When people kill close relatives: Explaining 'family annihilators' originally appeared on abcnews.go.com
When a pregnant mother and her young daughters were reported missing by a friend last Monday in their Colorado town, the concerned husband and father, Chris Watts, spoke to reporters, saying his family disappeared without a trace.
Watts, 33, was then arrested Wednesday, accused of killing Shanann Watts and their children.
Chris Watts -- who was "actively involved an affair with a co-worker," according to an affidavit -- then changed his story, saying he told his wife he wanted a separation, left the room and then came back to speak with Shanann again, the affidavit states. He said that's when he saw Bella, 4, sprawled out on her bed and Shanann "actively strangling" Celeste, 3, according to the affidavit.
Watts, 33, said he then went into a rage and strangled his wife to death, according to the affidavit.
There’s no known motive and he’s facing multiple murder charges, among others.
While Watts has not yet entered a plea, here's one expert's general look at the crime of familicide.
The 'family annihilator' profile
"There is a term for people who kill their entire family; they're called family annihilators," ABC News contributor and former FBI agent Brad Garrett said. "Just because people look OK on the outside doesn't mean in reality they are."
Family annihilators tend to be white men in their 30s, he said.
They also tend to commit such acts in August because their children are not in school, Garrett said. That gives the suspect "ready access to them," he said, and it also "buys them time. If a child doesn't show up at school tomorrow, the school is going to start looking for them."
Behind the curtain of 'family annihilators'
Family annihilators "are driven to kill their family for a number of reasons," Garrett said. "Many times it's for financial problems. And the belief is that men, in particular, will kill their family because they have lost their ability to support them. And it gets into the male ego identity.
"Losing identity is the key component here.”
Family annihilators don't typically think through the end result -- potentially being arrested -- instead focusing on "the immediate need and gain of the moment," Garrett said.
But "family annihilators are never spontaneous," he said, adding that the crimes are premeditated and build up over week or months.
In a vast majority of family annihilation cases, Garrett said, the suspect either commits suicide or confesses.
"Like anybody else that commits some horrible, horrendous act, and they do it based on emotion and immediate need or gain," after arrested, he or she confesses because "they see the reality of what they're facing" and often creates an "alternative version of what happened."
Where might Chris Watts' case go from here?
Chris Watts' alleged confession to killing his wife and disposing of the bodies is something prosecutors will work to "poke holes in," according to criminal defense attorney Mark Geragos.
Geragos, who’s not working for Watts, represented Scott Peterson, who was notoriously convicted in 2004 of killing his pregnant wife, Laci.
"Look at the hurdles he's got right now: pleading for them to return ... an extramarital affair, you have a story that evolves or changes. That's going to be a problem," Geragos told "Good Morning America" of Watts. "His lawyer is going to have his hands full explaining why the story morphs."
Geragos thinks Watts' defense attorneys will also consult experts who can discuss the "psychological underpinnings of what was going on if, in fact, he's going to stick to his story that he saw the wife doing the strangling."
"He's already conceded to basically what is a manslaughter, negating the malice element," Geragos said. "Now it's up to the prosecutors to poke holes in the story and it's up to the defense, frankly, to try to deal with it."
ABC News' Clayton Sandell contributed to this report.