Children Who Murder: A Review

  • David M. Shumaker
  • Ronald J. Prinz


Despite considerable research on juvenile homicide, pre-adolescent homicide offenders have received less attention. This paper reviews the existing literature on preteen murderers in order to characterize the current state of research knowledge about this population, and draws on some of the work on adolescent homicide as well. The analysis of this literature considers historical context, methodological issues, previous attempts to classify youthful homicide offenders, and predictors of preteen homicidal behavior. While there is a high degree of heterogeneity within this population, several developmental similarities emerged across cases that were associated with the perpetration of homicide by preteens. A high percentage of preteen homicide offenders come from homes characterized by physical abuse, domestic violence, poor or absent parenting, and overall instability. Gun availability may have been a facilitating factor. Support for different etiologies of preteen versus adolescent homicide is weak. Recommendations for future research directions are offered.

juvenile murder youth crime violence delinquency 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Adam, B. S., & Livingston, R. (1993). Sororicide in preteen girls: A case report and literature review. Acta Paedopsychiatrica, 56, 47-51.Google Scholar
  2. Adelson, L. (1972). The battering child. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 222, 159-161.Google Scholar
  3. Adams, K. A. (1974). The child who murders: a review of theory and research. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 1, 51-61.Google Scholar
  4. Bailey, S. (1996). Adolescents who murder. Journal of Adolescence, 19, 19-39.Google Scholar
  5. Bender, L. (1959). Children and adolescents who have killed. American Journal of Psychiatry, 116, 510-513.Google Scholar
  6. Bender, L., & Curran, F. J. (1940). Children and adolescents who kill. Journal of Criminal Psychopathology, 1, 297-322.Google Scholar
  7. Bjerregaard, B., & Lizotte, A. J. (1995). Gun ownership and gang membership. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 86, 37-58.Google Scholar
  8. Bernstein, J. I. (1979). Premeditated murder by an eight-year old boy. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 23, 47-56.Google Scholar
  9. Block, R., & Block, C. R. (1993). Street gang crime in Chicago. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice.Google Scholar
  10. Blumstein, A. (1995). Youth violence, guns, and the illicit-drug industry. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 86, 10-36.Google Scholar
  11. Busch, K. G., Zagar, R., Hughes, T. M., Arbit, J., & Bussell, R. E. (1990). Adolescents who kill. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 46, 472-485.Google Scholar
  12. Capaldi, D. M., & Patterson, G. R. (1996). Can violent offenders be distinguished from frequent offenders: Prediction from childhood to adolescence. Journal of Research on Crime and Delinquency, 33, 206-231.Google Scholar
  13. Carek, D. J., & Watson, A. S. (1964). Treatment of a family involved in fratricide. Archives of General Psychiatry, 16, 533-542.Google Scholar
  14. Cook, T. D., & Campbell, D. T. (Eds.). (1979). Quasi-experimentation: Design and analysis issues for field settings. Chicago: Rand McNally.Google Scholar
  15. Cook, P. J., & Moore, M. H. (1999). Guns, gun control, and homicide: A review of research and public policy. In M. D. Smith & M. A. Zahn (Eds.), Homicide: A sourcebook of social research. (pp. 277-296). London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  16. Corder, B. F., Ball, B. C., Haizlip, T. M., Rollins, R., & Beaumont, R. (1976). Adolescent parricide: a comparison with other adolescent murder. American Journal of Psychiatry, 133, 957-961.Google Scholar
  17. Cormier, B. M., Angliker, C. C., Gagne, P. W., & Markus, B. (1978). Adolescents who kill members of the family. In J. Eekerlaar and S. Katz (Eds.), Family violence: an international and interdisciplinary study (pp. 466-478). Toronto: Butterworth.Google Scholar
  18. Cornell, D. G. (1989). Causes of juvenile homicide: A review of the literature. In E. P. Benedek & D. G. Cornell (Eds.), Juvenile homicide. (pp. 3-36). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press.Google Scholar
  19. Cornell, D. G. (1993). Juvenile homicide: a growing national problem. Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 11, 389-396.Google Scholar
  20. Cornell, D. G., Benedek, E. P., & Benedek, D. M. (1987). Characteristics of adolescents charged with homicide: a review of 72 cases. Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 5, 11-23.Google Scholar
  21. Cornell, D. G., Benedek, E. P., & Benedek, D. M. (1987). Juvenile homicide: Prior adjustment and a proposed typology. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 57, 383-393.Google Scholar
  22. Crespi, T. D., & Rigazio-DiGilio, S. A. (1996). Adolescent homicide and family pathology: Implications for research and treatment with adolescents. Adolescence, 31, 353-367.Google Scholar
  23. Darby, P. J., Allan, W. D., Kashani, J. H., Hartke, K. L., & Reid, J. C. (1998). Analysis of 112 juveniles who committed homicide: Characteristics and a closer look at family abuse. Journal of Family Violence, 13, 365-375.Google Scholar
  24. Douglas, J. E., Burgess, A. W., & Burgess, A. G. (1992). Crime Classification Manual. New York: Lexington Books of Macmillan.Google Scholar
  25. Duncan, J. W., & Duncan, G. M. (1971). Murder in the family: A study of some homicidal adolescents. American Journal of Psychiatry, 127, 74-78.Google Scholar
  26. Easson, W. M., & Steinhilber, R. M., (1961). Murderous aggression by children and adolescents. Archives of General Psychiatry, 4, 1-9.Google Scholar
  27. Ewing, C. P. (1990). When children kill: The dynamics of juvenile homicide. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.Google Scholar
  28. Ewing, C. P. (1997). Fatal families: The dynamics of intrafamilial homicide. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  29. Farrington, D. P. (1995). The development of offending and antisocial behaviour from childhood: Key findings from the Cambridge Study in delinquent development. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 360, 929-964.Google Scholar
  30. Federal Bureau of Investigation (1997). Uniform Crime Reports 1996. Washington DC: Author.Google Scholar
  31. Flewelling, R. L., & Williams, K. R. (1999). Categorizing homicides: The use of disaggregrated data in homicide research. In M. D. Smith & M. A. Zahn (Eds.), Homicide: A sourcebook of social research. (pp. 96-106). London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  32. Fox, J. A. (1996). Trends in juvenile violence. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Justice Statistics, Department of Justice.Google Scholar
  33. Freedman, J. L. (1984). Effect of television violence on aggressiveness. Psychological Bulletin, 96, 227-246.Google Scholar
  34. Frick, P. J., O'Brien, B. S., Wootton, J. M., & McBurnett, K. (1994). Psychopathy and conduct problems in children. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 103, 700-707.Google Scholar
  35. Friedrich-Cofer, L., & Huston, A. C. (1986). Television violence and aggression: The debate continues. Psychological Bulletin, 100, 364-371.Google Scholar
  36. Godow, K. D., & Sprafkin, J. (1993). Television ''violence'' and children with emotional and behavioral disorders. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 1, 54-63.Google Scholar
  37. Goldstein, A. P. (1991). Delinquent gangs: a psychological perspective. Champaign, Illinois: Research Press.Google Scholar
  38. Greenberg, H. R., & Blank, R. H. (1970). Murder and self-destruction by a 12-year-old boy. Adolescence, 5, 391-396.Google Scholar
  39. Hagan, M. P. (1997). An analysis of adolescent perpetrators of homicide and attempted homicide upon return to the community. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 41, 250-259.Google Scholar
  40. Hardwick, P. J., & Rowton-Lee (1996). Adolescent homicide: Towards assessment of risk. Journal of Adolescence, 19, 263-276.Google Scholar
  41. Hays, J. R., Solway, K. S., & Schreiner, D. (1978). Intellectual characteristics of juvenile murderers versus status offenders. Psychological Reports, 43, 80-82.Google Scholar
  42. Heide, K. M. (1992). Why kids kill parents. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Heide, K. M. (1993). Juvenile involvement in multiple offender and multiple victim parricides. Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology, 9, 53-64.Google Scholar
  44. Heide, K. M. (1996). Why kids keep killing: The correlates, causes, and challenges of juvenile homicide. Stanford Law and Policy Review, 7, 43-49.Google Scholar
  45. Heide, K. M. (1997). Juvenile homicide in America: How can we stop the killing? Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 15, 203-220.Google Scholar
  46. Heide, K. M. (1999a). Young killers: The challenge of juvenile homicide. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  47. Heide, K. M. (1999b). Youth homicide: An integration of psychological, sociological, and biological approaches. In M. D. Smith & M. A. Zahn (Eds.), Homicide: A sourcebook of social research. (pp. 221-238). London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  48. Heide, K. M. (1993). Weapons used by juveniles and adults to kill parents. Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 11, 397-405.Google Scholar
  49. Heide, K. M. (1994). Evidence of child maltreatment among adolescent parricide offenders. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 38, 151-162.Google Scholar
  50. Heide, K. M. (1999). Youth homicide: An integration of psychological, sociological, and biological approaches. In M. D. Smith & M. A. Zahn (Eds.), Homicide: A sourcebook of social research. (pp. 221-238). London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  51. Hellsten, P., & Katila, O. (1965). Murder and other homicide by children under 15 in Finland. Psychiatric Quarterly, Suppl. 39, 54-74.Google Scholar
  52. Hoge, R. D., Andrews, D. A., Leschied, A. W. (1996). An investigation of risk and protective factors in a sample of youthful offenders. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 37, 419-424.Google Scholar
  53. Holmes, R. M., & Holmes, S. T. (1994). Murder in America. London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  54. Howell, J. C., Krisberg, B., & Jones, M. (1995). Trends in juvenile crime and youth violence. In J. C. Howell, B. Krisberg, J. D. Hawkins, & J. J. Wilson (Eds.), Serious, Violent, & Chronic Juvenile Offenders: A Sourcebook (pp. 1-35). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  55. Huesmann, L. R., Eron, L. D., Lefkowitz, M. M., & Walder, L. O. (1984). Stability of aggression over time and generations. Developmental Psychology, 20, 1120-1134.Google Scholar
  56. King, C. H. (1975). The ego and the integration of violence in homicidal youth. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 45, 134-145.Google Scholar
  57. Lande, R. G. (1993). The video violence debate. Hospital and Community Psychiatry, 44, 347-351.Google Scholar
  58. Lewis, D. O., Lovely, R., Yeager, C., Ferguson, G., Friedman, M., Sloane, G., Friedman, H., & Pincus, J. H. (1988). Intrinsic and environmental characteristics of juvenile murderers. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 27, 582-587.Google Scholar
  59. Lewis, D. O., Moy, E., Jackson, L. D., Aaronson, R., Ritvo, U., Settu, S., & Simons, A. (1985). Biopsychosocial characteristics of children who later murder: a prospective study. American Journal of Psychiatry, 142, 1161-1166.Google Scholar
  60. Lewis, D. O., Pincus, J. H., Bard, B., Richardson, E., Prichep, L. S., Feldman, M., & Yeager, C. (1988). Neuropsychiatric, psychoeducational, and family characteristics of 14 juveniles condemned to death in the United States. American Journal of Psychiatry, 145, 584-589.Google Scholar
  61. Lewis, D. O., Shanok, S. S., Gran, M., & Ritvo, E. (1983). Homicidally aggressive young children: neuropsychiatric and experiential correlates. American Journal of Psychiatry, 140, 148-153.Google Scholar
  62. Loeber, R., DeLamatre, M. S., Keenan, K., & Zhang, Q. (1998). A prospective replication of developmental pathways in disruptive and delinquent behavior. In R. B. Cairns & L. R. Bergman (Eds.), Methods and models for studying the individual (pp. 185-218). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  63. Loeber, R., & Dishion, T. (1983). Early predictors of male delinquency: A review. Psychological Bulletin, 94, 68-99.Google Scholar
  64. Loeber, R., Farrington, D. P., Stouthamer-Loeber, M., Moffitt, T. E., & Caspi, A. (1998). The development of male offending: Key findings from the first decade of the Pittsburgh Youth Study. Studies on Crime and Crime Prevention, 7, 141-171.Google Scholar
  65. Lyman, D. R. (1996). Early identification of chronic offenders: Who is the fledgling psychopath? Psychological Bulletin, 120, 209-234.Google Scholar
  66. Malmquist, C. P. (1971). Premonitory signs of homicidal aggression in juveniles. American Journal of Psychiatry, 128, 93-97.Google Scholar
  67. Malmquist, C. P. (1996). Homicide: A psychiatric perspective. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press.Google Scholar
  68. Maxson, C. L., Woods, K. J., & Klein, M. W. (1995). Street gang migration in the United States. Los Angeles: University of Southern California, Center for the Study of Crime and Social Control, Social Science Research Institute.Google Scholar
  69. Maxson, C. L., & Klein, M. W. (1996). Defining gang homicide: an updated look at member and motive approaches. In C. R. Huff (Ed.) Gangs in America: 2nd Edition (pp. 3-20). London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  70. McCarthy, J. B. (1978). Narcissism and the self in homicidal adolescents. American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 38, 19-29.Google Scholar
  71. McGuire, W. J. (1986). The myth of massive media impact: Savagings and salvagings. In G. Comstock (Ed.), Public communication and behavior: Vol. 1, (pp.173-257). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  72. Mezzich, A. C., Coffman, G., & Mezzich, J. E. (1991). A typology of violent delinquent adolescents. Journal of Psychiatry and Law, 19, 63-78.Google Scholar
  73. Miller, D., & Looney, J. (1974). The prediction of adolescent homicide: Episodic dyscontrol and dehumanisation. American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 34, 187-198.Google Scholar
  74. Myers, W. C. (1994). Sexual homicide by adolescents. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 33, 962-969.Google Scholar
  75. Myers, W. C., & Blashfield, R. (1997). Psychopathology and personality in juvenile sexual homicide offenders. Journal of the American Academy Psychiatry and the Law, 25, 497-508.Google Scholar
  76. Myers, W. C., Burgess, A. W., & Nelson, J. A. (1998). Criminal and behavioral aspects of juvenile sexual homicide. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 43, 340-347.Google Scholar
  77. Myers, W. C., & Kemph, J. P. (1988). Characteristics and treatment of four homicidal adolescents. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 27, 595-599.Google Scholar
  78. Myers, W. C., & Kemph, J. P. (1990). DSM-III-R Classification of murderous youth: Help or hindrance? Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 51, 239-242.Google Scholar
  79. Myers, W. C., & Mutch, P. J. (1992). Language disorders in disruptive behaviour disordered homicidal youth. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 37, 919-922.Google Scholar
  80. Myers, W. C., Scott, K., Burgess, A. W., & Burgess, A. G. (1995). Psychopathology, biopsychosocial factors, crime characteristics, and classification of 25 homicidal youths. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 34, 1483-1489.Google Scholar
  81. National Youth Gang Center. (1997). 1995 National youth gang survey. Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.Google Scholar
  82. Paik, H., & Comstock, G. (1994). The effects of television violence on antisocial behavior: A meta-analysis. Communication Research, 21, 516-546.Google Scholar
  83. Paluszny, M., & McNabb, M. (1975). Therapy of a 6-year old who committed fratricide. Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, 14, 319-336.Google Scholar
  84. Patterson, G. R., DeBaryshe, B. D., & Ramsey, E. (1989). A developmental perspective on antisocial behavior. American Psychologist, 44, 329-335.Google Scholar
  85. Petti, T. A., & Davidman, L. (1981). Homicidal school-age children: cognitive style and demographic features. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 12, 82-89.Google Scholar
  86. Pfeffer, C. R. (1980). Psychiatric hospital treatment of assaultive homicidal children. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 34, 197-207.Google Scholar
  87. Post, S. (1982). Adolescent parricide in abusive families. Child Welfare, 61, 445-455.Google Scholar
  88. Reidel, M. (1999). Sources of homicide data: A review and comparison. In M. D. Smith & M. A. Zahn (Eds.), Homicide: A sourcebook of social research. (pp. 75-95). London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  89. Ressler, R. K., Burgess, A. W., & Douglas, J. E. (1988). Sexual homicide: Patterns and motives. New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  90. Rice, M. E., & Harris, G. T. (1995). Violent recidivism: Assessing predictive validity. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 63, 737-748.Google Scholar
  91. Roberts, D. F., & Macoby, N. (1985). Effects of mass communication. In G. Lindzey & E. Aronson (Eds.), Handbook of social psychology, Vol. 2 (pp. 539-598). New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  92. Rogers, C. (1993). Gang-related homicides in Los Angeles County. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 38, 831-834.Google Scholar
  93. Rosner, R., Weiderlight, M., Rosner, M. B. H., & Wieczorek, R. R. (1978). Adolescents accused of murder and manslaughter: A five year descriptive study. Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law, 23, 65-72.Google Scholar
  94. Rowley, J. C., Ewing, C. P., & Singer, S. I. (1987). Juvenile homicide: The need for an interdisciplinary approach. Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 5, 1-10.Google Scholar
  95. Russell, D. H. (1979). Ingredients of juvenile murder. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 23, 65-72.Google Scholar
  96. Russell, D. H. (1986). Girls who kill. International Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 30, 171-176.Google Scholar
  97. Sadoff, R. L. (1971). Clinical observations on parricide. Psychiatric Quarterly, 45, 65-69.Google Scholar
  98. Sargent, D. (1962). Children who kill-a family conspiracy? Social Work, 17, 35-42.Google Scholar
  99. Scherl, D. J., & Mack, J. E. (1966). A study of adolescent matricide. Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, 5 569-593.Google Scholar
  100. Scott, C. L. (1999). Juvenile violence. Forensic Psychiatry, 22, 71-83.Google Scholar
  101. Sendi, I. B., & Blomgren, P. G. (1975). A comparative study of predictive criteria in the predisposition of homicidal adolescents. American Journal of Psychiatry, 132, 423-428.Google Scholar
  102. Singer, J. L., Singer, D. G., & Rapaczynski, W. (1984). Family patterns and television viewing as predictors of children's beliefs and aggression. Journal of Communication, 34, 73-89.Google Scholar
  103. Smith, S. (1965). The adolescent murderer: A psychodynamic interpretation. Archives of General Psychiatry, 13, 310-319.Google Scholar
  104. Snyder, H., & Finnegan, T. A. (1998). Easy access to the FBI's Supplementary Homicide Reports, 1980-1996. [Data presentation and analysis package]. Pittsburgh, PA: National Center for Juvenile Justice.Google Scholar
  105. Snyder, H., & Sickmund, M. (1995). National report on juvenile offending and victimization. Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.Google Scholar
  106. Solway, K. S., Richardson, L., Hays, J. R., & Elion, V. H. (1981). Adolescent murderers: Literature review and preliminary research findings. In J. R. Hays, T. K. Roberts & K. S. Solway (Eds.), Violence and the violent individual (pp. 193-210). New York: SP Medical and Scientific Books.Google Scholar
  107. Sorrells, J. (1977). Kids who kill. Crime and Delinquency, 23, 312-320.Google Scholar
  108. Sorrells, J. (1980). What can be done about juvenile homicide? Crime and Delinquency, 26, 152-161.Google Scholar
  109. Spergel, I. A. (1983). Violent gangs in Chicago: Segmentation and integration Unpublished manuscript, University of Chicago.Google Scholar
  110. Spergel, I. A. (1995). The youth gang problem: a community approach. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  111. Stearns, A. W. (1957). Murder by adolescents with obscure motivation. American Journal of Psychiatry, 114, 303-305.Google Scholar
  112. Tooley, K. (1975). The small assassins: Clinical notes on a subgroup of murderous children. Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, 14, 306-318.Google Scholar
  113. Toupin, & Morissette, (1990). Juvenile homicide: A case control study. Medicine & Law, 9, 986-994.Google Scholar
  114. Tucker, L. S., & Cornwall, T. P. (1977). Mother-son folie a deux: A case of attempted patricide. American Journal of Psychiatry, 134, 1146-1147.Google Scholar
  115. U.S. Department of Justice. (1987). Survey of youth in custody (Bureau of Justice Statistics special report). Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  116. Walshe-Brennan, K. S. (1975). Children who have murdered. Medico Legal Journal, 43(1), 20-24.Google Scholar
  117. Walshe-Brennan, K. S. (1977). A socio-psychological investigation of young murderers. British Journal of Criminology, 17, 58-63.Google Scholar
  118. Wood, W., Wong, F., & Chachere, J. (1991). Effects of media violence on viewers' aggression and unconstrained social interaction. Psychological Bulletin, 109, 371-383.Google Scholar
  119. Woods, S. M. (1961). Adolescence violence and homicide. Archives of General Psychiatry, 5, 38-44.Google Scholar
  120. Yates, A., Beutler, L. E., & Crago, M. (1984). Characteristics of young, violent offenders. Journal of Psychiatry and Law, 16, 137-149.Google Scholar
  121. Yarvis, R. M. (1991). Homicide: Causative factors and roots. Lexington, MA: Lexington Book Company.Google Scholar
  122. Zagar, R., Arbit, J., Sylvies, R., Busch, K., & Hughes, J. (1990). Homicidal adolescents: A replication. Psychological Reports, 67, 1235-1242.Google Scholar
  123. Zahn, M. A., & McCall, P. L. (1999). In M. D. Smith & M. A. Zahn (Eds.), Homicide: A sourcebook of social research. (pp. 9-23). London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  124. Zenoff, E. H., & Zients, A. B. (1979). Juvenile murderers: should the punishment fit the crime? International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 2, 533-553.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • David M. Shumaker
    • 1
  • Ronald J. Prinz
    • 1
  1. 1.University of South CarolinaColumbia

Personalised recommendations