Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Dr. Kathleen Heide: "There's no such thing as a happy homicide."

Chris Cooper – 2,170 Words


"If the parricide offender doesn't get treated there is no reason to think that all of a 
sudden just because the person is dead that everything is going to be fine
 in their lives.  I said this once seriously but it is kind of funny: 
“There is no such thing as a happy homicide.’” 
Dr. Kathleen Heide

            When Dr. Kathleen Heide, the professor of criminology at the University of South Florida, was eight years old, living in Northern New Jersey, she watched a movie that changed her life, the 1950 Warner Brothers film “Caged”, starring Eleanor Parker, Agnes Moorehead, Ellen Corby, and Hope Emerson.  Eleanor Parker plays married-19-year-old Marie Allen who is sent to prison after a botched armed robbery attempt with her young husband, Tom, who is killed. 

“It made such an impression on me of how sometimes people get in trouble and how their lives can change.  That was really the first thing that got me thinking about issues in criminal justice.”
            Her fascination for the criminal justice system grew, when, while in high school the Attica Prison Riot took place in September of 1971.

“I was very moved by what happened in there (and) the conditions in the prisons.  They brought in the National Guard and a number of people were killed.”


When she graduated from high school she attended Vassar, where she majored in psychology.  During her junior year she received Vassar’s approval to take courses in criminology and criminal justice in New York City at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, where one of her professors was the famed criminologist and death penalty supporter, Ernest Van Den Haag.
            “He was an older man when I was there.  He was in his late 70s.  He was quite a character.  I was very lucky.  I had an opportunity to study with people who were very well known and truthfully a lot of them are gone now.”

Heide became interested in kids who kill when she read a New York Times article stating that there was a new genetic strain of child murderers.
She graduated from Vassar with a B.A. in Psychology and decided to pursue a degree in criminal justice.
“I knew I was interested in the criminal mind so I thought I’d be a psychologist.  Psychology seemed about the most related to the area of the criminal mind.  Someone had suggested that I’d be a good lawyer.  So I kind of combined the two by going into criminology.”
She applied to the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Albany, State University of New York where she received her M.A. in Criminal Justice and her PhD in Criminal Justice.  
In 1981, Dr. Heide accepted a position as an Assistant Professor in Criminology at the University of South Florida.  As a young professor, Heide secured several grants that allowed her to study kids who were in prison for killing others.  Two of these cases were youths who killed their parents. 
     “The cases were very troubling and both kids were very abused kids.  Then I had one where I was called in on a consult.  Those cases really affected me so I thought, “Well, let me learn more about them."  And than a number of cases were sent to me for evaluation and they were for kids who kill parents."


Heide prefers to use the term parricide instead of patricide (the killing of one’s father) and matricide (the killing of one’s mother).
“Parricide is the more general of killing of a close relative, but in modern times, at least since the 80s, parricide is typically used to refer to the killing of a parent.”


Parricide has been in existence for as long as mankind has inhabited the earth.  Even still, mental health professionals and the field of psychology never took it seriously, until 1941, when Frederic Wertham became the first mental health professional to take an in-depth look into adolescent parricide.  In 1954, Rinehart & Company published his book Seduction of Innocent, in which he writes of the dangers of violent imagery in mass media.  He described television as “a school of violence” and claimed the violent imagery from comic books contributed to adolescent parricide.

Perhaps one of the most famous cases of parricide is that of Lizzie Borden who, on August 4, 1892 allegedly killed her father and stepmother with an ax.   

Another famous case of parricide is that of Ronald DeFeo Jr who, on November 13, 1974, killed his parents and four siblings.  The murders were the basis for the horror film The Amityville Horror House.

One of the oldest cases of matricide is that of the Roman Emperor Nero who on March 23, AD 59 ordered the murder of his mother Agrippina the Younger.   

Mass murderer Charles Whitman killed his mother and wife before killing 14 people at the University of Texas on August 1, 1966.


According to Heide, there are three types of kids who kill their parents:  severely abused children; antisocial children; and seriously mentally ill children.
The severely abused children normally kill their parents out of desperation or terror.  Even though the children kill out of fear, Heide believes the child needs to take responsibility for their acts.  And by doing this they are making it possible for their treatment to be successful.  Admitting responsibility also helps the severely abused children grieve for their parents in a healthy way.    
“A lot of these kids have suppressed the feelings of pain, anger, and terror.  Usually, they are dealing with feelings that are unresolved toward the parents.  They need to realize that the threat to their life is gone.  They lived through a lot of trauma so you have to work with that.  This could take years of therapy.’
Perhaps the most dangerous of those who kill their parents are those who are antisocial; or kill for selfish reasons such as gaining an inheritance or choosing a boyfriend despite the parent’s disapproval.
“The parents have not set limits and, when it gets to a point where the kids are out of control, the parents appropriately come in and set some limits.  The kids become enraged and may decide to kill the parents.  That’s antisocial and it’s wrong but in those cases, if you trace it back, which doesn’t remove the responsibility, you see what happens in cases of poor parenting.”
Kids who are seriously mentally ill tend to be older adolescents or adults who believe God or the devil is commanding them to commit the murder. 


            Perhaps one of the major misconceptions about kids who kill their parents is that he or she was born an evil seed, or a bad seed; in other words, the person was born a murderer.
“There is no evil seed.  I don’t believe kids are born bad and are destined to kill.  A lot of these kids are severely abused and many kill out of desperation because they see no other way out or are terrified.”
            However, there are biological factors that could put an individual at greater risk of killing their parents. 
“The latest scientific findings, and I’ve written about this, indicate and prove that kids who are severely abused and neglected do have biological effects.  In other words, it could further compromise their ability to make good decisions and to bond.  And so those kids, because of the poor parenting, are at more risk; and that can be further exacerbated if their parents are abusive or very neglectful.”


            After years of research and study, Ohio State University Press published Heide’s book Why Kids Kill Parents:  Child Abuse and Adolescent Homicide.  USF sent copies of the book to the media.  One of the individuals who received the book was Larry King, the host of the Larry King Live show on CNN.  One of the show’s producers contacted Heide and in July of 1992 Heide was on the Larry King Live show discussing her book.
            It was certainly an honor.  There were two young women that appeared with me.  One had killed her dad and the other had thought about it but didn’t.  They were not clients of mine.” 


            Heide is a mental health practitioner and psychotherapist and has been since 1990.   Heide plays many roles in her career:  psychotherapist, expert, mental health professional, writer, and teacher; but she does not consider herself to be an advocate.     
            “I consider myself a scholar and practitioner based on a scientific framework and they go back and forth in one form or another.  And the two blend because the reason people refer cases to me is because of my expertise from a scientific framework and familiarity.”
            When a child kills her or his parent, the court will refer the case to an expert such as Heide. It is Heide’s job to unravel why this particular criminal act occurred.  In order to accomplish this, Heide conducts in-depth interviews of the offenders and the surviving family members.   
            “It’s my job to try to explain to the court why this event happened, the risk the child or adolescent presents, the factors that brought him or her here, mitigating factors the court may want to consider; the extent of the abuse and the neglect; and then make treatment recommendations.  It’s up to the jurors, the judge, and the attorneys to what’s done.” 
            Heide believes the more involved the community, schools, and media are with troubled children, the more there will be a decrease in violence.         
            “The media needs to de-glamorize its violence, which is often seen as a solution. I’ve advocated a victim’s advocate in the school and that’s now taking hold in some places.  The community needs to help children and to realize how serious parenting is; provide safe places for children to meet as well as shelters and treatment.  Most of the time they don’t get meaningful treatment even if it’s ordered.  So that’s a major problem.”


Heide works on average 50 to 60 hours a week, each day different from the other; and lives by her Franklin planner.
“I am very organized and very disciplined.  I put down what I have to do everyday.  I don’t always get it done but it keeps me focused on things that are very important.”
Recently, Heide completed her second book on parricide, Understanding Parricide: When Sons and Daughters Kill Parents.  She revisited the kids who she wrote about in Why Kids Kill Parents to see how they are functioning in society and whether they had received treatment.  Sometimes the material Heide has to immerse herself with in order to do proper research can be an emotional experience.    
“I’m a very feeling person and certainly these things concern me.  In this field you have to learn to detach.   If that is all somebody did it would be very depressing and I don’t think they would last long.   You have to let go.  I can help explain a case and do the best evaluation I can, but I try not to be invested in the outcome because that’s beyond me.  I have no control.”
            The one thing that enables Heide to detach and get away from it all is swimming and boating, which she does religiously, and just having fun.
            “I make time for those other things – family, friends, and activities.  I joined the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary.  This involves work and studying, but it’s fun for me.  It has nothing to do with abuse, or violence.  I guess you could call it work but I don’t see it that way.”


Heide thus far has written over 140 articles and four books:  Why Kids Kill Parents:  Child Abuse and Adolescent Homicide; Young Killers: The Challenge of Juvenile Homicide; Animal Cruelty:  Pathway to Violence against People; and Understanding Parricide:  When Sons and Daughters Kill Parents.  

She’s the recipient of six awards for teaching excellence.  Her areas of expertise are Juvenile Homicide and Adolescent Parricide Offenders; Individual and Family Violence; and Treatment of Survivors of Trauma, particularly Child Maltreatment.

Photo Copyright and Description Information
Photo 1.     Dr. Kathleen Heide.  Copyright by Dr. Kathleen Heide

Photo 2     "Caged" movie poster.  Fair Use Under United States Copyright Law

Photo 3.     Attica Correctional facility.  Creative Commons Contribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

Photo 4.     Dr. Frederic Wertham.  Public Domain

Photo 5.     Jacket cover of Seduction of the Innocent.

Photo 6.     Lizzie Borden.  Public Domain.

Photo 7.  Ronald DeFeo Jr.  Public Domain.

Photo 8.     Nero. Public Domain.

Photo 9.     Charles Whitman.  Public Domain.

Photo 10.    Why Kids Kill Parents:  Child Abuse and Adolescent Homicide jacket cover.  Publication date March 1, 1992 by Ohio State University Press.

Photo 11.    Young Killers:  The Challenge of Juvenile Homicide jacket cover.  Publication date July 16, 1998 by SAGE Publications.

Photo 12.    Animal Cruelty:  Pathway to Violence Against People jacket cover.  Publication date October 22, 2003 by Altamira Press.

Photo 13.  Understanding Parricide:  When Sons and Daughters Kill Parents.  Publication date December 14, 2012 by Oxford University Press. 

Photo 14.  Dr. Kathleen Heide.  AP.  Copyright by Dr. Kathleen Heide.       

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