Cristy Campbell likely killed her husband out of some marital problem, and then, rather than leaving her seven children without parents, she may have decided to kill the whole family, according to an expert.
Dr. Phillip Resnick, a forensic psychiatrist and professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, is one of the foremost experts on moms who kill. He’s been involved in a number of high-profile cases, including those of Andrea Yates and Susan Smith.
Resnick said that while he has no inside knowledge of the Campbell case and that all of the answers might never be known, the woman’s actions offer some clues.
But the Campbell case doesn’t neatly fit into any patterns he said.
“First of all, there’s a concept called familicide, where one parent wipes out the rest of the family. But 95 percent of those are committed by fathers who kill their wife and the children,” Resnick said. “What’s unusual in this case is that the woman killed her husband.”
Resnick said there are many cases where a mother suffering from depression decides to kill herself and her children.
“When a mother is feeling depressed, overwhelmed, unable to cope, often she may take her children’s lives, rather than have them cope motherless,” he said. “So if her intention was to kill her husband, knowing that she would either then kill herself or be imprisoned, her children would be without parents. Sometimes a mother thinks the children would be better off in heaven than without a parent.”
He added, “If a mother is depressed, they tend to think the worst — my children will be without parents, and they’ll be broken up, because no foster family will take all seven of them.”
Firefighters were called early Thursday morning to the Glen Carbon home that Campbell, 32, shared with her husband, Justin Campbell, 37, and their seven children. Justin Campbell, whose body was found inside, died of a gunshot wound to the head.
Not long after that, Cristy Campbell drove her Nissan Armada into Silver Lake outside Highland, with her infant son in the vehicle. A paramedic rescued the baby. Cristy Campbell’s body was found in the water a few hours later.
The Campbells’ six other children were in the home at the time of the fire. They all escaped. A neighbor’s surveillance video shows some of the children running toward Cristy Campbell’s vehicle as she left the home.
“I don’t think she planned for them to escape. The fact that she brought the child into the lake with her suggests that she intended to kill all of the children,” Resnick said. “If her goal was to burn down the home and not harm the children, I would expect her to just marshal the children outside and then set the fire. Counting on them to escape on their own would have been too high-risk.”
When a woman is seriously depressed, and she looks at the world through her depressed eyes, she may feel that the family’s better off dead.
Dr. Phillip Resnick, a forensic psychiatrist and professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland
But he added that mothers who kill their children typically choose a method that is not painful, messy or violent — overdoses and carbon monoxide poisoning are common.
“In situations like that, there usually is a desire to take the children’s lives in the most humane way possible,” Resnick said. “Assuming the fire was deliberately set, that would be a relatively unpleasant way for the children to die, so I think that’s a little odd.”
Resnick said postpartum depression alone wouldn’t explain things.
“If it was simply depression, I think she would more likely kill herself and her children, and not the husband. I think there was a separate issue of animus toward the husband,” he said. “When killings are altruistic, it is more often that a woman kills herself and her children, and leaves her husband alone, because he can fend for himself. The fact that she killed her husband, that suggests to me that it’s more anger.”
Cristy Campbell’s Facebook page is dotted with proud posts about her children. People close to her say she had to juggle a lot — trying to hold down a job while raising seven children.
“I don’t think the pressures alone would do it. She may have simply become depressed, and that might have been from feeling overwhelmed,” Resnick said. “When a woman is seriously depressed, and she looks at the world through her depressed eyes, she may feel that the family’s better off dead.”
He added, “Another issue is whether the primary goal was to kill the husband, either due to anger, retribution or whatever, and that is what set off the cascade of events. Once she killed the husband — which she may or may not have planned — she may have sat there and thought, ‘Now what?’”
Investigators were continuing to try to piece together what happened.
“There’s a lot to look through,” said Madison County Sheriff’s Capt. T. Mike Dixon. “We don’t have all of the information, and everything isn’t known at this point in time.”