The term parricide is defined as the murder of a close relative. Some may confuse “parricide” with “patricide,” but the latter term refers only to the murder of one’s father. The term “parricide,” on the other hand, is used to define the murder of one’s parents, siblings, or another close relative. Those who engage in parricide often do so due to mental illness, or a history of abuse. To explore this concept, consider the following parricide definition.

Definition of Parricide


  1. The act of murdering of one’s close relative, such as a parent or sibling.


1545-1555        Latin parricīdum

What is Parricide

Parricide is the act of murdering one’s close relative, be it a parent, sibling, or another similarly close relative. In many cases, those who commit parricide are either mentally ill, or have been subjected to ongoing physical or sexual abuse at the hands of the murdered relative. In the Digest of Roman Law, 3rd century lawyer Modestinus said of parricide:

“…it is laid down that if anyone kills his father, his mother, his grandfather, his grandmother, his brother, his sister, first cousin on his father’s side, first cousin on his mother’s side, paternal or maternal uncle, paternal (or maternal) aunt, first cousin (male or female) by mother’s sister, wife, husband, father-in-law, son-in-law, mother-in-law, (daughter-in-law), stepfather, stepson, stepdaughter, patron, or patroness, or with malicious intent brings this about, shall be liable to the same penalty as that of the lex Cornelia on murderers. And a mother who kills her son or daughter suffers the penalty of the same statute, as does a grandfather who kills a grandson; and in addition, a person who buys poison to give to his father, even though he is unable to administer it.”

Patricide, Matricide, and Fratricide

As parricide is such a broad term referring to the killing of a close family member, it can be broken down into constituent crimes. For instance, matricide is the act of killing one’s own mother, and patricide is the act of killing one’s father. Interestingly, patricide occurs more often than matricide, and the crimes are committed more often by adults than by minor children. There is also fratricide, which is the murder of one’s brother, and sororicide, the murder of one’s sister. Infanticide is used to describe the murder of young children, so the terms fratricide and sororicide are used to describe the murder of adult siblings.

Research also shows that men are more likely than women to commit these crimes. Those who are not mentally ill, but who are guilty of murdering a close family member, typically come from violent homes that subjected them to various types of abuse. One of the most famous examples of parricide is found in literature in the Greek myth of Oedipus.

In the story, Oedipus leaves home after he learns of a prophecy that predicts he will kill his father and marry his mother. On his journey, he meets an older man and ends up killing him in a fight. Of course, he later finds out that the stranger was his biological father, and the king. Later, Oedipus is granted the queen’s hand in marriage, only to find out that she is his biological mother.

Another well-known example of parricide, but one that actually happened in real life, took place in Idaho on September 2, 2003. Sarah Marie Johnson, who was 16 years old at the time, shot and killed both of her parents in their home. Johnson’s motive for the murder was that her parents had forbade her from dating 19-year-old Bruno Santos. Johnson was found guilty of both matricide and patricide in March, 2005, and given two life sentences, plus an additional 15 years for the firearm she had used.

In 2012, Johnson’s lawyer filed a petition requesting a new trial, alleging that Johnson had ineffective legal counsel during her murder trial, though the request was denied. The case was highly publicized for two reasons: a) Johnson was a young female, and those guilty of these crimes are usually young males; and b) Johnson had committed both matricide and patricide at the same time, which is considered to be an incredibly rare event.

Characteristics of Sons Who Kill Their Parents

There tends to be a pattern among individuals who kill their mothers or fathers. For instance, sons who kill their parents are typically single, and suffer from schizophrenia. Sons who kill their mothers typically live with their mothers as adults, and they are often immature, and so remain dependent on their mothers. Sons tend to use excessive violence when killing either parent.

Parents in either situation tend to be demanding and possessive, with fathers also being cruel and abusive to their sons. In the case of matricide, the son is usually motivated to kill his mother by a delusional belief or hallucination, an argument, or the threat of separation from her. As for patricide, the son tends to feel relief after the killing, as opposed to remorse. The son instead feels free of his abnormal relationship with his father.

Characteristics of Daughters Who Kill Their Parents

As for daughters who kill their parents, there tend to be fewer common factors involved. For instance, women who kill their fathers are less likely to be psychotic than men. Their fathers are typically oppressive, which leads to violent relationships with their daughters. Women who kill their fathers also tend to be younger, on average 21 years old, than those who kill their mothers, who average 39 years old.

As for those who commit matricide, women will typically use excessive force, and will be motivated by a hostile and dependent relationship with their mothers. These women are usually middle-aged, single, and still living with their mothers. Unlike those who commit patricide, daughters who commit matricide usually do suffer from some sort of psychosis.

Juveniles Who Commit Parricide

Juveniles who commit parricide are usually teenage boys, and they are more likely to kill their fathers than their mothers. They generally lack a history of psychosis, with their behavior being more spontaneous than premeditated, and based on a longstanding history of parental abuse. This means that it is more likely that a teenage boy will kill his father in a blind rage, rather than plotting to kill either parent.

Juveniles tend to feel more relieved than remorseful after committing parricide, and they are more likely to kill their stepparents than their biological parents. Interestingly, while it is understood that a stepparent’s relationship with a child can be a more difficult one than the relationship the child enjoys with his biological parent, stepparents also tend to be younger than the child’s biological parents.

Parricide Example In Lizzie Borden

Perhaps the most famous and oldest example of parricide in United States history is the case involving Lizzie Borden, who was accused of having murdered of her father and stepmother with an ax. Borden was tried and acquitted for both murders, yet speculation continues to this day with regard to her guilt, especially considering the fact that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts never charged anyone else for the murders.

Abby and Andrew Borden were murdered at their home on August 4, 1892. When questioned by police, Lizzie’s answers were either bizarre or inconsistent. Most of the officers who interviewed Lizzie were displeased with her attitude, finding her to be too calm under the circumstances. However, despite the fact that Lizzie’s attitude seemed “off,” and that she kept changing her story, no one thought to check her for bloodstains. Police had searched her room but admitted at her trial to not doing as thorough a job as they should have because she had said she “wasn’t feeling well” that day.

Several potential weapons were found in the Bordens’ basement. One of the weapons was a hatchet that was assumed to be the murder weapon because of how fresh the break on the handle had looked. Further, it appeared that dust had been applied to the hatchet to make it look like the tool had been in the basement for longer than it perhaps had actually been. However, despite these oddities none of these tools were removed from the house as evidence.

Additional events happened directly after the murders that were not properly investigated. For instance, Lizzy was seen by a friend, burning a dress, on August 7; when confronted about it, she said it was covered in paint stains. It was never confirmed whether or not this had been the dress she wore on the day of the murders. If so, it is possible that Borden may have been burning the dress in order to destroy incriminating evidence that would have implicated her in the murders.

A grand jury began hearing evidence in the case on November 7, and Lizzie was indicted on December 2. She was acquitted of the murders on June 20 of the following year, however she remains the prime suspect to this day. Other suspects included the maid, Bridget Sullivan; William Borden, Andrew’s illegitimate son; Emma Borden, Lizzie’s older sister; and John Morse, Lizzie’s maternal uncle. One theory suggested that Borden was involved in a lesbian relationship with Sullivan and, upon being discovered, murdered her parents to cover it up.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Grand Jury – A jury that determines whether probable cause exists to indict an accused person for a crime.
  • Suspect – A person who is believed to be guilty of a crime.