Most people are overwhelmed when the media reports that a mother had just murdered her own child. “How,” we all exclaim, “could such a thing happen?"
Riggi, who married her husband Pasquale in 1989, was from Colorado and California, but had moved to Scotland with her husband almost 15 years ago due to his job with Shell Oil. Over the years their marriage had suffered from a number of challenges, and the birth of their three children apparently did nothing to heal the wounds of marital strife. The marriage finally broke down and the couple was recently engaged in a bitter divorce and custody battle that obviously centered on their three children. Theresa, who taught violin to beginners, had been summoned to appear in court the day before the death of the children and a court order had also been issued for social workers to assess the family.
Mrs. Riggi, who had allegedly fled three weeks ago from the family home in Aberdeen with her three children, was recently located in the Edinburgh apartment. Her husband had advised officials that their children could be in danger, but by the time social workers sought her she had allegedly murdered her children, set her apartment afire, and jumped from an open balcony, sustaining multiple broken bones in her fall. She remains in a Scottish hospital under sedation where she has has been arrested and charged with the murder of her three children. If appears there is sufficient evidence to suggest that Mrs. Riggi murdered her children, the question that remains is “why?”
Women who Murder their Children
As a former FBI Profiler, I know that on the average three to five children are killed by their parents every day, making child homicide one of the leading causes of death for children under the age of four. At least 200 women kill their children in the U.S. every year, yet we are still surprised when incidents of “filicide,” the killing of one’s own child, occur in our society. Of the almost 50 women on death row in the prisons across America, at least a dozen are there for killing their own child.
I was involved in the investigation concerning South Carolinian Susan Smith when in October, 1994; she reported that her car, with her two sons Michael (3) and Alexander (14 months) in the back seat of the vehicle, had been carjacked by an unidentified Black male who had fled with the car and the two young boys. Because of the circumstances of the case, we never believed the 24-year-old mother, suspecting instead that she was responsible for the disappearance and assumed death of her sons. An example would be her statement that she was stopped at a red light when carjacked, a light that could only be triggered by a car coming from the opposite direction. As she saw no other vehicle, it did not reason that she have would encountered a red light. The FBI’s Investigative Support Unit advised local and state investigators to look for a nearby body of water, believing that if she murdered her children, she would drown them in the car. Investigators eventually located Smith’s submerged car 60 feet from shore in a nearby lake. Both boys were still in their car seats.
The “whys” of Susan Smith were many. Her biological father committed suicide when she was young, and as a teenager she said she had been repeatedly molested by her stepfather. He would later admit this charge and offered that he also had consensual sex with her when she became an adult. At the time of the deaths, Smith was allegedly seeking to leave her then husband David for another man, someone she felt had no interest in raising her two children. Whether this was fact or fantasy, Smith chose to kill her children to make this new relationship work for her. Why she just didn’t file for divorce and let her husband keep the children is unknown, but we do know that some parents kill their children to punish the other parent in a terrible fashion.
In June 2001, 36-year-old Texan Andrea Yates drowns her five children in the bathtub in the family home she shared with her then husband, a man who would later claim that his wife was psychotic. Her initial conviction for murder was overturned after it was revealed that a psychiatrist has provided erroneous testimony as to her likely motive for murder. She was then found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to a Texas state hospital. Many felt Yates' husband was insensitive to her needs, wanting more children when she may have struggled to care for the ones she already had. Some have also suggested post-partum depression was the root cause or reason why she killed her five children.
The list goes on from here: Frances Newton was 21 when she murdered her husband, 7-yr-old son and 2-yr-old daughter. Darlie Routier was 26 when she killed her 5-yr-old son, and Debra Milke was 25 when she killed her 4-year-old son. Caro Socorro was 42 when she killed her three sons, ages 5, 8, and 11, while Susan Eubanks was 33 when she killed her four sons, ages 4, 6, 7, and 14 in 1999. And on and on…
The “Whys” of Filicide
There have been a number of reasons cited as the motive for a mother to kill her own child. Some, like Andrea Yates, may suffer from an acute psychosis, in her case believing they would eventually come to some terrible harm, so, in her twisted, troubled mind she was likely "saving them" by a form of a mercy killing. Others, like Susan Smith, may in their own sociopathic mind believe their child to be a hindrance to a better life for the parent, with the mother perhaps believing she can eventually “replace” the deceased child or children with others.
Some incidents of filicide, however, are even more sinister in nature. Called the “Medea Syndrome,” this after the Greek myth in which Medea killed her two young sons to get back at her husband, Jason (of 3rd century Jason and the Argonauts fame), for his extramarital affair with a neighboring princess (Glauce). Like all similar Greek tales, this story had many tragedies and murders, but provided a unique insight into the use of the murder of children by one parent to inflict revenge on the other parent.
In a case such as the believed murder of the three Riggi children, Theresa Riggi may have been attempting to punish or forever wound their biological father. As part of this, she may have felt that she was going to lose the children to her husband through the courts, and instead chose to take their very lives rather than to see her husband be awarded the children. He was not going to "win." Temporary insanity: perhaps, but that will be a future battle for court appointed psychiatrists to clinically duel over in her anticipated murder trial. But in the meantime, three more children have perished at the hands of someone who should have been willing to sacrifice her very life for them. That is the responsibility of parents, right?
For more information concerning personal and family safety and security, to obtain a free copy of our DVD “Protecting Children from Predators,” to find out the identity and location of sexual offenders in your community and neighborhood, and to learn how to get the new iPhone, iPod, and Blackberry application “Silent Bodyguard,” one that with just one-button allows you to send a personal distress message to multiple people and transmits your exact GPS coordinates every 60 seconds, go to www.LiveSecure.org or the itunes website.