When it comes to murder, teenage girls do not feature highly in the statistics. In fact out of the murders carried out in the United States in 2015 only 7.7% of offenders were female. Furthermore, only 4.4% of all murder offenders were under the age of 18, with just 7.6% of these being female. While Lizzie Borden was 32-years-old at the time she was accused of murdering both her parents with an axe in 1892 in Fall River, Massachusetts, this is one of the first and most infamous cases of female parricide on record.
Within the files of teenage parricide few cases netted more press attention and public fascination than the case of Canadian Jasmine Richardson. She was just 12-years-old when along with her 23-year-old boyfriend Jeremy Steinke, murdered both her parents and her 8-year-old brother at their home in Alberta. The murders were discovered on 23 April 2006 with Jasmine nowhere to be found leading police initially to fear she had been abducted by the killer. The crime scene however ruled out this notion and soon the forensics began to implicate Jasmine in the crime.
When Jasmine and her boyfriend were found 100 miles away from her home they were both arrested and charged with three counts of murder. Steinke had carried out the murders, stabbing Jasmine’s parents downstairs and then moving upstairs to stab her younger brother to death. Jasmine was in the house at the time of the murders, testifying at her trial that her younger brother was ‘gurgling’ as he died. “I loved him so much. I thought it would bring us closer together,” she told the court of Jeremy Steinke and the killings.
Jasmine Richardson was tried as a juvenile and found guilty of multiple murder in 2007, sentenced to 10 years in prison to include time in a psychiatric care unit. Steinke was also found guilty and he was sentenced to three life sentences behind bars. Jasmine Richardson was released from prison in 2011 under conditional supervision and has returned to Alberta enrolling in classes at University. In 2016 her full sentence was completed.
Three years earlier in Idaho in 2003 a similar case unfolded with 16-year-old Sarah Johnson, who shot and killed both her parents inside the family home before claiming they were killed by an intruder while she was asleep in the adjacent room. While her 19-year-old Mexican boyfriend Bruno Santos was not involved in the murder, it is believed it was her desire to be with him against her parents’ wishes that fuelled her plan for murder. Sarah Johnson used the shotgun of a couple who rented the guest house attached to their home to sneak into her parents’ bedroom late at night and shoot them both multiple times. She has always maintained her innocence in the crime but her statements did not match the evidence found at the crime scene and forensic evidence linked her to the murder weapon and clothing items found at the scene. Sarah Johnson was found guilty of double-murder and sentenced to life in prison.
In parricide research published in 2007 by Heide and Petee in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, parricides of biological parents over a 25 year period between 1976 and 1999 were explored. The study included 5,781 parricide victims with information gathered from the FBI Supplementary Homicide Reports. They found that 25% of patricides (murder of their father), and 17% of matricides (murder of their mother) were carried out by adolescent children under the age of 18 years.
They also found that comparatively, adolescents were more likely to use a firearm to commit the murder than adults. From a motive perspective, arguments between the child and parent were the principal reason for the killing with 81% of patricides and 76% of matricides being carried out due to this reason.
In further research, Professor of Sociology at the University of Minnesota Carl Malmquist in his paper “Adolescent Parricide as a Clinical and Legal Problem” published in the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law in 2010, raised the issue of adolescent brains still developing biologically and compared to adults, their prefrontal cortex is not yet fully developed meaning behavioural areas such as inhibition, emotional self-control and risk-taking are affected.
What parricide statistics can tell us from historical cases is the most likely offender to kill their parents are boys with no history of psychosis and who kill in a spontaneous act, not under a murder plan that has been developed and carefully thought out beforehand. Shattering these trends is the case of Jennifer Pan in Canada in 2010, who at 24-years-old organised the murder of her parents through her on-off boyfriend and his associates who would stage a robbery at her home, shooting her parents dead in the process.
Jennifer Pan was in the home at the time and played the terrified victim only for her father to survive the attack, awake from a coma and point the finger directly at his daughter. Jennifer Pan was out width her teenage years at the time of her horrific selfish acts but her case is considered alongside other adolescent female parricide cases due to the sheer callousness of her actions, and the immaturity she displayed. Her love for her boyfriend, Daniel Wong, a boy who appeared street-wise and had an allure due to his connections with drug dealers, fueled her desire to get rid of her parents. Wong was a boy who was not living under the strict rules her parents applied to her and a boy who if she only had the freedom to do so, she could have a fairy-tale relationship with and live happily ever after. It was an illusion not shared by Daniel Wong who ended up in the dock next to Jennifer Pan on murder charges.
For teenage girls, falling in love is a new and exciting experience but it promotes a range of emotions in a manner which they have never encountered before. Love, trust, jealousy, satisfaction and fear are all circulating in their minds in ways they are unfamiliar with. While these emotions may have presented themselves in other relationships in their lives, with their parents, siblings or friends, they are a different set entirely when it comes to romantic love and love for the first time.
These emotions and the hormonal changes which underlie them can all play a part in how a teenager behaves, the choices they make and the decisions they feel comfortable with. Euphoria related chemicals are suddenly being released in their brains; dopamine, adrenaline and serotonin and dopamine especially is a reward based neurotransmitter working on a pleasure based cycle. The more excitement and joy they feel within their relationship, in their communications and time spent with their first love, the more dopamine is released giving them a higher feel good factor.
Why all of these things are significant when it comes to female adolescent parricide is they can go some way to explain how and why a plan to murder may be embraced at that time in their lives when out with this wonderful, exciting and all-encompassing relationship, it may not be a concept they would even consider.
Second to the Jasmine Richardson case of 2006, the media have also latched onto the shocking case of Erin Caffey which took place two years later in Texas in 2008. At the age of 16-years-old Erin Caffey was in a relationship with 18-year-old Charlie Wilkinson. She was madly in love and believed the pair would get married and spend the rest of their lives together. Her parents however, did not feel the same and told their daughter she must end the relationship. It was demands by her parents that filled Caffey with rage.
Erin Caffey told her boyfriend to kill her family and on 1 March 2008, while she and her friend Bobbi Johnson sat outside her house in a car, her boyfriend Charlie Wilkinson and Bobbi’s boyfriend 20-year-old Allen Waid entered the house armed with firearms and a samurai sword. The pair woke the family in a fit of violence at 2am in the morning, shooting Caffey’s mother and father multiple times and attacking them with the sword. 13-year-old Mathew Caffey was shot dead and young 8-year-old Tyler Caffey attacked by both men and stabbed repeatedly. Wilkinson and Waid then set fire to the house on their way out with the intention of burning all evidence that they had carried out the attack. Somehow, Erin’s father Terry Caffey managed to drag himself out of the house before the flames took hold and he survived the attempt on his life.
“They burst into our bedroom and opened fire, shooting me several times. Not only did they come in shooting, they also came in with a samurai sword. After they shot Penny, they shot me three more times in the back and once in the back of the leg. All in all, I think I had been shot 11 times. I could not feel the right side of my body, and nothing would come out of my mouth. I felt I had been shot in the face. Then one of them took the sword and stabbed Penny in the neck, nearly decapitating her.” – Terry Caffey
Terry Caffey knew who had come into his house that night and attacked him and when Wilkinson, Waid and Johnson were questioned by police they told the same story. The plan to murder the Caffey family came from Erin Caffey. In October 2008 the two boys were given life sentences and in early 2009 Erin Caffey and Bobbi Johnson, who both pleaded guilty to murder, were sentenced. Johnson received two 40 year sentences to run concurrently and Caffey two life sentences.
Erin Caffey is now 25-years-old and has featured in a recent television documentary ‘Killer Women’ with Piers Morgan to talk about what happened and her involvement in the murder of her mother and her brothers to the captivation of viewers. Few have sympathy for this young girl, unable to put aside the brutal nature of the murders and her actions that day sitting outside in the car while her family were murdered inside the house.
Her father however, who was also attacked and narrowly avoided death has forgiven his daughter, believing she was coerced by 18-year-old Charlie Wilkinson and did not have any choice than to participate in his actions. A claim that unfortunately few agree with and Erin Caffey remains to be viewed as a brutal teenage killer who planned the murder of the very people who brought her into this world. For many, this is a crime that is unforgivable.
In Malmquist’s research, he reported that it is common for adolescents who have committed parricide to think that the police will automatically think someone else was to blame and not to look at them as the perpetrator. Furthermore, a distinct lack of long-term planning is evident in these crimes with little thought going into the aftermath of the murder.
In many cases of female adolescent parricide some of the more usual explanations and defences for their behaviour do not apply, especially when the crime has been carried out with their boyfriends or when they are in an all-encompassing first love situation. They do not necessarily have a broken childhood full of abuse, or were they acting in self-defence as they believe the parent would harm or kill them at any moment. The argument of duress, where the only way the adolescent could see to save themselves was to turn to homicidal behaviour is not seen in many of these cases.
“The injury and sense of injustice overcome moral controls and drive the parricide, a final act of narcissistic rage.” – Carl Malmquist
While in many of these female parricide cases the adolescent has not suffered abuse from their parent, the parents disapproval of their relationship, demands for the relationship to end and interference in their eyes, in their lives and their chosen companion, can equate to a situation of powerlessness and humiliation to them which requires a permanent solution to resolve the problem. The solution they turn to is murder and this can somewhat explain why after the act these adolescents can be calm and non-remorseful as they have morally justified their behaviour to themselves. Furthermore, when the murder has been planned and carried out with their boyfriends they have confirmation and agreement from their partner that they have done the right thing and there were justifiable reasons for doing it.
In the UK we have seen another devastating case explode into the news after a judge lifted the ban on naming a teenage girl who brutally murdered her mother and sister with her boyfriend in April 2016. It is alleged that 14-year-old Kim Edwards was the mastermind behind the killings and the one who wanted her mother and sister dead. Not wishing to carry out the brutal acts herself, her boyfriend Lucas Markham, also 14-years-old at the time, used a knife to stab 49-year-old Elizabeth Edwards while she was sleeping aiming for her voice box so she could not scream, just as the pair had planned weeks previously. He then went into 13-year-old Katie Edwards room and killed her in the same way. After the murders, both Kim Edwards and Lucas Markham shared a bath, watched vampire films and had sex downstairs while the bodies of Kim’s family lay dead above them.
In recordings of interviews with police after the murders, neither teen has shown any remorse for their actions and seem pleased the deed had been done. Whether or not these two now 15-year-old children realise the enormity of what they have done and the seriousness of the consequences they now face is debatable. The intense relationship they shared together has fueled their planning, supporting and encouraging each other through the murders themselves and in the aftermath.
“I’m sure that sense of disbelief and horror will be deepened now it is known that it was Elizabeth’s own daughter who was responsible for plotting with her boyfriend to carry out the murders.”
This is a chilling example of female adolescent parricide which once again features a beloved boyfriend also involved in the murderous actions taken. Like all of the cases above, a teenage girl embraced in an intense relationship with a boy for the first time has dramatically ended with the murder of her mother and her younger sister. A brutal and violent double-killing which by all accounts had been planned and discussed in detail by the pair madly in love with other and unable to see the reality and consequences of the actions they were about to carry out.
First love is an exciting and emotional period for a teenage girl and one that should be full of positive, enjoyable and memorable moments and developments in their own lives. For a few however, these relationships turn dark but not inwardly and against each other. Instead sinister plans are made against people outside of the relationship, often those who it is felt are trying to hinder its presence.
Murder is not a mistake that can be explained away or an action that can be reversed. It is the ultimate harm one person can do to another. The murderous actions carried out by these young girls against their own parents have consequences that once they have grown up, once they are outside the boundaries of their intense love affair with their equally adolescent boyfriends, they will fully understand and then have to live with for the rest of their lives.
- Grimaldi, J. (2016) A Daughters Deadly Deception: The Jennifer Pan Story. Dundurn Press. ISBN: 978-1459735248
- Heide, K.M. (2013) Understanding Parricide, Oxford University Press, ISBN: 978-0195176667
- Heide, K.M., and Petee, T.A. (2007) Parricide: An Empirical Analysis of 24 Years of U.S Data, Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Vol. 22, No. 11, pp1382-1399
- Malmquist, C.P. (2010) Adolescent Parricide as a Clinical and Legal Problem, J Am Acad Psychiatry Law, 38, pp73-79
- West and M. Feldsher, (2010) Parricide: Characteristics of sons and daughters who kill their parents, Journal of Current Psychology
Understanding Parricide: When Sons and Daughters Kill Parents A comprehensive book about juveniles and adults who kill their parents including in-depth discussion of issues related to prosecuting and defending parricide offenders.
Murder in the Family: Inside Story of the Jersey Murders When Elizabeth and Nicholas Newell were murdered their sons were implicated. This book follows the case and charts the difficulties faced by the police and the drama of the trial
Why Kids Kill Parents: Child Abuse and Adolescent Homicide A tragic portrait of adolescents who kill their parents who almost always kill out of desperation as they are almost always victims of child abuse, neglect and dysfunctional parenting.