Objective: The objective of this study was to determine the annual incidence of homicide-suicide and to compare patterns and antecedents in old and young spousal/consortial cases.
Methods: Homicide-suicide cases were ascertained in four medical examiner districts covering seven entire Florida counties from 1988 to 1994. The districts were chosen to determine rates in two regions of Florida, comparable in size of the total population and proportion of older persons. Annual homicide-suicide incidence rates per 100,000 population and homicide-suicides as a percentage of total homicides and total suicides separately were calculated by age group and Florida region. Complete medical examiner files were obtained, and 160 variables were coded from medical examiner reports to compare features and clinical characteristics by age and region.
Results: Annual incidence rates ranged from 0.3 to 0.7 per 100,000 for persons under age 55 and from 0.4 to 0.9 per 100,000 for persons age 55 and older, with higher rates in the older group every year but two. Cases of spousal/consortial homicide-suicide were the most common in both age groups. The younger couples in both regions were comparable, except for racial composition, but the older couples differed. West central Florida couples were in their seventies, Caucasian, usually married, and both in poor health; and there were indications of depression or alcohol abuse in half the perpetrators. Two-thirds of the southeastern Florida couples were Hispanic; there was a mean age difference of 18 years between perpetrators and victims; and verbal discord, physical violence, and separation were prominent antecedents.
Conclusions: The base rate for homicide-suicide in both age groups was higher than that reported in previous studies. Spousal/consortial homicide-suicides were the dominant form, and although psychopathology was strongly implicated, homicide-suicides are violent lethal acts resulting from additive or multiplicative effects of diathesis, including culture, and stressful experiences.