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Crime Most multiple murders are in the family, says study

Door at a house where a family killing took place

Door of a house in Affoltern am Albis, near Zurich, in which a man is alleged to have killed his wife and two children, before killing himself, in summer 2019

(© Keystone / Ennio Leanza)

Most mass murders in Switzerland are carried out within families, for the most party by married Swiss men without criminal records, a study has found. Guns, but not army ones, played a role. 

The Psychiatric Service of Canton Basel Country said on Fridayexternal link that it had looked into 33 mass murders - defined here as resulting in three deaths apart from the perpetrator - across the country between 1972 and 2015. 

Over half of the mass murders analysed (18) were what are known in Switzerland as “family tragedies”. In most of those cases, the perpetrator killed himself after killing other family members 

Overall, 43% of family killings are mass murders in Switzerland, the statement said. “This percentage is very high compared with other countries,” it added. In the United States, for example, it’s 14% and in Spain, 18%. 

Troubled men 

Of the cases analysed in this latest study, 64% of the perpetrators were Swiss. Most of them were married men, aged 36-65, with no criminal record. Only in one of the cases was the murderer a woman. 

Many perpetrators were suffering from personality disorders and had expressed suicidal tendencies but were not in treatment. A third of them had, however, received long-term therapy. A third again had shown behavioural problems as a child or teenager and just as many had experienced abuse.  

Only in a few cases did “the perpetrator carry out the mass murder after being released from in-patient treatment,” said the outgoing director of the Psychiatric Service, Andreas Frei, in the statement. 

The majority were found to have been involved in psychosocial conflicts before their crimes, for example, involving domestic violence. 

+ Switzerland's higher rate of domestic violence deathsexternal link

“Often they were motivated in their crime by a personal affront,” said study co-author Andrea Ilic. This could be due losing their job, relationship problems or a conflict with a neighbour, she explained. 


A private gun was used in 61% of the mass murders, only in one case was an army-issued gun involved. Some 18% of cases involved strangulation.  In around a quarter of the cases, the perpetrator had been drinking. 

One of the most high-profile cases of family killings in recent times was when Swiss skier Corinne Rey-Bellet and her brother were shot and killed by her husband in 2006. He was found dead three days later having committed suicide. 

There had been a high incidence of family killings at the time, which had led to a lot of questions being raised over possible motivations and the role of guns. external link

The study

This was initiated by Andreas Frei, who is retiring, and was presented in Liestal on Friday at a conference looking at risk assessment and management in forensic psychiatry. It is important to understand the motivations behind mass murders, experts said. “The better the risks can be appraised, the more forensic psychiatry can contribute to stopping murders,” the statement added. 

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Psychiatric Service of Canton Basel Land/Keystone-SDA/

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