The rise of online dating after the turn of the century brought a concurrent surge of interest in true crime media, including documentaries, shows like Dateline, and later, podcasts, especially among women. As an adolescent, I shared this interest in serial killers and murder. Because the vast majority of serial killer victims are women, consuming true crime media gave me a sense of catharsis and agency; by seeking out information on these cases, I could prevent myself from becoming a victim. To that end, I enrolled in AP Psychology, to learn more about the motivations behind murder. In addition to studying visionary, missionary, and hedonistic serial killers, I also learned about family annihilators— individuals, often white men, who murder their family unit. Family annihilators may be motivated by paranoia, disappointment, or, more often, guilt associated with being unable to provide for the family or meet their expectations. Such guilt may be instigated by loss of financial control or a failing marriage. Common characteristics of family annihilators include possessive behavior, self righteousness, and addiction. Chris Watts, Christopher Foster, and John List are infamous examples of this phenomena.
The profile of the family annihilator is overwhelmingly white and male. So, I was surprised when I came across the Patel family’s story; Dharmesh Patel, a successful radiologist, was charged with attempted murder for driving his wife and two children off the Devil’s Slide cliff face in San Mateo, CA. Patel claims to have slowed down to check the tire pressure on his Tesla and to have careened off the cliff by accident. However, bystanders did not see the vehicle slow down, and Patel’s wife maintains that he drove off Devil’s Slide on purpose.
Although I have never romanticized South Asian communalism, I have still held the misguided belief that our community’s sense of shared responsibility for one another would insulate us from the family annihilator phenomena. But perhaps Patel felt the same helplessness that overwhelmed John List and Christopher Foster, who could see no escape from mounting debt and believed that they had failed to provide for their families. In List and Foster’s eyes, killing their families would prevent their loved ones from experiencing the consequences of their financial missteps.
Though the facts surrounding Patel’s case remain unknown, he may have felt similar turmoil or inadequacy as a member of the South Asian diaspora. South Asian communities often expect men to act as providers and protectors of their families. Immigrant parents push their children to pursue lofty aspirations in medicine, engineering, etc., and to be the best in their professions. The towering, sometimes oppressive, expectations tied to being a child of the diaspora may have isolated Patel. Moreover, when South Asians leave their ancestral homeland, they not only leave the support of their social networks behind, but they also carry the weight of their community members' expectations on their backs. Though daughters of the diaspora face the same pressures, they are more likely to lean on their female friends and family members for emotional support. Men, on the other hand, are not socialized to build such relationships and emotional support systems within their lives.
While the events leading to the Patels’ accident remain unclear, Menhaz Zaman documented the murder of his family through interactions on an online gaming platform. Menhaz’s father, Moniruz Zaman, immigrated with his wife Momotaz from Bangladesh to Markham, Ontario where they had a son and daughter. Moniruz and Momotaz doted on their son. They expected Menhaz to become an engineer and their daughter Malsea to pursue medicine. But when Malsea had a falling out with her parents and moved in with her boyfriend, they placed their hopes entirely on Menhaz. He was a star student at York University and would soon become a successful engineer.
But unbeknownst to his parents, Menhaz was failing his classes and soon dropped out of York University. Instead of attending classes, Menhaz would ramble about his former campus for hours before returning home. As he went adrift, Menhaz began gaming on multiplayer online platforms like Void and Perfect World. Menhaz’s initial interactions with players ranged from trolling to homophobic slurs. However, as the years passed, Menhaz began making jokes about suicide, calling himself “subhuman”, and about murdering his family. “Gonna kill my parents and go to jail yo,” he said to a Discord user.
As Menhaz’s mental health unraveled, so did his lies. He told his family he would graduate in July 2019, though he hadn’t attended classes in three years. He decided that the shame of admitting his deception was too great. That summer, he murdered his entire family with a crowbar, including his parents, grandmother, and sister, within nine hours, all while documenting his violence online. Though his fellow gamers were unsure whether the murders were a hoax, they eventually contacted the police, who located Menhaz using his IP address and arrested him.
Menhaz likely suffered from enmeshment trauma, or a family system that lacked boundaries. Instead of encouraging Menhaz to develop his own identity and goals, his parents relied on him to fulfill their emotional needs and expectations of success. Pleasing his parents was inextricably linked to Menhaz’s sense of self, so when he failed to meet their expectations, he lied rather than ask for help or admit failure. Menhaz’s struggle will sound familiar to South Asian readers, who may also have experienced trauma linked to parents’ mammoth-sized expectations and a lack of autonomy. In Menhaz’s case, the absence of emotional support systems to cope with this trauma caused him to spiral. His upbringing does not excuse his violence; however it provides insight into his behavior and demonstrates the neglect of men’s mental health in the South Asian community.
A Cry for Help
Dharmesh Patel and Menhaz Zaman are two of many South Asian men who have harmed their families. Rakesh Kamal, who murdered his family and killed himself in 2023, and Shankar Nagappa, who confessed to killing his family in 2019, also demonstrate that the South Asian community must pay attention to men's mental health. The community must reckon with unhealthy childrearing practices that encourage enmeshment as well as the toxic socialization of men and boys. Men may lack the emotional support required to cope with their trauma. Therefore, they must seek out therapy, practice self reflection, and nurture emotionally supportive friendships. Fostering men’s mental health is not only crucial to their well being, but may also prevent them from inflicting violence against their loved ones.