murder-suicide rates

Several of the murder-suicide incidents in this study involved either current or former law enforcement officers. Some stories indicated that the shooter used his service weapon. It is estimated that twice as many police officers commit suicide as are killed in the line of fire. Studies that compare suicide rates show that law enforcement suicide rates exceed rates for both the general population and age/gender matched groups.18 No studies deal specifically with police officers involved in murder-suicide, but one reason for the higher suicide or murder-suicide rates may be the easy accessibility to firearms.

NEW YORK: In June, Detective Edwin Patten, 30, shot his girlfriend, Officer Stacie Williamson, 28, four times and then shot himself. Patten used his 9mm service pistol in the shooting, which took place in Williamson's home. The couple, both undercover police officers, had been dating about a year and there were no signs of prior domestic problems.

Unique factors may drive murder-suicide among the elderly

In this study, 20.6 percent of murder-suicides had an offender 55 years of age or older. This is relatively consistent with the fact that 21.1 percent of the U.S. population is 55 years or older. However, 44.1 percent of Florida's murder-suicides involved an offender 55 years of age or older, even though only 27.6 percent of its population is 55 years of age or older. If most murder-suicides involve jealousy, a smaller, discrete category exists involving older people and the presence of declining health in either the victim, the offender, or both. Older people rarely commit homicide. In 1999, only 5.4 percent of known homicide offenders were 55 years of age or older.19 Suicide, however, is disproportionately represented in this age group, with 28.7 percent of suicide victims being 55 years of age or older.20

FLORIDA: In June, retired police lieutenant Richard Zachary, 77, shot his wife, Blanche Zachary, 75, as he pushed her in her wheelchair on a sidewalk close to her nursing home. Richard Zachary then shot himself with the 38 caliber revolver which he had carried on duty. The couple had been married for 50 years. Police were not sure if the incident was planned or spontaneous, but friends of the Zachary's stated that Blanche's health had been deteriorating rapidly after a series of strokes.

MICHIGAN: In March, James Leon Russell, 66, called 911 and asked emergency workers to send two body bags to his home. When police arrived, they found Russell and his sister, Joanne, 77, shot to death. A one-page note on the kitchen table stated: "To the cops: I'm tired of living, and my sister Joanne's Alzheimer's disease is deteriorating rapidly. Therefore I'm putting us both out of our misery. Call it euthanasia."


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The Violence Policy Center is a national non-profit educational foundation that conducts research on violence in America and works to develop violence-reduction policies and proposals. The Center examines the role of firearms in America, conducts research on firearms violence, and explores new ways to decrease firearm-related death and injury.