Sunday, October 24, 2010
HALF OF STATEN ISLAND SLAYINGS INVOLVE PARENTS AND THEIR KIDS
By JOHN M. ANNESE
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Leisa Jones had been out of work for six months, and she and her four young children were on the brink of eviction — for the second time in as many years.
What happened next shook most Staten Islanders and even the most veteran police investigators. The 30-year-old mother cut her oldest three children’s throats, and, with her and her infant son still inside, lit her Port Richmond apartment on fire.
The truth behind Ms. Jones’ motives died with her on July 22, but on Staten Island, what once seemed an unthinkable family tragedy has become a disturbing trend.
Ms. Jones’ killing spree and suicide turned out to be just the first of four brutal instances of parents killing or attempting to kill their children, or of children killing their parents, since July. In all, the trend accounts for seven of the borough’s 14 homicides this year, and three suicides.
Similar crimes have been cropping up across the nation — five murder-suicides, totaling 10 deaths, in the Las Vegas Valley in August, and a string of domestic violence murders in Orange County, Fla., that included three separate double murder-suicides over the first half of the year.
Despite their frequency, Donna Cohen, a professor at the University of South Florida and a leading expert on murder-suicides, cautions against pointing to events in areas like Staten Island as indication of a growing epidemic.
Murder-suicides are relatively rare — of the 50,000 violent deaths, murders and suicides, reported in the United States each year, murder-suicides account for about 1,500 to 2,500 deaths, according to Ms. Cohen.
“You’re talking about a relatively low base-line event,” she says. “There seems to be a rash, and then nothing happens.”
Besides the death of Ms. Jones and her four children, Staten Island has seen:
• On Aug. 8, Douglas Nemeth, 41, an out-of-work chiropractor, slashed the throats of his 34-year-old girlfriend, her 3-year-old daughter and 22-month-old son, Brandon, then slashed his own throat inside their Midland Beach home, according to police. He did not survive, though his girlfriend and her children all lived, despite multiple stab wounds to the young girl’s torso and abdomen.
• On Sept. 29, Harold Delmar Jr., fatally stabbed his father, also Harold, 79, to death inside his Midland Beach home, then drove more than 60 miles to a childhood friend’s N.J. home, chained himself into his car, and torched it. The younger Delmar, a former Marine, had suffered from mental illness and was living in a tent in his father’s back yard after his father barred him from entering unless he took his medications.
• On Oct. 13, Eric Bellucci, 30, repeatedly stabbed his father, Arthur, 61, and mother, Marian, 56, inside their Annadale home, then took a flight to Israel in an attempt to elude prosecution, according to police. Bellucci, who relatives say suffers from schizophrenia and is subject to violent episodes, was returned to Staten Island and now faces second-degree murder charges.
The deaths have frustrated law enforcement officials here, who saw the borough’s murder rate start off slow at the beginning of the year, then double overnight after Ms. Jones killed her children.
“You can put a million cops on Staten Island, and you wouldn’t have stopped any one of these murders,” says one law enforcement source.
Although Staten Island has seen its share of domestic abuse murders stemming from child abuse or neglect, the last crime similar to this year’s murder-suicides happened more than four years ago, on Aug. 30, 2006, when Frantz Bordes, 39, drowned his young son and daughter in the bathtub of his New Brighton apartment, then jumped in front of a Q subway train in Brooklyn.
Bordes, a Haitian native, penned seven suicide notes, writing that his fiancee’s relatives were using voodoo against him and scheming to ruin him. Later reports revealed he had two children and a wife in Haiti, and a third family in Queens.
Typically, family murderers fall into two separate categories — killers who are either depressed and despondent, or paranoid with a proprietary view of their families, says Louis B. Schlesinger, professor of forensic psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Regarding the cases where depression may be involved, “They think they’re saving their family from a horrible fate,” he says.
Mental illness is almost always a “core characteristic” of murder-suicide, says Ms. Cohen, and the killers, who have a “very, very strong attachment” to their victims.
“It’s very much wanting the connection, wanting to be part of them,” she says. “(There’s) a belief that the relationship is going to be severed or lost, and this is going to be real or perceived.
“The perpetrators usually don’t do this spontaneously. They’ve thought about it for a while,” she says.
In the case of the Delmar family, police believe the son had planned out his father’s murder — he had recently bought the chains needed to bind himself to his car, and he had even mentioned what we wanted to do to a neighbor, police sources say.
In Bellucci’s case, he had threatened to kill his family and himself several times, and his father had surrendered to police guns kept in the house, for fear his son would use them, sources familiar with the case say. Bellucci’s flight to Israel may have stemmed from a fixation on Jewish culture that started when his grandfather told him he (the grandfather) was adopted from Jewish parents, those sources say.
Financial stresses may have pushed Ms. Jones and Nemeth over the edge. Ms. Jones was raising four children from three separate fathers on her own, and was about to be evicted from her Port Richmond apartment. Nemeth, meanwhile, had been out of work for two years, and his girlfriend, a teacher, was the family breadwinner.
Like Ms. Cohen, Schlesinger warns against drawing any pattern from the slayings, despite the fact they happened within weeks of each other.
“These cases are actually very different,” he says. “There’s no homogeneous profile, nor do I think it’s a result of the economic downturn — but these things never help.
“Familicides occur all the time in different economic (times). But stress is a factor,” he says.
Miles Groth, a professor in the psychology department of Wagner College, also suggests looking at each case individually.
“There’s a danger of trying to find some similarity in the behavior,” he says. “This is something new. It’s not something that has been studied. There’s very little literature here.”
Unlike his colleagues, Groth says he’s more inclined to look at cultural shifts, the lack of authority structures and the breakdown of the modern family, instead of mental illness and schizophrenia as a root cause of family murder-suicides.
“I think we’re too ready to say, ‘This person is schizophrenic, and that’s why he or she is violent,’ ” Groth said. It can be a way of pointing to the individual, when in fact, it’s society. The social structure has failed.”
Ms. Cohen differs on that point. “The mental health issues really do drive the violence,” she says.
And Schlesinger suggests that mental health and social workers should more regularly probe patients suffering from depression about whether they hold homicidal urges.
“Mental health workers, police and clergy should always ask about homicidal thoughts,” he says, “with the same level of attention they give to suicidal thoughts.”
In cases where parents, particularly fathers, kill their spouses and children, the crime can be driven by a desire to punish their loved ones, or to annihilate the family if they feel they don’t have the means to provide for them, Ms. Cohen says.
“The perps who do these murder-suicides really believe what they’re thinking,” she says. “It’s a justification for what they’re doing.”
Professor Groth offers insight into crime trendNovember 2, 2010