Parent killers share traits, experts say

Jul 27 2011 - 8:58am

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- As slayings go, they are among the most repellent -- and fascinating: children who commit the ultimate outrage against nature by killing their own mother, father or both.

"It's horrifying to think children are capable of taking the lives of parents," said William Weitz, a Boca Raton, Fla., forensic psychologist with experience in childhood crime. "That a child could have so much anger and hatred toward the parent is almost unthinkable."

In South Florida last week, authorities charged two young men with murdering those who nurtured them.

The crime is called parricide, and it's been part of history and literature throughout the ages. Mythical Oedipus slew his father. Nero, the real-life Roman emperor, did likewise to his mother.

Now Gerard Belmonte, 21, stands accused of brutally beating to death his adoptive mother, Natalie, 43. The two had returned to their Pembroke Pines home from a party early Sunday, and police said that within hours the son had dumped his mother's body in a nearby marsh.

A day earlier in Port St. Lucie, police say Tyler Hadley, 17, used a hammer to bludgeon to death his mother, Mary Jo, 47, and father, Blake, 54. The teen then invited about 60 unknowing friends to his house for a party.

Neither Belmonte nor Hadley has yet had the opportunity to mount a defense in court, nor has the prosecution outlined the cases against them.

Traditionally, psychiatrists say, parricides are committed by single males living at home, possibly with psychiatric disorders. The slayings often are excessively violent, with a sharp or blunt object used as the weapon. They frequently result from a trivial argument or drug-induced rage.

Police are releasing few details about the latest South Florida slayings, but Gerard Belmonte was facing charges of theft and breaking and entering, and had been released from jail just days before the killing. He said he was drunk at the time. Tyler Hadley reportedly told witnesses he had taken Ecstasy and killed with little premeditation.

In both cases, Weitz said, the brutal "hands-on" method of killing described by authorities would conform to the classic parricide. "You're talking about a very personal, close event," he said.

Parricide is rare, and academic studies scant. But Dr. Sara West, assistant professor of psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, reviewed what studies there are and, along with forensic psychiatrist Dr. Mendel Feldsher, published the findings last November in Current Psychiatry, a professional journal.

They concluded that mental illness, often undiagnosed until after the crime, is common among parent killers. Men have been the killers 86 percent of the time. The killings were nearly always committed at home, often in bedrooms. Many killers believed the victim was going to harm them, and were set off by a minor spat.

Excessive violence also was a characteristic. "It's overkill; they go beyond the need to do the job," West said in an interview. "A loss of control."

And parricide often is committed by bludgeoning the victim with whatever happens to be at hand. "Blunt objects show a lack of premeditation," West said. "It's something that you didn't plan on using."

One South Florida example is Ron Morgan of Boca Raton, an A student and star baseball player. At age 18, in May 2001, he beat his father to death with a baseball bat at the victim's Pembroke Pines home. He had been released from a psychiatric facility 10 days earlier. Like in many parricide cases, he was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Other local cases involved deluded sons who thought a parent was a threat.

Last November, Beau Henri Bruneau, 29, was accused of using a knife, hammer and cinderblock to kill his mother, Nancy, 62, outside their Hollywood home. He had a history of mental disorders and police say he told them she was trying to kill him through neglect. His case is pending.

On Christmas Eve 2006, Barnard Joseph, of Fort Lauderdale, stabbed his father through the heart, beat him with a table leg, and critically injured his mother. He believed they put a Voodoo curse on him that caused his daughter to be born with Down syndrome. Convicted of murder, Joseph is serving a life sentence.

Then there are others, often teens, who kill parents who have been abusive.

A Lighthouse Point man, Erin Atac, 30, was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 18 years in prison last year for slashing his father's throat in 2007. He argued that the 65-year-old victim was a bullying tyrant.

One notable South Florida case was that of Jennifer Lodato. In 1989 at age 15 she shot and killed her father, a Metro-Dade police officer who she said molested her. She was sentenced to 15 years' probation, served time in a psychiatric facility, and was released in 1991.

West said parricide cases don't appear to be on the upswing, but garner more attention in today's media-soaked world. The public remains entranced.

"People are very attracted to these stories," she said. "People wouldn't assume that children would go against their parents."

(c) 2011, Sun Sentinel.

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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

 

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