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Criminal psychologist reveals common traits of men who kill their partners

The tragic murder of Lilie James at the St Andrew’s Cathedral School has once again narrowed the collective consciousness of Australia on the rising epidemic of men murdering women.

The statistics are staggering. In the past 10 days, six women have been killed — five allegedly by violence inflicted upon them by men.

Indeed, since the news of Lilie James’ death hit the media, there have been two subsequent alleged murders.

The dynamics surrounding domestic murder are multifactorial and complex.

As a criminal psychologist, I have examined and reported upon many offenders who have killed their partners and it is clear that they possess a number of common, persistent personality traits.

Inevitably, despite their bravado, they are inadequate men, with fragile egos.

Lilie James’s body was found in the bathroom of an elite private school in Sydney.

Their sense of self is only strengthened through the subordination of others and in particular, their female partners.

Any challenges to this authority are seen as a threat and with the passage of time can lead to a pattern of physical and psychological violence, culminating in murder.

How can women better protect themselves and avoid these potentially homicidal relationships? There are a number of consistent red flags which emerge during the course of their relationships.

These include love bombing, where upon meeting their prospective partner, the woman is showered with affection, gifts and intense attention.

Whilst this may be flattering, it may well also signal more insidious psychological forces operating within the male.

Paul Thijssen is suspected of murdering Lilie James before taking his own life.

These individuals tend to be fast movers in terms of establishing the relationship and once this occurs, a subtle pattern of escalating control develops.

This may include coercive control, where the male insists on knowing his partner’s whereabouts, attempts to block ongoing relationships with family and close friends, and demands increasing exclusive time.

Objections to this are met with emotional withdrawal such as silent treatment, denigration attacking a person’s self-esteem and eventually, an escalating pattern of violence which may involve breaking furniture, artifacts and then assaulting the victim.

Because the victim has lost contact with external sources of support, they become increasingly susceptible to this type of manipulation.

Gaslighting is also a popular tool of control.

This involves the male denying the partner’s reality, causing them to question their judgment and in extreme cases to question their sanity.

Other factors may include substance use with alcohol and drugs impacting upon the offender’s judgment and impulse control, making it more likely that they will act in a violent manner.

Whilst the behavior of the offender may seem “crazy”, they are in fact not mad but rather, bad.

They are individuals who are well aware of what they are doing and the consequences of their actions and as the murder of Lilie James clearly demonstrated, there may be considerable forward planning ahead of the crime.

Criminal psychologists point to manipulation and gaslighting as red flags to look out for.

By this stage, the offender has come to view his partner as a chattel, no different to the ownership of a motor vehicle, television and other inanimate objects.

They become threatened and then enraged by the thought that the person they have controlled would choose to leave the relationship.

This leads to genuine threats to their own sense of masculinity and superiority.

Consequently, the time of highest risk of homicide for the potential victim is when they leave or during the period that they attempt to leave the relationship.

At those times, women are in considerable danger.

There may well be a pattern of separation and reconciliation with the female partner being either suborned by the threats or seduced by their promises of changed behavior and undying love.

Inevitably, the pattern of abuse returns leading to separation and potential homicide.

The tragic case of Hannah Clarke, who was stalked by her former partner Rowan Baxter, prior to him dousing her and the children of the marriage with fuel and setting them alight, demonstrates this dynamic. As in the case of Thijssen, Baxter then ended his life.

Hannah Clarke and Rowan Baxter with their son and daughters.

It is clear that Paul Thijssen was determined to maintain control of the dynamics even after murdering Lilie James.

This is well amplified in him using the deceased mobile phone to text her family with a request to collect her from the school.

He then spent some hours close to The Gap at Vaucluse, advising the police as to what had occurred before evidently meeting his death.

This pattern of control has been evidenced in other cases I have reviewed, including one case, where the husband murdered his wife and child before killing himself.

As a final act of control beyond the grave, he requested that he be buried with his family.

Tim Watson-Munro is a criminal psychologist.

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