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Killer Dads by Mary Papenfuss

Killer Dads

The Twisted Drives That Compel Fathers to Murder Their Own Kids

By Mary Papenfuss

Pub Date: June 11th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1616147433
Publisher: Prometheus Books

A former crime reporter takes on the unthinkable topic of men who murder their own children in this book that melds true crime, anthropology, and issues of social justice.

Papenfuss (Climb Against the Odds, 2013) presents five main crimes, offering them variously as examples of a specific type of killer or killing: those that are driven by either a sense of rage or a perverse sense of protectiveness, “family annihilations,” a cult-like level of control gone haywire, straight-up sociopathy (this the case of Scott and Laci Peterson, which the author covered for the New York Daily News), and so-called “honor killings.” The descriptions—interspersed with briefer examples of equally horrific crimes—are detailed and graphic, the writing bordering on sensationalistic in a way that will both titillate and disturb. Papenfuss takes a more intellectual tone in her early chapters about the evolutionary and social underpinnings of male violence against family members, which provide a fascinating subtext for the subsequent analyses of specific crimes. From Langur monkeys in India, to fairy tales and Shakespearian dramas about dysfunctional step-parent relationships, to mass family murders in early America, she argues convincingly that infanticide is not the shocking aberration we would like to think it is, but it is rather, to some degree, encoded into our biology and culture. She supports this hypothesis with a barrage of statistics (which, while compelling, hamper her readability) and points out problems within the law enforcement, social welfare, and criminal justice systems that impede our ability to evolve beyond the brutality of our primitive selves. Papenfuss’s progressive slant is apparent, as she may very well intend it to be—she quotes several activists and system insiders who argue that meaningful reform will require government funds that are now, they say, being misdirected [234-235]—but for the most part she does not speak in platitudes, and she effectively outlines the complexity of the problem and the elusiveness of solutions. She deftly handles, for instance, the politically-charged issue of Islamic “honor killings” in the case of murdered Dearborn, Michigan, teen Jessica Mokdad, and in her concluding chapter she admits, “I assumed when I got to the end of my book, some solutions to the problem of fathers killing children would be obvious. They weren’t.” [234]

Informative, provocative, and challenging in a way that belies its somewhat silly title, this book is a must-read for those interested in criminal psychology and issues of domestic violence.