Beyond the Headlines – Murder in the Family

Parricide is the technical term for what society regards as one of the most abominable crimes – the murdering of a parent or close relative. Although rare, cases of children murdering one or both parents always generate widespread revulsion, followed by desperate attempts to find out why. And sometimes there is no reason, apart from some sort of psychic upheaval within the dark recesses of the human mind.


The Menendez Murders

It was a crime that would shock America. A wealthy and respectable middle-aged couple Jose and Kitty Menendez were gunned down in their Beverly Hills home in an apparently motiveless attack. It was 20 August 1989.

Seven months later police arrested and charged two suspects with murder – and in a further shocking twist in the case the public soon learned their identity. They were 21-year-old Lyle and 18-year-old Erik Menendez, the sons of the murdered couple.

They initially denied any knowledge of the crime, but subsequently attracted the attention of authorities through their lavish lifestyle, purchasing expensive cars, property and departing on luxury overseas holidays. This lavish spending began only months after the killings.

They were eventually charged with the murder of their parents – to which they later confessed. However they claimed that they had acted in self-defence after years of enduring psychological and sexual abuse at home.


Thomas Bartlett (Bart) Whitaker

A shocking home invasion took place on 10 December 2003 at the home of the Whitakers, in Stafford Texas, as the family, returning from a restaurant, were confronted by a lone gunman inside their house. He opened fire killing the mother Patricia and son Kevin, but only wounding the father Kent, and older brother Bart.

Investigating police were utterly shocked to learn that Bart had planned and organised the entire episode, employing two accomplices to do so. The apparent motive was the considerable financial gain from his wealthy parents estate.

He fled to Mexico where he was able to hide out until 2005, when he was finally located and extradited back the United States. He was subsequently found guilty and sentenced to death but this was later commuted to life in prison without parole.

All connected with him found that his detachment and lack of contrition were utterly chilling and that he was callous and calculating in the extreme.


Steven Paul Colver

In June 2009, 47-year-old mother Joanne Witt was savagely attacked in bed at her Eldorado Hills home in California, and stabbed some 20 times, dying soon after.

Investigating police uncovered a tangled web of teenage rebellion and love, intended suicide and gruesome murder – with Joanne’s own daughter Tylar – heavily implicated in the killing.

14-year-old Tylar was involved in an intense romance with her boyfriend, 19-year-old Steven Colver, but when this was discovered by her mother they were ordered to end the relationship.

This generated massive anger and grief in both teenagers, and they decided that the best course of action was to kill the mother and then commit suicide, after which they could be together for all time.

After Joanne Witt was murdered Tylar and Steven took off for San Francisco, intending to suicide together but were arrested by police before they could succeed.

They were subsequently found guilty of murder and Steven Colver received a life sentence, with the prosecution believing that he had actually wielded the knife. However Tyler’s conviction was reduced to second-degree murder after she agreed to testify against Colver. Instead she received a 15-year sentence.


Stacey Lannert

The shocking and controversial case of Stacey Lannert was to have massive consequences that reverberated through the legal system of the US State of Missouri for twenty years after the crime had been committed.

On 4 July 1990 Lannert, an 18 year old, shot her father dead as he lay asleep on a sofa in their family home at St. John in St. Louis, Missouri. . She confessed to the crime soon after, claiming years of sexual abuse and violence as her motive.

Despite this claim, she was charged with first-degree murder and sent to trial.

During the case the Judge refused to allow any claim of self-defence in his instructions to the Jury, because “…under Missouri law, the self-defence argument was not valid because she wasn’t in actual danger at the moment she pulled the trigger.”

In addition, the prosecutors alleged that her story of sexual abuse was a fabrication and that she had murdered her father because she wanted his money.

She was subsequently found guilty and sentenced to life in gaol.

However in a sensational development, after she had served 17 years, the outgoing Governor of Missouri, Matt Blunt, commuted her sentence, commenting that he was satisfied she had in fact suffered “horrible” abuse at the hands of her father.

She was released in 2009.


Tyler Hadley

Tyler Hadley was a troubled young boy, who appeared to be suffering escalating mental health issues through his teen years. He began skipping school and taking drugs, prompting his parents, Blake and Mary-Jo Hadley, to seek the help of a psychiatrist and try intervention through a substance abuse program.

On 16 July 2011, when Tyler was 17, he murdered both parents with a hammer in the family home, and then, bizarrely, held a party at the house later that night, with about 60 of his friends attending.

Police discovered the crime soon after and he was arrested and eventually sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. Prosecutors later claimed that the reason for his violent explosion was that he had discovered his parents were intending to send him to a rehabilitation unit – and he didn’t want to go.


By: R. Whitaker