Family Annihilators: 11 Men Who Took Their Families' Lives
Family annihilators are people who kill multiple members of their own families, often in response to financial, professional, or relational stressors. According to a study of family annihilators, the majority of these killers are men in their 30s. In addition, people who committed familicide often did so on the weekend, when they had the most access to their family members.
This list examines 11 cases of family annihilators who cut their loved ones' lives tragically short.
- Photo: Weld County Sheriff's Department / Fair Use
In August 2018, Chris Watts's pregnant wife, Shannan, and their two young daughters went missing. When news crews arrived at the Watts home to interview Chris, they described him as aloof and “cavalier,” which immediately raised the public's - and authorities' - suspicions.
Watts claimed his wife returned home from a business trip, then promptly disappeared with their children. He admitted they'd had "an emotional conversation" the night before she left, but confirmed it was nothing too serious. He even went so far as to tell an officer, "I couldn't sleep at all last night," and that he "missed [my children] throwing chicken nuggets at me, honestly, last night" hours after he killed them.
Further investigation uncovered Shannan's body buried in a shallow grave, and authorities found the bodies of Bella and Celeste placed in a tank on the oil field outside of Denver where Chris Watts worked. Records showed the family was deeply in debt, having declared bankruptcy a few years prior to the murders.
The week after Watts's televised interview, when his father flew to town allegedly to comfort him, the senior Watts reportedly convinced his son to turn himself in to the authorities. Watts made a complete confession on August 16, 2018. He was charged with three counts of murder.
On November 6, 2018, Watts pleaded guilty to nine charges. In exchange for his guilty plea, he was spared the death penalty. On November 19, 2018, he was sentenced to five life sentences - three consecutive and two concurrent - with no parole.
Robert William Fisher
According to law enforcement, on April 10, 2001, 39-year-old Navy veteran Robert William Fisher shot his wife, Mary, in the head and slit her throat. Authorities believe he then repeated the latter action on his 10-year-old son, Robert Jr., and 13-year-old daughter, Brittney.
After murdering his family, Fisher set the family’s Scottsdale, AZ, home on fire, fleeing the house before a natural gas line caused a massive explosion. Once firefighters extinguished the blaze, they found the family's bodies inside the home and quickly determined the woman and two children had been murdered.
Shortly after the killings, police named Fisher a suspect in the murders, believing he had committed familicide because he thought his wife was planning to leave him, and he didn’t want to subject his children to the stress of divorce. Fisher, an experienced hunter and outdoorsman, has never been found, and the authorities suspect he may have taken his own life - or started a new one with a different identity.
- Photo: Union County Sheriff's Office / Fair Use
On November 9, 1971, 46-year-old accountant John List killed his entire family in their Westfield, NJ, mansion. List used a revolver and a semi-automatic handgun to end the lives of his wife, Helen (46); his mother, Alma (84); and his children, Patricia (16), Frederick (13), and John Frederick (15).
After murdering his entire family, List left the house to start a new life with a different identity. Because the middle-aged accountant had planned the killings well in advance, canceling services to the home and telling employers and schools the family was going on an extended vacation, the bodies of his mother, wife, and three children weren’t discovered for nearly a month.
List left behind a letter, in which he claimed he had killed his family because of financial problems and a sense that his children were becoming immoral and less religious. For nearly two decades, the mass murderer evaded police, until the case was featured on a 1989 episode of America’s Most Wanted. The segment about the killings included an age-progressed bust of List created by a forensic sculptor, and one of the fugitive’s acquaintances recognized him and called in a tip leading to his arrest.
In April 1990, List was convicted of five counts of first-degree murder, and he was given five consecutive life sentences for the killings. While in prison custody, List died on March 21, 2008, at the age of 82.
Over the course of one week in December 1987, 47-year-old Ronald Gene Simmons, a retired serviceman who served in both the Navy and the Air Force, murdered 14 members of his family, including his wife, children, grandchildren, daughter-in-law, and son-in-law, as well as a stranger and an acquaintance. Simmons’s victims ranged in age from 1 to 46, and he killed them by either shooting them or strangling them to death.
His killing spree started on December 22, 1987, when he murdered his wife and six children in their Arkansas home, and it continued on December 26, 1987, when he took the lives of seven additional family members when they arrived at his house for a post-Christmas celebration. Two days later, on December 28, 1987, he murdered a young woman with whom he was obsessed, and then he went on a rampage in Russellville, AK, killing one man and wounding several others.
Simmons was arrested, tried, and convicted of 16 counts of murder. He was executed by lethal injection on June 25, 1990, at the age of 49. Simmons never explained why he killed his family, although investigators later discovered he’d sexually abused one of his daughters and she had given birth to his child.
- Photo: Lisa Reese / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0
In June 2007, 40-year-old professional wrestler Chris Benoit strangled his 43-year-old wife, Nancy, and suffocated his 7-year-old son, Daniel, before hanging himself from a weight machine in the basement of the family's Fayetteville, GA, home.
Law enforcement discovered the family's bodies on June 25, 2007, after no one had been able to get in touch with Chris or Nancy for a number of days. Investigators found Bibles next to the victims' bodies, and a search of Chris Benoit's computer led them to believe he may have tried to resuscitate his son after killing him.
Much speculation has persisted regarding why Benoit murdered his wife and child before ending his own life. Following his death, scans of Benoit's brain revealed severe damage caused by concussions suffered during his long wrestling career, leading his father to attribute the familicide to these extensive injuries.
However, toxicology tests revealed steroids in Benoit's system at the time of his death, causing some to believe he may have murdered his family as a result of "'roid rage." Benoit's exact motives have never been revealed.
- Video: YouTube
On August 26, 2008, 49-year-old British businessman Christopher Foster murdered his wife, Jill, and teenage daughter, Kirstie, shooting them and the family’s many dogs and horses before pouring 200 gallons of oil all over his mansion in Shropshire, England.
After setting the home ablaze, he climbed into bed next to his dead wife, and he eventually died from smoke inhalation. Security cameras posted around the property captured the tragedy, allowing law enforcement to learn exactly how Foster carried out the murders.
An investigation after the familicide also revealed why Foster, who lived in an opulent home worth well over a million dollars, committed murder, suicide, and arson. While Foster made millions developing materials for the oil industry, he spent his fortune on expensive sports cars simply to keep up appearances. When his business began to fail, creditors started threatening to repossess his assets, including his mansion.
Officials believe Foster decided to murder his family and take his own life rather than admit to the dire nature of their finances.