Sole Survivor: Children Who Murder Their Families


240 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7704-2408-2
DDC 364.1'523'083





Reviewed by Sarah Robertson

Sarah Robertson is an editor in the College Division of Nelson Canada.


This follow-up volume to Leyton’s 1986 Hunting Humans, a study of
serial killers, is a thoughtful and closely argued examination of
familicide by children. Leyton dismisses “fashionable assumptions”
that insanity or a history of child abuse are prerequisites for the
crime in favor of an anthropological approach that nevertheless borrows
insights from psychological and sociological explanatory theories.

The author sees familicide as a byproduct of “status hysteria,” the
origin of which, he writes, “lies in the individual’s frustrated
desire for social improvement.” It is a phenomenon that found its
genesis in the emergence of the new middle classes in the early
nineteenth century. As the four modern case studies in this volume so
graphically attest, the social stresses that give rise to intrafamilial
murder have intensified with time. These twentieth-century killers boast
a wide range of psychological disorders, but their response to real or
imagined threats to their “social status”—typically equated with
financial wealth—is the same appalling sense of personal invalidation.
Following from their own twisted logic, the terrible vengeance they
exact is more than a means to an end—it is a struggle for survival


Leyton, Elliott., “Sole Survivor: Children Who Murder Their Families,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 23, 2024,