"I have no regrets." Casey Anthony wrote these words in her journal after killing her 3-year-old daughter Caylee, prosecutors allege. The Florida case has gained national attention. Prosecutors haven't indicated a motive, but researchers who study filicide suggest a wide range of possibilities.
Every year, there are about 300 such incidents in the U.S., according to Geoffrey McKee, a forensic psychologist in private practice. Mental illness leads some mothers to irrational behavior. Psychotic mothers sometimes believe their children are demons, and depression can lead to filicide-suicide. Psychopathic mothers, without a normal moral compass, kill to fulfill their own needs by, say, collecting life insurance. Vengeful mothers kill to hurt third parties.
Some kill unwanted babies, often after concealing the pregnancy. Other cases involve abuse or neglect. Professors of psychology and law Michelle Obermann of Santa Clara University and Cheryl Meyer of Wright State have interviewed dozens of women jailed for filicide. As children, most of the mothers experienced sexual and physical abuse—a pattern continued by their partners. Many were single moms. The interviews suggested they wanted to be good mothers but were sometimes overwhelmed by the responsibility.