Hawe killings fit characteristics of other murder-suicides

Perverse belief that murder is an act of mercy can lead the severely psychotic to kill

The circumstances surrounding Alan Hawe’s murder of his family and suicide at his Co Cavan home in August 2016 shared many characteristics found in other murder-suicides, according to psychological analyses.

This week's inquest into the killing of his wife Clodagh (39) and sons Liam (13), Niall (11) and Ryan (6) was told by psychiatrist Prof Harry Kennedy that Hawe had a "severe depressive episode with psychotic symptoms."

Hawe’s lengthy suicide notes left at the scene of his crimes – evidence that Prof Kennedy relied on, along with Hawe’s counselling and GP notes, for his diagnosis – reveal a man intent on taking his own life and explaining the murders of his family on the basis that he was saving them from the shame of living with his suicide.

“I know you all will suffer with this but I couldn’t do it to the one who loved me so much and boys so young. I was ultimately going to ruin the rest of their lives,” Hawe wrote to members of his own family and his wife’s family.



In another section, he wrote: “I cannot let them face a life without me and the shame they would have to bear that their father had committed suicide. I have wanted to kill myself for a long time now and I just could not bear the thought of leaving my mess and the anger and rejection that Clodagh and the boys would have to live with forever.”

He expressed shame repeatedly, over the effect of his mental state on his family, over his work and over himself.

“I am sorry for all the people who showed me so much love and I never repaid it. I was always a selfish person. Clodagh didn’t deserve to have to put up with that. I am so, so sorry. Don’t forgive me.”

Clinical psychologist Dr Eoin Galavan said that it is common for suicidal people to see themselves as a burden on others and to believe that they would be better off without them. He cited "burdensomeness" as one of the core concepts from research by Florida State University academic Thomas Joiner in the area of murder-suicides.

“Believing you are a burden on those around you, that this burdensomeness is a stable and permanent and unlikely to change, is a potent driver of the desire for death,” said Dr Galavan.

“A person may believe they are sparing the victim the pain of enduring the wake of their own suicide . . . Of course, this is a distorted belief, and from the outside looking in this is obvious. However, the suicidal person can believe this with deep conviction.”


The normal desire to protect your children can become warped when someone suffers from psychosis.

“In the case of murder suicide, these everyday beliefs and attitudes are distorted and perverted to the point of killing those whom the person may believe they are caring about,” said Dr Galavan.

Brendan Kelly, professor of psychiatry at Trinity College Dublin, says delusional people can often fear something terrible is about to happen to them or their family and to avoid this suffering they have to kill their family.

“It is a very deluded mental state but the alleviation of suffering through killing is obviously a big risk factor and it has been described in many cases of murder-suicide,” he said.

Hawe’s beliefs, revealed in his notes, that people were looking at him “oddly” over the summer before he committed the murders or that they had a dim view of his work as a teacher seem to have fed his unstable state.

“Murder-suicide can also be based on delusions which are fixed, false belief but delusions are a little more than regular beliefs,” said Prof Kelly.

“They usually carry more of a conviction that a person needs to act.”

If you are affected by any of these issues you can contact:

Women’s Aid helpline for free on 1800 341 900

Childline in 1800 66 66 66 or text “support” to 50101

Pieta House: 1800 247 247

Samaritans by telephoning 116123 for free, texting 087-2609090 or emailing jo@samaritans.org

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent