An expert in criminology, who worked on the television Murderers and their Mothers with Donal MacIntyre, has shared her thoughts on how important mothers are in the ‘making’ of a murderer.
In an article for HuffPost, that’s recently resurfaced online, Dr Elizabeth Yardley explained how creating someone able and willing to take a life is “a complex and lengthy process”.
Dr Yardley, a Professor of Criminology at Birmingham City University’s Centre for Applied Criminology, shares how factors in this might include biology, neighbourhood, school, health services and their relationship with their mother.
She wrote: “Why such an emphasis on mothers? What about the fathers? Isn’t this sexist? These are questions that I have encountered a lot over the past few months. I argue that mothers matter more in the making of murderers because of the inherently gendered nature of society.
“We expect mothers to be selfless nurturers and primary caregivers – expectations we take for granted and apply to all. We defer to mothers, simply assuming that they know best and are prioritising the needs of their child, protecting them from harm both within and outside of the family. As long as mum is on the scene, surely everything will be alright?
“Not in the cases that have been examined in the series – Daniel Bartlam, Fred and Rose West, Jed Allen, Harold Shipman, Dennis Nilsen, Robert Black, Joachim Knychala, Leszek Pekalski, Adam Lanza and Richard Kuklinksi. To varying degrees, whether by act or omission, the mothers of these killers began to write the script for murder.”
The expert goes on to divulge how the mothers of Fred West and Robert Black among others created brutal environments at home, neglecting or abusing their children.
While Shipman and Lanza’s mothers were determined to have the best for their children, encouraging their sons to be more like others.
“Through hypervigilance they tried to be the good mothers that society demands, being selective in the advice that they took on board from outsiders,” Dr Yardley explains.
Finally, the mothers of Bartlam, Nilsen and Rose West were in denial – looking the other way, unwilling to confront or discuss behaviours that might lead to their children being seen as ‘different’.
From these findings, Dr Yardley concluded there were three types of mothers that can make a murderer – anti-mothers, uber-mothers and passive mothers.
According to the expert, this type of mother may have been a victim of abuse and neglect, the survivor of a brutal upbringing who never had a ‘healthy’ family environment.
Not all women who experience this will go on to recreate their own situation, but there are some who will.
They turn from victims to aggressors themselves, becoming the same type of person they had once despised.
The uber-mothers come from a ‘traditional’ sort of family environment, but they are very aware of society’s expectations and have been from an early age.
They may have been the victims of discrimination or arbitrary moral framework and as such are determined their own children will not be held back in the same way.
In turn, they become “mother-managers”, planning out their children’s lives and struggling to keep them on course.
Dr Yardley describes this kind of parent as “the gatekeepers that hold off the outside world, protecting their child from scrutiny as their behaviour becomes increasingly deviant”.
The third type of mother on the list is scared of how society may judge her children.
They have lived their own lives following rules and doing what society expects of them, being quiet, passive and “ticking along”.
If their children begin to cross society’s moral and legal boundaries, the fear of labelling compels them to try and deny what is happening. They’ll sweep the situation under the rug, ignoring it in hopes that it is just a phase and will go away.
Dr Yardley adds: “Anti-mothers, uber-mothers and passive mothers thrive because of the considerable cultural value society places on privacy. How mothers bring up their children remains largely ‘none of our business’.
“Privacy can be valuable as it allows us to restrict who has access to our family places and spaces and enables us to control who knows what about our families. However, it can also be the barrier behind which violence, abuse, neglect and denial can thrive – and the making of a murderer can begin.”