On 13 July 2017, police discovered an adult female deceased next to her car in Greenville, South Carolina which would become the first in a series of tragic discoveries related to the same case. 28-year-old Meredith Rahme had been shot with a .40 caliber handgun and left for dead. Two hours later, after reports of a black SUV driving away from the scene, police deputies found a locked SUV parked up with its engine running around seven miles away on the Greenville-Pickens motorway. Inside were the bodies of two young children and an adult female. All had died from a single gunshot wound from the same caliber weapon which was also found inside the vehicle.
The Pickens County Sheriff’s Office released details the following week confirming the identities of Meredith Rahme and those of 36-year-old Jessica Edens and her two children, 9-year-old Hayden and 5-year-old Harper Edens. In what appears to have been a devastating outcome to a relationship breakdown, Jessica Edens shot and killed Meredith Rahme who was in a relationship with Edens husband and the father of one of her children, before killing both her children and herself.
In written communications obtained by police, Jessica Edens had planned her actions over the course of days after a custody hearing regarding the children, wishing to cause pain and anguish to her husband Benjamin Edens. Mr. Edens had received a phone call from his wife earlier that morning which led him to contact authorities concerned for the welfare of his daughter, Harper Edens. While he was with police deputies he received a further telephone call from Jessica Edens where she told him, “Everyone you love is gone. Do you hear? I’m about to be gone too.” the Independent reports. It is believed Jessica Edens had already killed Meredith Rahme and their two children at the time she made this call and took her own life soon after the call ended.
Family violence of this kind which emerges due to domestic disputes and in many cases involving a custody battle over children is a devastating crime often wiping out generations within one final act. Research into the phenomenon of murder-suicide shows that women are much more likely to kill their children and then themselves rather than kill the partners they are in dispute with. In contrast, men tend to murder their partners and possibly their children before killing themselves.
The Violence Policy Center (VPC), an educational organisation providing research and investigation towards a safer America has been collecting data on murder-suicides for a number of years. Their latest report entitled ‘American Roulette: Murder-Suicide In The United States’ was published in October 2015 documenting cases of murder-suicide across a six month period between January and June 2014. They note 282 murder-suicides were carried out during this period resulting in almost 11 of these horrific and tragic cases occurring each week in the United States. 93% of these cases involved a firearm with 72% of cases involving the murder of an intimate partner before the perpetrator killed themselves. They also note that these cases were overwhelmingly carried out by males, 89% in total.
A review of the published literature on murder-suicides by Dr. Scott Eliason published in the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law in 2009, supports these findings highlighting the trends in these events have changed little over the last six years. It is clear that murder-suicide within families and especially families who have broken down is rarely carried out by a female and a mother.
The murder of children can, unfortunately, be a purposeful act to inflict maximum pain and suffering on the parent left behind. Along with the murder weapon, police discovered a number of suicide notes inside the vehicle where Jessica Edens and her children were found. The notes were addressed to her parents and sister, apologising for her actions, explaining, “I know what I have done is selfish, but I cannot live with this pain any longer.” In a note addressed to her husband, Jessica Eden expressed her hurt and anger telling him:
“I hope you rot one day for what you have done to me and my kids. You can no longer hurt us. We are at peace. I hope you live with pain and shame and guilt for the rest of your life.”
In what could be called a revenge killing, projecting the hurt she felt onto her husband and the desire to cause him pain and anguish seems to have been the driving factor in these acts. By killing his new love interest, she takes away the person who has his affections and by killing his child she takes away what he loves the most.
In taking her own life she avoids the criminal consequences of her actions and inflicts maximum guilt on her ex-partner and child’s father. Equally her suicide releases her, in her own mind, from the pain she is suffering. This behaviour has been seen in similar cases where a father has contacted the mother of his children to taunt her with his intentions to kill them knowing she can do nothing about it.
In November 2005, 33-year-old Gavin Hall of Northampton, England murdered his 3-year-old daughter by drugging and suffocating her with a chloroform soaked in a rag inside his home while his wife was asleep upstairs. He had discovered his wife was having an affair and wanted to make her pay for what she had done. Gavin Hall sent text messages to his wife, Joanne Hall, after the murder telling her, “Now you have the rest of your life to deal with the consequences.” He did not attempt suicide after the killing of his daughter and was charged with murder. At trial in 2006, he was found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
The killing of children by a mother is most often carried out under distorted thinking that they need to be saved from some impending harm rather than an act to punish the father. The case of Andrea Yates is one of the most well-publicized cases of this nature, where five children were willfully drowned in a bathtub by their mother who was suffering from an acute episode of mental illness at the time.
The decision of any individual, whether male or female, to take the lives of others, especially children, before themselves in response to emotional anguish is a horrific and somewhat selfish decision to take. However, in their state of mind at that time, they are consumed by their pain and often anger at their situation and have convinced themselves that these actions are the best way forward.
No amount of explanations, however, can excuse these acts, especially in the knowledge that with the right help and support, individuals like Jessica Edens could have recovered from the situation she was in. She could have continued to be a mother to her children and her children could have grown up to lead long successful lives should they have been able to live. The tragic needless loss of multiple lives in this case including a woman who was simply in a new relationship will no doubt have devastating effects on all those affected, who are now left to try and pick up the pieces left behind.