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Monthly Archives: September 2016

Masking a murderer: Alan Hawe and the myth of the “good man who snapped”

If there’s been one thing more infuriating this week than the media coverage of the Hawe murders, it’s the backlash against those of us who have objected to it. “We don’t know the whole story!” “Stop jumping to conclusions!” “What about the family?”

Well, true: we don’t know the whole story. But this is what we do know – or, at least, what has been published widely without contradiction:

  • Alan Hawe murdered his wife and three children with a knife and hatchet
  • Prior to this, he was not known to the mental health services
  • He left a note inside the house explaining why he did it
  • This note expressed his view that his family members couldn’t cope without him
  • He left another note on the door to warn the next visitor

So, in brief: we know he committed a brutal familicide with intent and deliberation, with no evidence that would support an insanity verdict had he survived to be prosecuted, and in the apparent belief that the lives of his wife and children were nothing without him.

What enables us to draw conclusions from this is its chilling similarity to a number of other murders we know of. There’s even a name for it: family annihilation. And there are studies of it, and those studies clearly indicate that family annihilators share certain characteristics (in addition to being overwhelmingly male): narcissism, a sense of personal ownership of his wife and children, and often a previous history of abusive behaviour. Toxic masculinity, you might call it. Given that Alan Hawe’s murders fit the pattern of family annihilators, it’s really not a great leap to expect that his personality will also turn out to have done so.

This is true even if Clodagh Hawe’s own family had no idea, as reports suggest. Let’s face it, you don’t get to hack four people to death and still be eulogised as a pillar of your community unless you’re pretty good at hiding things. And besides, that’s also part of the pattern. As the study linked above concludes:

the annihilation makes public what had often been a private reality – a reality masked to family, friends and neighbours who often thought that this man had been a ‘doting’ and ‘loving’ father and ‘dutiful’ husband.

It’s understandable why Clodagh’s close friends and family would want to cling to the belief that her husband was a good man who just snapped. If you’ve never seen a terrible side to someone you thought you knew well, it’s really hard to accept that that side exists. I get this. And learning about a side of him you never saw until it was too late? The guilt one must feel would be unimaginable. Could I have seen this coming? Could I have done something? At a time of unbearable trauma, perhaps the one thing that can give comfort to survivors is the thought that they, at least, had not failed their loved ones by failing to somehow prevent their deaths.

But for others, who had no such ties to the family, the reluctance to acknowledge the pattern is more puzzling. Why would they rather believe that this was just a one-off “tragedy” that could not have been foreseen? What comfort does it bring them to think that anyone – maybe even themselves or someone they love – could just “snap” one day and butcher their entire family?

No, we don’t have all the facts, and maybe we never will. But here’s one fact we can be absolutely certain of: Clodagh’s death was not unique. And for that reason, as much as we wish to be respectful to her family in their grief, we cannot simply accept the narrative of the “good man who snapped”. We must try to look behind the façade of the devoted family man, and map out the murderer beneath.  We must learn to recognise him, and more importantly, what made him. What makes all of them. If we persist in deluding ourselves that they just spring up spontaneously from nowhere, we will never learn how to ensure that they don’t. And the consequence will be a lot more Alan Hawes, and a lot more Clodaghs.

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