The last image that Cynthia Hayward likely saw was the barrel of a gun before her husband pulled the trigger.

Thirty-two-year-old Frank Hayward also shot and killed their 2-year-old daughter before turning the gun on himself in their home Tuesday.

Hayward, 31, of Owings, Md., is one of three local women in less than two weeks to die at the hands of her husband in an apparent murder-suicide. Two male housemates in Fairfax County were also recently killed in what police are calling a murder-suicide.

Fourteen hours after police found the Hayward couple, police believe a Herndon man plowed over his wife in his Toyota Camry and drove away, leaving her dead in the parking lot of the condominium building where they lived. He apparently slammed into a parked car minutes later, fled the scene and died in a nearby creek, where authorities later found his body.

The D.C. region experienced a similar spate of murder-suicides around the same time last year, but homicide experts say there's no evidence to suggest these crimes are the work of copy cats.

"Every once in a while there is a cluster of these crimes that makes you wonder," said Jacquelyn Campbell, a professor at John Hopkins University's School of Nursing. "But this doesn't seem to be a copy-cat phenomenon, like adolescent suicide. It seems to be pretty random."

Roughly 1,600 women are killed every year by a partner or ex-partner, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, and 30 percent of those are murder-suicides, according to Campbell's research.

The D.C. region's recent killings appear to fit the bill for "the stereotypical murder-suicide scenario," said Kristen Rand, legislative director of the Washington, D.C.-based Violence Policy Center.

In the vast majority of murder-suicides, the killers are men, the victim is an intimate partner, the crime scene is the home and the murder weapon is a gun, she said.

"The most striking thing is that the patterns repeat themselves over and over and over and over," she said.

Murder-suicides are most often precipitated by a breakdown in the relationship between two people who are romantically involved, experts said.

In more than 70 percent of cases, the perpetrator has a record of domestic violence.

"That's the No. 1 risk factor," Campbell said.

Unemployment, depression and gun ownership are all common identifying factors among murder-suicide perpetrators, as well. Most murder-suicides happen within one year after a victim severs a relationship with her partner and in roughly 20 percent of cases, children become victims, according to Campbell's research.

In two of the most recent area cases, children of the married couples were unharmed. But in the case of the Haywards, one child was killed, while another survived with severe cuts and burns to his neck.

Experts call perpetrators like Frank Hayward a "family annihilator," Rand said.

"In many cases, a family annihilator is suffering from depression and has financial or other problems and feels the family is better off dying with him than remaining alive to deal with the problems at hand," according to a 2012 study by the Violence Policy Center.

Hayward had a history of domestic violence and owned a gun, according to court documents. His wife had filed for a limited divorce in June 2007 that was never finalized.

Police had visited Hayward's home in May in response to a report of domestic disturbance, but left after determining that his wife and children were in no immediate harm. Two months later police would find Hayward, his wife and child shot dead.

hpeterson@washingtonexaminer.com