Women wipe out their entire families in one violent, horrifying act. It's true. Your correspondent said it wasn't so in an earlier post, but sure enough, if you keep turning the pages in the histories (going back a decade or two from the present day), you can find them--women who murdered their husbands and children. This should not be astonishing--"there is no new thing under the sun"--but for some reason, I find it so.
That said, it seems clear from the (admittedly paltry) samples of female-authored familicides that the motivations are very different; it is not the same type of crime as familicides committed by men. The two women whose stories I will relay here both murdered their husbands and children not because of a delusional belief that they were better off dead because the family had lost its means of support, but for an even more sickening motivation: insurance money. Sad, sad, sad.
In March, 1987, in Houston, Texas, Mrs. Frances Elaine Newton took out life insurance policies on her husband and daughter. In early April, her husband Adrian, her son Alton, 7, and her daughter Farrah, 21 months old, were shot to death. Mrs. Newton was convicted and sentenced to death. She is scheduled to be executed on September 14, 2005, according to Amnesty International's Pending Executions.
Her sister in crime is Mrs. Robin Lee Row. In February 1992, she went to the duplex where her estranged husband, Randy, and their children, Joshua and Tabitha, were sleeping. She flipped the circuit breaker to the fire alarm. Then she started two fires on the first floor. They died of smoke inhalation. It turns out that Mrs. Row had recently insured their lives for more than a quarter million dollars. It also so happened that Mrs. Row had two other children who met sad fates: a daughter who died of SIDS in 1977 and a son Keith who was killed in a house fire in 1980. There is apparently no execution date set yet for Mrs. Row. There are dozens of websites devoted to saving Mrs. Row from her sentence and an international letter-writing campaign that thus far has proven ineffective.
Mrs. Row's story, and many others, are featured in Women and the Death Penalty in the United States, 1900-1998 by Kathleen A. O'Shea, a nun and social worker who specializes in research on female death row inmates, and in her book, she goes through the list state by state, briefly telling each woman's terrible tale.
While your correspondent has mixed feelings on the ultimate penalty, it is difficult to arouse sympathy for family annihilators of the female persuasion. And given the reputation of Texas governors as "Texecutioners," it seems likely that Mrs. Newton, at least, will one day very soon pay with her life for ending the lives of her children and husband so cruelly.