Ten Famous People Who Killed Their Own Children

Updated on April 24, 2020
bethperry profile image

Beth is a mother of four children and grandmother of three, and cares deeply about children's rights.

In practically every culture, the killing of another person without provocation or for personal gain is considered murder. The murder of children is viewed with the starkest repugnance, especially if it is a case of filicide (the deliberate killing of one’s own child). The following list takes a look at well-known figures who have committed this most reviled of offenses.

10. Empress Wu Zetian

Practitioner of filicide, Empress Wu Zentian
Practitioner of filicide, Empress Wu Zentian

While ancient China boasted of many empresses, Wu Zetian was the only one to take the reins as a true ruling leader. A daughter from one of the less distinguished noble houses, Wu’s rise to supremacy was as sinister as it was unique.

As a high-ranking consort, Wu had first bore Emperor Gaozong a son and then a daughter. According to Chinese historians, Wu killed her own infant daughter and then claimed the barren Empress (Wang) had murdered the baby out of jealousy. The Emperor naturally did not believe a mother could murder her own child. Wu’s tears were convincing, so he had his wife put aside. Wu made her way up the monarch’s favorite list to eventually become Empress herself. Not long after reaching this goal, Wu had both the former Empress and the Emperor’s favorite concubine executed in a most grisly fashion.

9. Antonia Minor

Daughter-killer Antonia Minor
Daughter-killer Antonia Minor

The second daughter of Marc Anthony and his wife, Octavia, was named Antonia Minor. She married Drusus, who was a close friend of Emperor Augustus. Together the couple had three children, including the future Emperor Claudius.

While Antonia was renowned in her day for possessing many virtues, she also exhibited a very prudish nature. Her daughter Julia (Claudia Livia Julia) embarrassed Antonia by having affairs with some high-ranking officials. To save face Antonia locked Julia away in the family home and starved the young woman to death.

8. Ivan lV, aka Ivan the Terrible

"Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan on November 16th, 1581" by Ilya Yefimovich Repin
"Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan on November 16th, 1581" by Ilya Yefimovich Repin

Russia’s Tsar Ivan IV didn’t earn the nickname Ivan the Terrible due to his lacking table manners. His harsh reforms made misery for boyars (aristocrats), clergymen and common folk alike. The cost of his wars starved the Russian people, while his Oprichniki (secret police) instituted a regime of terror and violence in his name. Ivan epitomized the image of heartless tyrant. More so, Ivan considered it his god-given right to be a tyrant.

Despite his ruthlessness Ivan was capable of love. By all accounts he cherished his first wife, Anastasia Romanovna. She bore Ivan six children, including his heir apparent, Ivan Ivanovich. Contemporaries described the younger Ivan as resembling his father only in looks. He possessed intelligence, a good temperament and was well-liked.

This Ivan was also a nobler man than his father. One day the elder Ivan upbraided his daughter-in-law for immodesty (she was pregnant and for comfort’s sake decided to forgo some of the numerous heavy chemises women typically wore in the Russian court). The younger Ivan came to his wife’s defense. Ivan IV was so incensed by this blatant challenge to his imperial last word that he beat his son to death with a cane.

Father followed son to the grave two years later. His contemporaries noted that by this time Ivan IV was a man broken by guilt over killing his child. If Ivan the Terrible ever regretted the atrocities committed on his own countrymen, they did not comment.

7. Philip ll of Spain and Portugal

Emperor Phillip ll of Spain and Portugal
Emperor Phillip ll of Spain and Portugal

Don Carlos, son and heir apparent of Phillip II, had never been a healthy or fortunate boy. He suffered from physical deformities (most likely from the in-breeding practiced within the Habsburg dynasty). He was also clumsy and showed signs of mental deficiency. At 14-years of age the young prince suffered the humiliation of seeing the pretty French princess he was contracted to marry wed off to his father instead. Two years later catastrophe descended again when Carlos took a bad fall down a flight of stairs. The injuries were grave. Because Carlos’ brain was swelling, the court physicians decided to trepan his skull (an operation to relieve cerebral pressure).

Carlos survived the operation, but his mental health began to decline. His behavior turned erratic and often violent. He spent lavishly, he had hallucinations. At one point he tried to stab the Duke of Alva. Soon afterward Carlos confessed to a priest of a desire to kill his father. The threat disturbed the priest enough that he went to Philip. Discovering his father knew of his intentions, Carlos made plans to escape to the Netherlands. Again the young man was outed, this time by his trusted friend, John of Austria. Philip and his guards came to Carlos’ bedchamber and placed the prince under arrest. The windows were boarded up and everything that could be used to inflict bodily harm removed from the room.

Carlos was now a prisoner. His keepers were ordered to see to his needs, and he was permitted to speak with them and allowed devotional reading material. But Carlos soon took ill with malaria. Although his health did take a turn for the better, Carlos compromised the recovery by alternately overeating and fasting. He grew emaciated and weakened, then dysentery set in. After six months of confinement the mentally unstable Carlos died. Some historians have claimed Philip II hastened the prince’s death by poisoning his food. Whether this is truth or fiction, Philip’s imprisonment of Carlos was ultimately a death sentence for the troubled boy.

6. Peter the Great

Portrait of Tsar Peter the Great of Russia
Portrait of Tsar Peter the Great of Russia

Tsar Peter the Great (Pyotr Alekseevich Romanov) was regarded as a visionary in his lifetime, and is still considered Russia’s first true Renaissance man. As a supporter of science and invention Peter was the major force in bringing Russia out of feudal traditionalism and into the Age of Enlightenment. Peter was also a man driven by strong passions; he loved hard, he hated intensely and he firmly believed his actions were guided by a higher power. Every relationship in Peter’s life was affected by the unflinching belief in his personal standards of right and wrong. And this most notably included the turbulent relationship with his son, Alexei Petrovich.

Alexei disappointed his father in many ways. Peter had separated Alexei from his mother at a very young age and the boy resented this. The son’s values were more traditional than those held by Peter. As he grew into a teenager Alexei was only happy while in the companionship of those disillusioned with Peter’s new Russia. Peter mocked his interests and his taste in women. The marriage Peter arranged for Alexei was one made to promote Peter’s political convenience, but even at this, the Tsar did not hesitate to vocalize displeasure for his daughter-in-law’s looks.

Through every humiliation doled out to Alexei his father expected him to be grateful. But it became apparent Alexei could not be bullied into changing his mindset. This realization wounded his father’s ego. Peter began to indulge fantasies that his son wanted him dead.

Alexei eventually fled to Europe. There he became acquainted with other royals who were sympathetic to his plight. Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, who was also Alexei’s uncle, grew worried that the Tsar meant to murder Alexei. Charles provided Alexei sanctuary and for a time the young man lived in peace. But Peter’s envoys found Alexei, and assured him of his father’s good intentions. Alexei was lured back to Russia by Peter’s conveyed promise his son would not be punished and that he would be allowed to marry a woman he loved.

As soon as Alexei reached Moscow his father had him arrested. Under threat of torture Alexei was forced to say he was part of a royal murder conspiracy. This conscripted confession gave Peter an excuse to go after his son’s friends and allies. In a reign of terror reminiscent of Ivan IV’s merciless exploits, numerous persons were rounded up, tortured and put to painful deaths. The “confessions” wrought from Alexei and these unfortunates were all it took to condemn the son as a traitor. This did not end Alexei’s suffering. Peter continued to have him tortured in the hopes of eliciting further information he suspected his son to be hiding.

When it was finally clear Alexei had no further information to give, Peter ordered him to receive forty lashes with a knout (a heavy whip with multiple rawhide thongs). Alexei died two days after this last ordeal.

Unlike Ivan the Terrible, Peter suffered no debilitating guilt over ending a son's life. Such an ego as Peter’s would never allow remorse to tarnish his self-image as a great and enlightened man. Yet it was this same delicate ego that allowed Peter to kill Alexei, and with a parental arrogance and brutality that eclipsed even Ivan’s.

5. Joseph and Magda Goebbels

Joseph and Magda Goebbels and their children
Joseph and Magda Goebbels and their children

When Adolf Hitler took refuge in a bunker underneath the Reich Chancellery in April of 1945 it was in the company of a small entourage of trusted aids and elites. Among these were Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels, his wife Magda and the couple’s six children. There were five daughters and one son, all very young (the eldest only twelve years old). Each of the Goebbels children had names that started with the letter “H”. While some believe this peculiar naming pattern was born out of the Goebbels’ idolization of Hitler, Magda’s adult son from another marriage was named Harold.

Hitler was known to be very fond of the Goebbels children. Like their parents, the Fuhrer had concerns about the children falling into Soviet hands if discovered by the Russian soldiers. After Hitler and Eva Braun committed suicide in their private chamber inside the bunker, Magda and her husband set to work to finish off their family. Telling the children they were receiving inoculations, the couple had them injected with morphine. Once the children were unconscious crushed capsules of cyanide were placed inside their mouths (either by Hitler’s physician Ludwig Stumpfegger or dentist Helmut Kunz). All the children died in their sleep with the exception of 12-year old Helga. Later examination of Helga’s body revealed facial bruises and a broken jaw, indicating the girl had struggled with someone just prior to death.

Joseph and Magda committed suicide shortly afterward.

Despite the Goebbels’ claimed fear of their children being taken by Russians, Magda had turned down offers from others -Albert Speer for one- to have the children flown or otherwise taken safely out of Berlin. Intimates of the Goebbels later revealed that Magda had thought about killing her children for some weeks before the family went into the bunker. Magda had stated to a relative of her first husband that she did not want her children to grow up being told their father was a heinous criminal. She went on to suggest that perhaps reincarnation would allow her children better futures.

Whatever really compelled the Goebbels to take their children’s lives cannot be ascertained. The known fact is the couple were not only devotees of Hitler, they were also fanatical believers of Nazism. And just like with other fanatics the Goebbels valued ideology above the welfare of their offspring.

4. Marvin Gay, Sr.

Marvin Gay, Sr. upon his arrest in the killing of his celebrated son.
Marvin Gay, Sr. upon his arrest in the killing of his celebrated son.

Marvin Gaye was one of the most celebrated artists to have ever graced the R&B charts. Gaye’s career began when he signed with the Motown label. Through their studio he released a number of popular records and collaborated with several VIPs of the industry. Following two decades with Motown, Marvin reinvented his sound and his image. In 1982 he signed with Columbia Records. It was under this label that he produced the sensationally received album, Midnight Love. The first single from this album -”Sexual Healing”- garnered him an American Music Award for best soul single, along with two Grammys. For both fans and peers alike Marvin Gaye was the Prince of Soul. It was a deserving homage to the talented, hard-working musician, one that should have made his dad proud.

Unfortunately Marvin’s father was not a typical dad. Marvin Gay, Sr. (his son added an e to the family name for career purposes) was a complicated, petty and brutal man. Marvin Sr. was a pastor with the Washington, DC House of God, a congregation that designated itself a “Hebrew Pentecostal movement”. The tenets of their faith was a strict apostolic interpretation of the Bible’s Old and New Testaments. Marvin Sr. adhered to the church’s doctrines which included the prohibition of television and the listening of any music outside of gospel. Along with being a preacher, Marvin Gay Sr. was an unabashed despot. On marrying Marvin Jr.’s mother, he prevented her from seeing her son from a previous marriage. As for their own children, Marvin Gay Sr. physically abused and psychologically intimidated all of them.

Marvin Sr. also enjoyed cross-dressing and making unwanted overtures to female members of his church. These behaviors eventually cost him the ministerial position. Instead of seeking employment elsewhere, Marvin Sr. took to putting on a dress and lounging on the front porch while his long-suffering wife worked two menial jobs to support the family. If this dysfunctional home life wasn’t difficult enough for the Gay children, their father was overtly jealous of their mother's affection for young Marvin. Heaped atop all this weirdness was their father’s repeated claim that he “prophesied” this son’s musical gift would one day make the family wealthy.

The expectation of the former minister was, not surprising, that his talented son would become a celebrated gospel singer. But then Marvin Jr. grew up and he changed the spelling of his last name and pursued a career in the R&B industry. These things offended Marvin Sr. and his wounded pride only exacerbated the contempt already harbored for his son.

Considering the brutal childhood Marvin Gaye underwent, it is no surprise he battled drug addiction throughout adult life. But for his father this was just another sin with which to emotionally stone him.

The drugs made Marvin Gaye paranoid. Terrified somebody would rob and kill his family, he bought a pistol for his parents.

On the evening of April 1, 1984 (one day before Marvin Gaye would have celebrated his 45th birthday) he was visiting the Los Angeles home he had purchased for his parents. Marvin Sr., in typical fashion for creating hostility, accused his son of stealing an insurance policy. A heated argument broke out. At one point the son shoved his father. The father stormed off to his bedroom. It was here he kept the pistol bought for the family’s protection. Marvin Sr. got the gun, carried it to where his son stood and fired. A coroner would later testify this shot had already proved fatal when moments later Marvin Sr. straddled his son’s body and fired twice more. One of the younger sons fell to the side of his dead brother. A terrified Mrs. Gay pleaded for her own life. Marvin Sr. turned and walked outside. When the police arrived they found the family patriarch seated and waiting for them on the front porch.

Marvin Sr. told authorities he had killed his son in self-defense. Later he would claim he thought the gun was either unloaded or only capable of shooting blanks. Before being put on trial for murder a doctor diagnosed Marvin Sr. with a brain tumor. The District Attorney’s office sympathetically reduced the murder charge to voluntary manslaughter. He was found guilty and given a six-year suspended sentence plus five years probation. The brain tumor (if indeed it existed) did not end Marvin Sr.’s life. He survived his talented son by fourteen years before dying of pneumonia, having lived out his last days in a comfortable retirement home in Long Beach.

3. Gigi Jordan

Pharmaceuticals executive Gigi Jordan on trial for the death of her young son
Pharmaceuticals executive Gigi Jordan on trial for the death of her young son

In 2014, New York socialite Gigi Jordan stood trial in the poisoning death of her autistic son. Eight-year old Jude Mirra had been given a deadly cocktail of crushed medications and alcohol in an upscale Manhattan suite on the night of Feb. 4, 2010.

Jordan, a former pharmaceuticals executive, claimed that she had killed her son in order to prevent his father from obtaining custody. According to Jordan the father had previously sexually tortured the boy. She also referred to the poisoning as a “mercy killing”, and further insisted police had thwarted her plans to commit suicide once Jude was dead.

Evidence during the proceedings showed that while little Jude lay dying, Jordan sat next to him talking on the phone with her financial adviser. During that call Jordan ordered a transfer of $125, 000 from her son’s trust fund into her own account.

Neither jury nor judge believed Jordan’s claim of mercy killing. She was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to 18 years in prison.

2. Chris Benoit

Pro wrestler Chris Benoit
Pro wrestler Chris Benoit

Chris Benoit was a Canadian-born professional wrestler, known to fans as the Canadian Crippler. In late June of 2007 Benoit’s employers with World Wrestling Entertainment alerted local authorities in Fayetteville, Ga. that the wrestler had sent several curious and disturbing text messages. Upon visiting the Benoit home police made a gruesome discovery: Benoit’s wife Nancy and the couple’s seven-year old son, Daniel, had been asphyxiated in their beds (Nancy had also been bound). Bibles had been left close to both bodies. The body of Chris Benoit was found in an exercise room in the downstairs of the home. He had apparently hung himself .

Benoit had a history of explosive behavior and at one time Nancy had requested an order of protection (later dropped). Even if Benoit was angered with his wife, his motive for killing their young child is unknown. A number of prescribed medications belonging to Benoit were found in the home. Among these were anabolic steroids, the abuse of which has been known to cause roid rage, a condition that incites aggressive behavior due to the higher levels of testosterone and associated androgens produced in the body. It is possible Benoit’s powers of reason had been fatally compromised by steroid use. Friends of Benoit have also speculated that years of receiving head blows in the wrestling ring may have had led to cerebral damage for the wrestler.

1. Fayhan al-Ghamdi

Islamist preacher Fayhan al-Ghamdi raped, tortured and murdered his 5-year old daughter, Lama.
Islamist preacher Fayhan al-Ghamdi raped, tortured and murdered his 5-year old daughter, Lama.

In 2013 Islamic preacher and television personality Fayhan al-Ghamdi was found guilty in Saudi Arabia for the rape, torture and murder of his five-year old daughter. In addition to being repeatedly raped little Lama al-Ghamdi suffered a broken back, a crushed skull and mutilation of her private parts. She lingered in a coma for several months before dying.

In court al-Ghamdi’s defense was he suspected the child of “losing her virginity”. He was given a sentence of eight years in prison and 600 lashes. After only a few months incarceration a Saudi judge granted him release after the preacher promised to pay blood money (an Islamic form of financial restitution) to Lama’s mother (his ex-wife).

Following the initial announcement of al-Ghamdi’s release hundreds of Saudi Arabian internet users protested online with the hashtag Ana Lama - Arabic for “I am Lama”. Saudi Arabian royals promised to set up a hotline that would take calls regarding child abuse. In 2014 the Saudi Arabia Cabinet of Ministers announced they were declaring a war on child abuse by passing legislation that would outlaw it.

It is of grim interest to note that in Saudi Arabia a man cannot be executed for killing his children or wife. Likewise, in most Islamist cultures blood money set on the life of a daughter is valued at only half of what it is for a son’s life.

Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Beth Perry


    Submit a Comment
    • moinpathan profile image

      Moin Khan Muzammil 

      2 weeks ago from B/28, Madni Park, Dungri Road, Bharuch

      Great! Royals had dark history!

    • DominiqueCM profile image

      Dominique Cantin-Meaney 

      3 months ago from Montreal, Canada

      I knew of Marvin Gaye, but the others not so much.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      9 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Wow, Beth, I didn’t know about any of these so found this article both interesting and informative. It was also quite shocking and disturbing of the leniency given to Marvin Gay Sr and Fayhan al-Ghamdi. Thank you for sharing.

    • Angel Guzman profile image

      Angel Guzman 

      2 years ago from Joliet, Illinois

      Chris Benoit and Marvin Gaye I knew about :(


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