Murder on Germanwings and in New England. Mental Illness or Pure Evil?

Rachel. Lillian and Neil Entwistle

Is a case solved just because you know who did it? I think that is the accepted way of looking at it. Often the ‘who’ is the defining issue. What about the question of why did they commit a crime? What about crimes where the motive is vague or even totally unexplained? Here I present two cases. Both are slam dunk as far as who the culprit was. The motives are even explained, but what if we are missing something? Here I risk ridicule by asking is it possible that the unthinkable is the true motive for some murders.

The Illogical Nature of the Murders is Chilling

One case is that of Neil Entwistle. He killed his wife and child in New England on 20th January 2006. The other case is that of Andreas Lubitz who on 24th March 2015 deliberately crashed a passenger jet into the Alps. His actions resulted in the death of 150 people.

I am reasoned in my examination of crime. I pride myself on it. I consider it to be reasoned to make this observation. Entwistle, when in court, acted in a way that indicated something particularly dark behind the man we saw in the dock. The silence of Andreas Lubitz as the plane took almost fifteen minutes to descend to the height he had set is strange in the extreme. I suggest something was deeply wrong with them. Psychiatric issues? Probably, that is the obvious answer. What if it is something else? Something we miss in a rush to calm ourselves with ‘rational’ explanations?

The Murder of Rachel and Lillian Entwistle

Entwistle met his future American wife while at university in York, UK.  He achieved a masters in electronic engineering. He married Rachel Souza and they remained in the UK and had a daughter, Lillian, in 2005.

Rachel taught at a school for three years and Neil worked on defence projects.

They moved to the USA and stayed at first with Rachel’s parents. By 20th January 2006 they had rented their own home in Hopkinton, Massachusetts. Neil had not had any income since September 2005. He had a story that he got $10,000 a month as a pay out from his former employer but this was a lie. He had secretly amassed $30,000 in debt on credit cards.

Rachel. Lillian and Neil Entwistle


According to the evidence that later convicted him of murder he basically shot his wife and child. He then left them under bedclothes, bought a ticket for a flight to England and skipped out of Boston on 21st January. The gun he had used was taken from his father-in-law’s home. It is also said he returned it secretly before leaving. A set of keys to his in-law’s place were found in his car.

The picture that was painted was that when he shot his family he probably meant to then kill himself but could not bring himself to follow through. There is mention of how he couldn’t bear to use a knife to do it. He stayed at his parent’s home in the UK not really hiding, just staying there. It would appear that he drove around the UK for a day or so prior to going to his parent’s place. Bank records show he tried to draw out money without success. So possibly he was in a daze and contemplating his next move though I can see no explanation from him about this.

Meanwhile, in the USA, police accessed his home and after a bit of confusion found Rachel and Lillian. Rachel had a gunshot wound to the head and little Lillian had been shot in the chest. Notably the infant had been close in to her mother as the .22 round went through her and into Rachel.

Extradition proceedings were started in the UK and at first Entwistle resisted the idea of returning to the states. He also said that on the morning of the murders he had gone out at 9 am and his family were fine and well. He returned a couple of hours later and they were dead. He said he panicked and thought of suicide but decided to go back to the UK instead.

As the case dragged a bit Entwistle waived his rights and went back to the waiting arms of the US judicial system. The case against him appears to have been compelling. His DNA was found on the gun and his wife’s on the muzzle. He claimed he had got his DNA on the gun because he had used it once in the past. Later he alleged he had found his family dead and thought Rachel was the culprit. I see it stated she had suffered from depression in the past. So the idea was that Rachel had taken the gun from her parents, shot first her baby and then herself.

Entwistle claimed he had been horrified at the thought of Rachel’s reputation being destroyed so he picked up the gun, sneaked back into his in-law’s house and placed the gun where it should have been.

Searches on his computer supported his intention to commit murder. Other searches for escort agencies and extra marital sex did not help his case. His defence sought to suppress the DNA evidence and later at appeal they claimed other evidence gathered at the home was without a warrant. All efforts failed. He is still in prison. During one incident early in his incarceration he was moved to a mental health facility and evaluated. Two psychiatrists concurred that Entwistle was influenced by him having Asperger’s Syndrome. They suggested some of his more irrational seeming behaviour could have been as a result of the condition.

Take a look at this clip. It is alleged that he is laughing at a point when pictures of his dead family are shown to the court.

It certainly appears to be a strange reaction whatever it is.

The Deliberate Downing of Germanwings Flight 9525

This Airbus left Barcelona at 10 am on 24th March 2015. At the controls were the Captain Patrick Sondenheimer and Co Pilot Andreas Lubitz. There were four other members of staff to take care of the 144 passengers. The destination was Dusseldorf, Germany.

About half of the passengers were German while the other half were from all over the world. There were sixteen students on board. They were returning from an exchange program that was set up with Spain. They all came from the same small place in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Other passengers had their children with them.

Sadly the events were very simple. Lubitz waited until he was alone in the cockpit. It is likely the captain had gone to use the toilet. Lubitz then disabled the ability for the captain to use a key code to unlock the cockpit door. He then set the auto pilot to descend to a height of 100 ft and just sat there.

The flight path meant staying high over the mountains so setting the altitude to 100ft was a death sentence. The jet then dropped steadily. Later the black box recorder was used to listen to the pleas of the captain to be allowed in. Then you can hear the clanging as something heavy was used to try and force the door. You can also hear Lubitz steady breathing. It is the only sound he makes. He ignores air traffic control attempts to contact him as well. Another awful element is the screaming of the passengers that can also be heard in the last moments of flight.

Attempts to force the door were of course impossible because of the security measures introduced following terrorist attacks like 9/11.

The plane crashed and killed everyone on board when it hit the Massif des Trois-Évêchés mountains.

Investigations showed that Lubitz had a long history of depression. He had been hospitalised in the past because his condition was so bad. He had problems sleeping and believed falsely that he was going blind and would lose his income.

27 year old Lubitz


He had been to see doctors and had been told he was unfit to fly. He had not told the airline and due to German law restrictions the doctors had not notified them. At the same time his family insist that the depression was a long way in his past and he had a self affirming positive attitude to life. When his place was searched, like Entwistle, computer enquiries were telling. He had searched about the cockpit doors and how to commit suicide. In the past he had been caught out on an application form denying he had had any mental health issues. When discovered he was allowed to amend it and you could argue that his later murders were a result of this leniency.

Calm Breathing and a Laughing Murderer

My thinking is that on all reasonable evidence both of these men suffered some psychological disconnect when they committed their crimes. Crimes they were, no matter what suffering they may have been dealing with.

When 150 people die in a deliberate plane crash or some guy with qualifications and a happy family butchers them we need an answer. The answer here is probably what I suggest – a temporary insanity sort of thing.

Maybe we ( as in society) take comfort from this idea of a mental aberration that turns to murder. Entwistle had searched for answers about killing and for a long period had dug himself into a hole over money. Lubitz was mentally ill with depression and a psychosomatic belief he would not be able to fly.

When the incredible happens we can lean on what looks like an explainable motive. In both cases we can see a lead up to the crimes. We take reassurance from thinking that if we or someone close was to feel like killing we would have warning. We seem to particularly feel better about such horrific actions if we can see where warnings were ignored. Are these motives, such as illogical psychological dysfunction, really substantial enough though?

Lubitz deliberately set the plane to crash over a period of ten minutes plus. He could be heard calmly breathing. He increased the speed a few times but did not plunge the aircraft into a steep dive. On the outward bound flight they found he had practised setting the altitude to 100ft then thought better of it.

So cognitively he was in control and yet not. Entwistle killed his family despite being more than qualified enough to regain any cash he owed. He was young  (28 years) and could have started again. There were no great stressors in his life. He had worked in the UK successfully so why could he not work in the US?

Lubitz is said to have had an ambition to fly since a very young age. He focused on that goal. His health threatened his future no doubt but that has happened to many people. How many of us have had ambitions destroyed? A relationship that never came to pass, a job or a sports goal? Yet how many of us would deliberately kill 149 other people.


Well what about the possibility that they were destined to kill? How would we feel about the idea that in the case of both these men it was only a matter of time.

That would not be so comfortable. In the case of both men they had alternatives and more chilling when it came to killing they were calm albeit chaotic in their actions. They deliberately killed despite having no violent past to explain it. So as much as in the case of Lubitz there was reason to see him killing himself there was nothing to suggest he would monstrously kill 149 others. Entwistle had nothing to suggest he could kill either.

There was no massive anger exhibited, no jealousy or instantaneous reaction to threat. How would it make us feel if we did not know who might harm us and we accepted that they might have no discernible motive? Nothing that we could use to predict actions and therefore take as a warning.

Entwistle led a fantasy life no doubt. He had no money and was into setting up dubious transactions on Ebay and elsewhere on line. Yet there was no major case coming his way. He was in over his head financially and apparently wanted relationships with women outside of the marriage. Yet that does not explain his actions. In any case certainly killing his family and then having at best a childlike idea of evading detection didn’t help his situation.

I cannot doubt his level of intelligence and yet nothing he did indicated he had any. Even the prosecutor accepted there were questions about the case.

‘Michael Fabbri, Assistant District Attorney for Middlesex County, said: ‘No ‘why’ would really explain it. There is no why.’

What if when they committed these awful crimes it was not them that did it? So here I have moved from reasonable explanation number one that mental illness was the key. I went to less reasonable explanation number two that they were somehow pre programmed from birth to kill at some point. Now I am right out there in the land of crazy suggesting that at the point of killing their being was controlled by some ‘ evil’ force.

How Can I Call This Website Reasoned Crime Chronicle When I am Clearly Mad?

Bear with me a minute please. You are welcome to take me apart in the comments. Time and time again from Columbine to Germanwings Flight 9525 horrible crimes are committed with a so called obvious motive. That motive is mental illness or its cousin psychological problems. The issue is we get stuck there.

I think that the idea of true ‘evil’ being a force that can take control is outlandish for sure but it is not impossible. I have no evidence to support it. None. Then again there is no evidence to support the idea that Lubitz sole motivation was depression either. There is no massive supporting evidence to explain Entwistle’s ridiculous plan of murder.

Entwistle had no chance of getting away with it and if you look at all his actions (except one) he didn’t even try. All he did was sneak the gun from his in-laws and then sneak it back. Everything else showed a man with a masters level education blundering about. Do you know what he did after he had been quizzed by cops at the US embassy in London? He spent time going out for drinks with friends and going to the cinema. I mean that is nuts. His wife and child were dead, he had killed them. The cops were on it and there was nothing in the evidential train to prevent his future arrest. Entwistle didn’t even try to look grieving to throw off the scent. Maybe Asperger’s explains that. A person with this condition can struggle to pick an appropriate emotional response.

Okay, but this is a guy who had shown no great sign of Asperger’s throughout his 28 years. Even with the condition this is an intelligent guy. A travelled guy. A guy who had worked in sensitive positions. Presuming Asperger’s, he must have mastered ‘fitting in’. He must have mastered managing his personality so he could follow what none Asperger’s people normally do. After the murder he is a bumbling fool with no idea how the world works or perceives things.

The depressed and suicidal Lubitz sat calmly in the flight seat of the Airbus while the radio blared and the door was being hammered. He said not a word. He left no note, he left no idea and then ploughed himself into a mountain. Sure he had left notations that suggest he was viewing this flight as potentially his last. He had apparently said some strange cryptic things to the pilot. He had not showed any signs of great disorder in his thinking as he prepped the flight. He did not betray this torment in the flight out from Barcelona.

Three Ideas That Challenge Critical Thinking

The mental aberration/ illness motive

The pre programmed from birth motive

The ‘evil force’ motive

That is all I can see and true critical thinking has to consider options. All options.

Maybe we should stick to the illness angle? After all what difference does it make?

Well maybe if we stick too closely to that angle we will miss an opportunity to do something positive about such ‘motiveless’ murder in the future.  Whatever your thoughts one thing is for sure. In the history of modern psychiatry (that started about 1808 as far as the term goes) we have not done so good in preventing murder and mayhem so far. Maybe we should look at the ‘crazy’ possibility there is something else, something that in many ways is more disturbing.



I go into a less crazy analysis of improbable and impossible explanations for crimes in another article. In brief I look at impossible explanations years ago that we have since found entirely possible. Click here 

Best Article I could find on the Entwistle case

Best Article I could find on Germanwings Flight