Female serial killers: The most murderous women of all time
In the grim & gruesome history of the world’s serial killers we rarely encounter the female kind. Though they certainly exist and have committed their own heinous crimes, women don’t often take to multiple murders as in the US only fifteen percent of the nation’s serial killers were female.
There are many reasons why women are less drawn to serial killing than men, much of it having to do with the motivation & psychology of the murders. Women tend to kill for gain or because they build a relationship with their victim, men, on the other hand, need less provocation to kill. Though it’s rarer to find a female serial killer, it’s no less disturbing. Here are a few of history’s most murderous women.
One of the most famous female serial killers known today, Aileen Wuornos was a prostitute that shot seven men at point-blank range. Wuornos claimed that the men raped her and she shot them in self-defense. Wuornos was arrested for her crimes and sentenced to death by lethal injection.
Wuornos was an interesting case as she broke the pattern for most female serial killers who typically prefer low-profile settings & quieter methods in order to kill their victims. Wuornos’s kills were more characteristic of male serial killings as she dispatched her victims in the open air and used a handgun.
Rosemary West was a part of a serial killing team with her husband Fred West. Together the two of them tortured & murdered at least nine young women over fourteen years. Rosemary is also believed to have killed her eight-year-old stepdaughter.
Police arrested the couple in 1994 and when they searched the West’s home they found the dismembered bodies of ten women buried in the garden & the cellar. Rosemary was convicted of all ten murders and while Fred killed himself in his prison cell before facing trial, Rosemary is still currently serving life in prison.
Amelia Dyer was a Victorian serial killer who took up the practice of “baby farming” where she would take unwanted babies, usually from poor families, in exchange for money. Dyer would also advertise her services as a babysitter in the newspaper. Rather than caring for the babies, Dyer would murder them by giving them drugs, neglecting to feed them, or by strangling them.
Dyer’s horrific actions were discovered by doctors and she was sentenced to six months of labor after which she promptly went back to killing babies, this time getting rid of the evidence by throwing their bodies in the river. In 1896, Dyer eventually confessed to her crimes and was hanged but only after murdering hundreds of infants.
Elizabeth Bathory was a Hungarian noblewoman who had a penchant for torturing & murdering young girls. Bathory married a count in 1575 and in his castle constructed a torture chamber where she would burn girls with hot tongs, place them in tubs of freezing water, stick needles under their fingernails, and cover their bodies with honey and leave them in rooms filled with ants or bees.
Bathory gained a reputation as a vampire as she had a fascination with blood and was said to bathe in the bathtubs filled with the blood of her virginal victims to preserve her youth. Bathory’s crimes were eventually discovered in 1611 and she was charged with over eighty counts of murder.
In Correggio, Italy in the 1930s, Leonarda Cianciulli ran a small shop. Here she killed three women with an axe after she believed the only way to save her children from the danger foretold by a fortune teller was to make human sacrifices. To dispose of the bodies Cianciulli boiled the remains in caustic soda.
Cianciulli was arrested & sentenced to thirty years in prison and time in a mental asylum when it was discovered she suffered from mania. One gruesome detail from the case is the fact that Cianciulli made soap from the body of one of her victims which she gave out to her neighbors.
Juana Barraza was known as the “Little Old Lady Killer” of “Mataviejitas” for the killing of over sixteen elderly women who were found strangled to death in Mexico City in 2005. Barraza’s victims were strangled with objects such as telephone wires, pantyhose, and even a stethoscope.
Barraza’s motivation for the crimes was due to trauma from abuse at the hands of her mother which all of the victims resembled. Barraza was convicted of eleven murders and gained the title of Mexico’s most prolific serial killer. She remains in prison to this day.
Jane Toppan was a nurse known so much for her bright, cheerful personality that she was nicknamed “Jolly Jane”. Toppan would experiment with drugs such as morphine & atropine using her patients as guinea pigs. Toppan later moved on to poisoning selected victims including her foster sister.
When Toppan confessed to thirty-one killings in 1902 she was declared insane and locked in Taunton State Hospital for the rest of her life. Toppan claimed the reason she committed the crimes was because the man she loved rejected her and it left a void in her life that murder filled.
Nannie Doss confessed to killing her four previous husbands using arsenic when her latest husband’s autopsy showed signs of poisoning. The one husband that got away was her first after a tip warned him about eating Doss’s food.
Doss also confessed to murdering her mother, sister, grandson, and mother-in-law though she was only charged for the deaths of her husbands. Doss received a sentence of life in prison and died of leukemia in 1965.
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