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Killing One's Children: Maternal Infanticide and the Dark Figure of Homicide (From Gender and Crime: Patterns in Victimization and Offending, P 91-114, 2006, Karen Heimer and Candace Kruttschnitt, eds., -- See NCJ-214516)

NCJ Number
Rosemary Gartner; Bill McCarthy
Date Published
24 pages
This article challenges the traditional accounts of female killers as either “mad or bad” through an examination of narratives about mothers who have killed their newborns and infants.
The authors conclude that the circumstances, motives, purposes, and meanings behind women’s acts of infanticide and neonaticide are much more varied than the typical explanations offered for why women kill. Findings from this study largely support the understanding of female killers as rational actors who act within structurally disadvantaged circumstances. The main argument extended by the authors is that the actions of women who kill their children may be interpreted as “intentional and legitimate responses to personal and structural forces” without denying women’s responsibility for their acts. Data involved cases in which the offenders were both known and unknown to authorities. One of the striking findings was the large proportion infanticides (24 percent) and neonaticides (70 percent) for which the offender was never identified. The manner in which many of these victims died and were discarded indicated that the killers acted with the intention of killing and hiding the evidence. Moreover, most of these cases certainly were either perpetrated by the mother or involved her complicity. Among cases of infanticide and neonaticide in which the offender was known, results indicated that offender mothers were quite young, unmarried, and appeared to have given birth alone. None of the mothers used excessive violence to kill and most disposed of the bodies in ways that made it easy to identify them as the perpetrators. Two patterns emerged for these killings: (1) infanticide by psychologically distressed mothers and (2) infanticide by mothers who struck out violently due to anger at their infants’ crying or because of the extreme stress of being sole caregivers. Data was drawn from the 53 neonataticides and 54 infanticides known to police in Seattle, Washington and Buffalo, New York between 1900 and 1989. Information on these cases was drawn from police reports, newspaper articles, and coroners’ records. Tables, notes