Murderers not like the rest of us
By James Alan Fox
Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The arraignment of Neil Entwistle for the murder of his wife and baby daughter signals open-season for conjecture about means, motive and madness. While we all hold dear the presumption of innocence that makes our justice system so great, there's always room for a little speculative Q&A:

Q. We've heard reports that Neil was dissatisfied in his marriage, particularly with the couple's sexual relationship. If he wanted freedom, why not just file for divorce?

A. Narcissistic egomaniacs not only pursue personal need fulfillment at others' expense, but strive to maintain a positive image throughout the process. And anyone unsure about Neil's narcissism need only to consider his pattern of living well beyond his means. Most struggling members of the unemployed class do not drive a BMW or rent a spacious house in the suburbs.

Neil's nice-guy veneer would have been tarnished had he divorced the woman who had recently given birth to his child. It would be better for his image to be the surviving widower to the double homicide. As far as fringe benefits go, imagine how this might have played on the sympathies of young women in singles bars.

Q. How could anyone kill a baby, especially his own flesh and blood? Even Scott Peterson didn't go quite as far - his wife was pregnant, but he never saw his child or held it in his arms.

A. Those who murder loved ones in cold blood often view love differently from the rest of us. For them, love is measured in shallow, practical terms - by what their beloved does for them. When the role of husband /father no longer suits their needs, family can become expendable.

cw-2In addition, a baby can be seen as an extension of the spouse. Another way for a man to get even with his wife (besides by killing her) is to kill her precious child, the one who has displaced him as the person who matters the most in the world to her.

Q. The district attorney's office has spun the theory that Neil was attempting double-murder/suicide, but chickened out on taking his own life. Though despondent enough to contemplate suicide, why take loved ones along for the ride?

A. Arrogant men of entitlement often believe that they have total control over their family and ultimately its fate. Like other worldly possessions, they would like to take their family members with them to the afterlife. In such cases, the spouse and children are viewed as an extension of self. Killing them becomes an integral part of the suicide act.

Q. How can anyone think they can successfully get away with murder? With DNA and other investigative tools available, why would anyone in his right mind contemplate this risky act?

A. Never underestimate the overconfidence of a narcissist. Sure, Scott Peterson may have failed despite elaborate steps to cover up his wife's murder, but others smugly believe they can pull off the perfect crime. While we often hear about men who tried unsuccessfully to beat the spousal murder rap, how many unsolved killings involved men who fooled everyone - not just their slain spouses?

Q. Neil's attorney has complained about the massive publicity surrounding the crimes, which will only grow as the trial approaches. Is there any way the accused can get a fair trial?

A. Only people living under a rock (and a few college students who only listen to their iPods) have not heard of this case. But there is no requirement for total ignorance in prospective jurors (everyday ignorance is fine, of course). The essential question will be whether they had already formed an opinion in the case - which I guess would pretty much disqualify me.

James Alan Fox is the Lipman Family Professor of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University. Talk back at