Australia’s gendered violence crisis: Women are living in fear of those you would least expect

Headshot of Kristin Shorten
Kristin Shorten
The Nightly
6 Min Read
University of Newcastle criminology lecturer Xanthe Mallett says the text Lillie James’ killer sent her father was designed to ensure her body was discovered.
University of Newcastle criminology lecturer Xanthe Mallett says the text Lillie James’ killer sent her father was designed to ensure her body was discovered. Credit: News Corp Australia

It’s now well-known that most female murder victims are killed by intimate partners, but a “remarkably consistent” handful of Australian women are dying at the hands of an unlikely group of men: their sons.

So far in 2024, an Australian man has murdered his mature-aged or elderly mother every month.

In the last five years, 28 women have been murdered by their sons. Of those offenders, 23 were adults.

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Criminologist Samantha Bricknell said matricide, the killing of one’s mother, warrants further scrutiny.

“If we’re looking at violence against women, and particularly in terms of femicide in the family context, we have a small but consistent number of parents who have been killed by their predominantly adult children and we don’t necessarily understand why these are occurring,” she said.

“We’ve had a few step-mums, but it’s predominantly the biological mother.

“In a small proportion of those both parents are killed but predominantly, the mother is the sole victim.”

Dr Bricknell, a research manager at the Australian Institute of Criminology, said the motive for these killings, from the initial available data, is not definitive.

“Without coronial information and sentencing remarks to the offender … it’s really hard to know what ultimately was the rationale,” she said.

“But it seems to predominantly be a precipitating argument, although we have a few where the offender was deemed by police to be delusional at the time of the incident.

“Just under half of the offenders, and it could be higher, were known to have been experiencing depression or another mental illness at the time.

“We also have this category of no apparent motive, which is different to unknown, so in some cases, it’s just not clear.”

The cause of death is usually stab wounds, which is consistent with homicides across the board.

“It’s either stab wounds or beating, and in almost all cases, she has been murdered in her own home,” Dr Bricknell said.

“And sometimes he’s lived in the same home with her.

“There was one in Victoria very recently involving a young daughter (offender) who was 12 or 13, but the predominant pattern is that it is a son, and it is an adult son, in these circumstances.”

Most mothers being killed by sons are middle-aged to elderly.

“Most offenders are … anywhere from their 20s to 50s,” she said.

“When you do see, particularly really elderly victims, it’s just absolutely heartbreaking.

“It’s heartbreaking for anyone to lose their life, but to get to that age, and that’s how they’ve passed … is awful.”

Last week in Perth, Andre Lafayette Drane was charged with murdering his mother.

Andre Lafayette Drane has been charged with murdering his mother.
Andre Lafayette Drane has been charged with murdering his mother. Credit: Supplied

Neighbours called police after seeing bloody footprints outside Joan Mary Drane’s home.

The West Australian reported that the 78-year-old woman called triple zero about her son at least three times in the weeks before her death.

WA Police Commissioner Col Blanch has since revealed that St John paramedics performed a mental health assessment on the 54-year-old man two days before he allegedly killed his mum.

In April, Steven Rhain Pinker, 42, was charged with murder as a domestic violence offence after his mother’s body was found in a Brisbane unit.

The 66-year-old West Australian woman had been stabbed to death.

Police at Sandpiper Loop, Yangebup where the body of a woman was found this morning. Joan Mary Drane, 78, was murdered by her adult son Andre Lafayette Drane.
Police at Sandpiper Loop, Yangebup where the body of a woman was found this morning. Joan Mary Drane, 78, was murdered by her adult son Andre Lafayette Drane. Credit: Iain Gillespie/The West Australian

In March, NSW Police were called to conduct a welfare check on a 60-year-old woman at Evans Head.

When they arrived they found the woman’s body in the boot of a car parked outside her unit. She had reportedly suffered stab wounds and other injuries.

They arrested her son, Jeramie James Massie, at the scene.

The 39-year-old son was charged with domestic violence-related murder and interfering with a corpse.

In January, Nerol Doble, died after her son allegedly set fire to her home in regional NSW with her inside.

The 65-year-old suffered severe burns to 90 per cent of her body. She was airlifted to hospital but, just hours later, succumbed to her injuries.

Her 42-year-old son, Shannon Doble, has been charged with three domestic violence offences including murder and arson.

Last year, at least five women were allegedly killed by their adult sons.

In one case Slade Murdok was charged with kidnapping and murdering his 61-year-old mother after she disappeared from her Gold Coast home on January 25.

A man has been charged with murder as his mother died in hospital after suffering severe burns in a NSW house fire., , Emergency services rushed to a home on Bribbaree Road, 50km northwest of Young, about midday on Sunday following reports a woman was injured in a house fire.
A man has been charged with murder as his mother died in hospital after suffering severe burns in a NSW house fire. Credit: ABC

Wendy Sleeman’s body was found in the boot of her car, which was found parked in a Brisbane unit block two days later.

Ms Sleeman had reported a potential break-in to police the day she disappeared.

Officers now believe she may have been inside a vehicle driven by her 30-year-old son, seen speeding away from her home, as police arrived.

There were another five known cases of matricide in 2022.

University of Newcastle Associate Professor Xanthé Mallett said mental illness was a major contributor in all of the studies she has seen.

“Although it’s difficult to establish a clear relationship between any type of violent crime and mental disorders, including homicide, studies suggest that a significant number of perpetrators of matricide are suffering from schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders,” she said.

“Studies also suggest that in many cases, psychotic symptoms were present in the week prior to the matricide taking place, but sadly, the majority of perpetrators were not receiving any type of treatment.

“And many perpetrators will be under the influence of alcohol or a psychoactive substance at the time of the offence.”

Dr Mallett, director of the Justice Clinic at the Newcastle School of Law and Justice, said some offenders struggled to connect with women.

“Perpetrators of matricide are predominantly young males, who have made attempts to engage in relationships with women, to establish independence from the mother, but these have often failed,” she said.

“Interestingly, the lack of a father figure may also play a role, and accentuate the mother-child bond, but to the point that the child finds it constricting, causing feelings of animosity and aggression towards the victim.

“In some instances, pathological or unhealthy family dynamics also play a key role.”

This includes complicated relationships with their mothers.

“Offenders can see the mother as overbearing, controlling, or that they put their child down, or do not pay them enough attention,” Dr Mallett said.

“All of this generates anger and frustration in the perpetrator.

“The bond is often described in the literature as ‘mutually dependent and hostile’.”

Dr Mallett, a forensic criminologist, said perpetrators usually use some form of weapon to inflict fatal injuries.

“Weapons are generally used in this type of murder, including blunt objects, knives, guns, and ligatures,” she said.

“Generally, these are situational crimes, and of the moment – they are not premeditated – so the weapon used is something immediately at hand.

“Often they occur at the family residence, which is comely the home of both the victim and offender.”

Dr Mallet said that while matricide is uncommon, accounting for less than 4 per cent of all murders, action is needed to reduce the rates of victimisation.

“Again, improvements in mental health services are required, as we know so many perpetrators of matricide are suffering from a psychotic or mental health disorder, and are not in treatment or medicated at the time of the offence,” she said.

“Improved community-based mental health programs are necessary to reduce violent crimes in many forms, particularly matricide.”

Dr Bricknell said the AIC is planning to conduct deeper research into parricide, the killing of a parent, later this year.

If you or someone you know is experiencing family violence, phone 1800 RESPECT or the Crisis Care Helpline on 1800 199 008.

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