Experts: Rampages linked to tough times

03/31/2010 12:00 AM

03/31/2010 2:05 AM

As Charlotte-Mecklenburg police piece together why a 33-year-old Charlotte man killed his wife and two children, experts say there is often a thread that runs through such crimes: At a time in life when things should be going well, family killers find themselves failing to reach their and society's expectations.

Kenneth Chapman killed himself Monday night at a southeast Charlotte apartment complex as police came to his door to investigate a call about his wife, Nateesha. Police believe Chapman killed his wife and children, 12-year-old Na'Jhae Parker and 13-month-old Nakyiah Jael Chapman, several days earlier.

Family annihilations, in which a spouse and children are killed by a family member, occur 15 to 20 times a year in the U.S., said Jack Levin, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston. Those numbers increase during times of economic difficulty, said Levin, who has been studying such crimes for 25 years.

"During times of high unemployment, family annihilations more often involve a suicidal rampage," said Levin. "The killer has suffered some sort of economic loss. Usually it's the loss of his job or a great deal of money, and he feels that life is no longer worth living."

Although police haven't released a motive for the crime, the Observer has learned that the Chapmans had faced three eviction notices since September. Chapman had no arrests in North Carolina since the family moved here nine months ago from West Virginia, and police had no reports of domestic violence involving him.

Experts say family annihilators are almost always male and most often in their 30s and 40s - "at the very time in life where success should be happening," Levin said. The killings often represent an attempt to reestablish control they've lost over their lives.

The killers generally fall within two profiles: those who are seeking revenge on a partner - "the classic angry batterers," said Neil Websdale, a professor at Northern Arizona University and author of the book "Familicidal Hearts" - and those who seek a way out of the despondency they feel.

In those cases, children are caught in what Levin calls a "perverted sense of love."

"The murder/suicide totally represents to them the well-being of his family members," he said. "It sounds bizarre to someone who is normal." Observer reporter Ely Portillo contributed

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