COLUMBIA — For many, the level of violence that ended with the deaths of Karen Kahler and her two teenage daughters Saturday in Burlingame, Kan., is hard to comprehend. It leaves a series of seemingly unanswerable questions.
But the job of psychologists who study criminal behavior is to try to make sense of the senseless. Their research has shown that while each case is unique, there are certain common elements that help shed light on crimes of this magnitude.
Provides emotional support, legal and judicial information and help with restitution for crime victims and their families as they participate in the criminal justice system
- National Domestic
Violence Hotline, 800-799-7233
Offers education, support and referrals regarding domestic violence
Provides comprehensive relationship and sexual violence education and resources, in collaboration with the MU Women’s Center at N-214 Memorial Union
- The Shelter, 875-1370; 800-548-2480
Provides emergency shelter; a 24-hour crisis hotline; crisis intervention; counseling; support groups; domestic violence and sexual assault education; personal, court and hospital advocacy; case management; children’s services to domestic violence or sexual assault victims
Physical location kept confidential
Mailing address: PO Box 1367, Columbia, MO 65205
- MU Women’s Center, 882-6621
Offers rape education and counseling referrals for MU students
N-214 Memorial Union
This type of research could be related to the allegations against James Kraig Kahler, who was charged Monday with first-degree murder in the deaths of his wife and two daughters.
Men are the most common perpetrators in crimes involving the murder of family members. Psychologists say men are not necessarily more aggressive in domestic relationships, but their aggression tends to be more damaging and lethal.
Of all women who are murdered, 30 percent are killed by their spouses, said Denis McCarthy, an associate professor at MU who studies law and psychology.
Psychologists say, however, that men tend to commit suicide after killing family members, making Kahler’s case — if the allegations are true — unusual. Kansas authorities said that after the shootings, Kahler was spotted fleeing by a Shawnee County sheriff's deputy. He was arrested after a 12-hour manhunt.
A common misconception is that people who commit these types of crimes are insane and have a history of violence. In fact, the opposite is sometimes the case.
“Rarely are these people psychotic,” said Longin T. Kucharski, chair of the department of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “They are angry and resentful and start to see the world in a hopeless way.”
So what can lead a person who has raised a family and achieved professional success to allegedly kill members of his own family?
Often just one or two traumatic events can trigger a chain reaction that may eventually end in violence, psychologists say.
“Generally, the people who commit these types of crimes are individuals who, as a result of acute situations and extreme losses, spiral down and become very depressed,” Kucharski said.
Those acute situations can include the loss of a job and marital troubles — both of which Kahler recently experienced. The resulting public shame and embarrassment is one of the most common motives for murder, McCarthy said.
As the depressed person looks for someone to blame for his troubles, his focus often shifts to family members. The holiday season can then become a flash point because it reminds people of the extent of their loss, Kucharski said.