Saturday, 26 February 2011

Why oh why?

One of those bizarre psycholog-ical mysteries that explodes out of the blue. A college lecturer, apparently contented and enjoying life, kills her two children and herself while her husband is working abroad. Why?

It's the sort of totally unexpected event that leaves everyone stunned and aghast. Whatever was slowly eating away at her was carefully concealed from the outside world.

Neighbours, friends, relatives, clergy - none of them can explain what she did. According to them, Claudia Oakes-Green of Shepshed in Leicestershire always seemed bright and happy and doing well in life. There was nothing to suggest that some acute inner distress was about to tip her over the edge.

Whatever was troubling her - depression, financial worries, marital problems, workplace pressures - she was seemingly unable to confide in anyone else and seek outside help. She maintained a cheerful facade that hid a grimmer reality.

It takes a particularly distraught person not only to kill themselves but take their children with them, the children that up till then they've cherished and protected.

How tragic it is that people still feel so embarrassed and ashamed of their inability to cope that they simply cannot voice it. Or they feel their situation is just so hopeless that no one else can put it right.

We may find out more in the coming days. Some nagging anxiety may come to light. Some crippling sense of inadequacy may be revealed. Or her actions may remain a total puzzle, an endless source of conjecture and speculation with no one any the wiser.

The family: Claudia (44), husband Iain, son Thomas (13), daughter Eleanor (7)

Pic: The Oakes-Green house in Shepshed

38 comments:

Grannymar said...

It takes some strength to carry that through. What a waste of life.

Nick said...

Grannymar - A terrible waste of life. What did the children do to deserve that?

Terra Shield said...

Really, really sad... :(

Nick said...

Terra - Especially sad that she was unable to confide in someone capable of helping her and preventing the tragedy.

rummuser said...

How can we ever know what goes in the minds of apparently normal people? We have many stories like this in India and the usual reasons are inability to handle financial stress, or secret love affairs or betrayal by the spouse.

Nick said...

Ramana - And which one applies here (if any) is at the moment anyone's guess. Indeed, someone can appear quite "normal" while the most peculiar things are going on under the surface.

Leah said...

Nick, by some weird coincidence, my sister and I were just on the phone not ten minutes ago talking about the Andrea Yates case. We agreed--everyone reaches the end of their tether, but my god, better to just walk away. I don't know. It's truly awful--but scratch the surface, and someone, someone knew something was amiss. I guess it is easier to look the other way?

These cases are called, in crim justice parlance, "family annihilations." Cold term, always sends a chill through me. Family annihilators tend to have a very distinctive profile; there are many red flags and many similarities between them. Of course I can't help but come at it with a forensic psychology perspective.

Leah said...

by the way, the "timid, churchgoing" descriptor is often the public persona of these people, isn't that interesting/disturbing?

Wisewebwoman said...

I can never read these stories without thinking of the despair of these people before committing this final act and taking their innocent children with them. How hopeless, lonely and desperate they must feel, whatever the reason. often rooted in their own childhoods or suffering from hidden addiction - gambling drug alcohol or simply overwhelming depression.
Sad sad sad.
XO
WWW

Nick said...

Leah - I'd forgotten about the Andrea Yates case. Particularly horrific seeing as she killed all five children. I see she was said to be suffering from postpartum depression and psychosis.

Yes, why don't they just walk away from the problem rather than inflicting carnage? Re the red flags, the relatives have mentioned "fear of the future" but haven't elaborated on that.

You do have to wonder what is being repressed under a "timid, churchgoing" exterior.

Nick said...

W3 - Hopeless lonely and desperate for sure. I wonder, did she share whatever was bugging her with her husband or did she hide it even from him?

Suburbia said...

So sad. Can't imagine how hopeless you need to feel to get to that end

Nick said...

Suburbia - I know. We may feel a bit hopeless sometimes, but that's a mere glimmer of the sort of desperate hopelessness she must have been afflicted with.

kylie said...

i can imagine that killing the children was a way to prevent them suffering, i know it's strange but all logic is gone in this kind of case

Nick said...

Kylie - You're right, all sorts of twisted logic can be applied when someone's mental state is awry.

Val said...

It's impossible to know what is in someone's mind - even if they are out of it at the time. And it may of course be that she didn't kill herself or her children. Someone else may have done. But still - what a terrible thing, whoever did it.
:(

Nick said...

Val - No, it was definitely her. The police say they're not looking for anyone else. It's certainly impossible to know what's in someone's mind if they don't talk about it. It seems that she did reveal a little bit, but not enough to prevent the killings.

linni said...

if the lady did do what is being said i believe she must have been suffering a terrible psyhotic illness and would not have had any control over her actions .i agree someone must have known she was ill also but not the severity of it .the children have been robbed of their lives .the husband and grandparents also robbed .i also believe doctors dont give anywhere near the help people need .i expect the family are all saying if only .....

nursemyra said...

In circumstances like these the parent who kills their children does so in the misguided belief they are saving them from more suffering.

I think "timid, churchgoing" is quite a revealing phrase....

Nick said...

Linni - Psychotic is probably the appropriate label, but what interests me is what was going through her mind at the time, what made her think she was doing something sensible and rational. You're right that doctors don't give enough help. And yes, I bet the relatives are all saying, if only....

Myra - As Kylie was saying. True, I think her motive was something along those lines. It occurs to me that "bellicose, churchgoing" probably hides an awful lot as well.

e said...

There is a woman in my area who killed her two teen children within days of getting a hand gun permit. Better gun control laws and enforcement would help, but the laws in each state vary and people appear more concerned with their rights than the damage done by having guns in the wrong hands.

Regarding your comment to me, there is a practise I've read about amongst insures to raise the rates of undesirables so high that they flee the companies and as I am disabled, no private insurer will touch me and under current law here, they are under no obligation to even speak to me. Thus, my options are limited and my insurer is the only option I had unless a full time employer with a group plan takes me on or I get on disability benefit and wait two years before receiving Medicare, both of which are unlikely. The Social Security Administration exists to deny claims, and with my current situation, part-time work doesn't provide coverage or the means to pay the soon-to-be $925 per month premium my insurer will charge as of May 1.

Mr. Obama has done nothing to help persons in my situation and the idea of fining those who cannot afford to pay for insurance is stupid at best.

secret agent woman said...

Severe depression, perhaps. But possibly a psychotic break? People have been known to kill their own children in a delusional belief that this will protect them from a worse fate.

Nick said...

e - The reckless attitude to guns and gun control in the States is another issue again. I'm glad gun control is a lot stricter in the UK.

The healthcare situation for you and millions like you in the States is totally outrageous. $925 dollars a month just to have basic healthcare? Obama has made very little progress on that front.

Nick said...

Secret Agent - That seems to be a common explanation, that she imagined she was protecting them from something much worse. How warped the thinking process can sometimes get.

Scarlet Blue said...

We will have to wait and find out the back story. It's dreadfully sad.
Sx

Nick said...

Scarlet - Not sure we'll ever know the full story. It looks like the relatives don't want to talk about it.

Liz said...

How very sad. There was a singer at music event I attended last night. She was very good and has a great repartee with the audience but her songs, although bright and breezy, cover some depressing themes, and it made me wonder what how happy she is really.

Nick said...

Liz - Yes, I think you're right to wonder about someone who dwells on depressing subjects. Although I immediately think of all the well-known gloom-merchants like Leonard Cohen who are still very much alive....

Baino said...

Awful and sadly far too common. I can understand someone reaching the depths of despair but taking their children with them? I just don't get that.

Nick said...

Baino - Agreed, I just don't understand how someone can place so little value on their children's lives that they're prepared to end them.

tattytiara said...

Oh god that's tragic. Unfortunately mental illness does still carry such a large stigma, and the opposite side of the coin where we praise people for "sucking it up" when they're unhappy doesn't help either - the connotation being you're a failure if you seek help or express unhappiness. So many people don't get treated as a result, thinking they can keep it together until they can't, and at that point it's fatal.

Nick said...

Tattytiara - Mental illness still carries a massive stigma despite all the attempts to emphasise that it can happen to anyone in any walk of life. But if it goes untreated, then it can end in this sort of horrific event.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Yes, why? It seems a terribly pointless tragedy, especially for those two children who will never get to live their lives because she chose to end them. It's always particularly shocking when a person murders his/her own children because that goes against so many ingrained instincts and taboos. This just makes me very sad.

Megan said...

I suffer from terrible nightmares at times. There have been some in which I kill my son to save him from some looming unknown disastrous fate. Those are the WORST.

Nick said...

Heart - As you say, it goes against so many entrenched instincts and taboos. It takes a very serious mental disturbance to override all those.

Megan - If you have that sort of nightmare sometimes, then many other parents must have it too. The difference is that you recognise it for the crazy fantasy it is.

Anonymous said...

Reading some of the comments has made me quite angry. Family anihiliations - really ? It is actually called filicide-suicide. Are you actually a forensic psy or do you just watch too much CSI ?
Red flags raised - WRONG ! It is actually a fact when analysing these cases, that yes there is a profile, but the profile actually says that these people are in fact very good at hiding what is really going on. None of us, and this includes her husband, had any idea this was going on.
To put the record straight, I was a friend and colleague of Claudia and knew her and the kids well.
She adored the children and did everything she could for them.
I don't think any of us can put herself in the place that she must have been, where killing herself and the children seemed like the answer. As strange as it may seem, she probably also took her children's lives because she felt this was the best thing for them and because she loved them. Look up altruistic suicide-filicide, and you will perhaps understand a little better.
This actually makes very interesting reading :
http://www.filicide-suicide.com/summary-dissertation.pdf
Before making any judgements, please think on that you did not know Claudia or what she was like, she was a loving and kind person. Also, if her husband can forgive her, which he has, the rest of us should feel ashamed at feeling we are the judge and jury.
Just be glad you have never been in that place, where you thought that to end your own life and that of your children was the rational answer.

Nick said...

Anon - I've no way of knowing if you were actually a friend and colleague of Claudia, but I'll trust you on that.

I'm sorry if you feel we were all setting ourselves up as judge and jury. That certainly wasn't my intention, I was just trying to understand why someone who, as you say, seemed a kind and loving person should do something so extreme.

No, I don't understand what was going through her mind and I don't want to attribute things to her falsely. I appreciate that from her own perspective she was doing the right thing for herself and her children, inexplicable though that may be to others.

I am very glad indeed I haven't been in that place and gone through what Claudia was going through. It must have been a nightmare.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Nick, I prefer to remain anonymous as I don't want to go upsetting Claudia's remaining family.

I guess we will never quite know why this happened, and somehow have to make our peace with that. Our priority now is to make sure that Iain (Claudia's husband) has all the support we can give him, as again I don't think any of us can put ourselves in his position.