Historically speaking, female psychopaths have been estimated to be less common than male psychopaths. The Journal of Modern Psychology estimates that only 1% of all women are psychopaths. However, this is just an estimate, as most psychiatrists and psychologists believe that psychopathology in women manifests differently than their male counterparts and as such are often misdiagnosed as other mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, extreme abandonment disorder, and my absolute favorite, histrionic disorder (as in hysteria). This makes the ratio of male to female psychopaths roughly 20:1. Surprisingly, sociopathic tendencies in women are slightly lower than psychopathic, but this may also be due to misrepresentation of symptoms or an ability to mask symptoms of sociopathy better than psychopathy (about 30:1).
What cannot be denied is that female serial killers are much more rare and their motives for killing are usually different. A large number of male psychopaths are in fact sexual sadists, the same is not true for females, who are more likely to kill for personal gain, attention, or quality of life. Now let’s talk serial killers!
Jack the Ripper? – Several recent students on Jack the Ripper have actually come to the conclusion that it should have been Jill the Ripper. There is some merit to their arguments. There is evidence that Jack was short for a man. Furthermore, recently scientist have done analysis of the crime scenes wounds and decided a woman would be capability of inflicting them. It would also explain why some of the victim’s throats were sliced more than once. I don’t buy the idea, but it is possible and would definitely explain the ease of Jack’s comings and goings.
Lucrezia Borgia – While not labelled a serial killer, this was not a woman to be messed with. She is probably one of the first female serial killers. Those who opposed how she did things, often found themselves dead, she even kept a paid poisoner on staff (no need to get her hands dirty that way). Surprisingly, she was the daughter of a pope (Pope Alexander VI, so much for celibacy). During her younger years, her father and family used her marriages to strengthen their positions of power, which is where Lucrezia learned the ins and outs of politics. When she became the head of the family, well, her father and brothers had nothing on her. It was best to stay in her good graces, which wasn’t easy. There are no real estimates to how many people Lucrezia had killed, but you can bet it was enough to earn her the title of serial killer.
Elizabeth Bathory – This Countess is considered the original female serial killer. She thought the blood of young women kept her young, so she started having them killed for her baths. Her victims were mostly peasants and everyone but the peasants looked the other way as their daughters were offered good money to work as her maids. At least, until it became obvious to the peasants that something wasn’t going right with their young daughters. However, screaming peasants wasn’t enough to motivate anyone in a position of power. It wasn’t until she began preying on the daughters of lesser nobility that she got into trouble, of course that still took about six years. Once her sentence was passed, she was walled up in a castle with slits for food and small items to be passed through the wall. She was imprisoned for four years before she died.
Belle Guinness – Belle’s first victim(s) were her husband and by some accounts, two of her children. Depending on the literature, Belle and first husband Mads Sorenson had four children, two of which died while very young. Other reports say they had no children. After the death of Mads, Belle began to take out lonely hearts ads in a Chicago newspaper. When her suitors started dying, she moved to Indiana and bought a small farm. Once settled, she began advertising again, this time as a widow with children who was in possession of a large farm near La Porte, Indiana. The suitors again started to pour in and disappear. However, she made a mistake in the disappearance of one immigrant named Andrew. His brother Asle began to make inquiries and then investigate Andrew’s disappearance. On top of that, there was trouble brewing at home. The hired handyman Ray Lamphere was reported to be in love with Belle. Belle, probably as a ploy, told a lawyer that she and her children were afraid of Lamphere. Soon after, a fire broke out on the farm. In the rubble were some bodies (numbers vary from between four and twelve), one of them headless. And because the story of Belle Gunness isn’t bizarre enough, neighbors swore the headless body couldn’t be Belle Gunness. They said Belle was a large, strapping woman and the headless body was estimated to be about 5’3″ and less than a hundred and fifty pounds, definitely not the 5’8″ of Belle who was a beauty of girth. The other bodies, which had their heads, were her children. They arrested Lamphere for the arson and murder, but that isn’t where the story ends. A man from town came forward and told the sheriff that he had delivered dirt to Belle and led them to where the dirt had been used. There they begin digging up bodies. It seems Belle (with or without the help of Ray Lamphere) was killing just about anyone for money. They found 12 bodies, but over 100 missing persons have been connected or suspected to have crossed paths with Belle Gunness.
Dorothea Puenta – Dorothea didn’t look like a serial killer when she was arrested. She looked like she should have been knitting ugly sweaters for her great grandchildren, her house told a different story. In 1982, Dorothea as 53 years old and committed her first known murder. She ran a boarding house for the elderly with a woman named Ruth Monroe. Ruth supposedly overdosed because her husband had terminal cancer. Police marked it a suicide and moved on. That same year, a 77 year old man accused Dorothea of drugging him and stealing his belongings. She was sentenced to five years in jail. She was released in 1985 and it seems she decided killing was better than just drugging and stealing, as there were fewer witnesses. One could say that the justice system failed with Dorothea Puenta. As a condition of her parole, she was ordered to stay away from the elderly and government checks. Despite home visits by parole officers, there were never any citations issued. Neighbors became suspicious in 1988 when ruble from her basement was seen being carted out by a local homeless man named Chief. Later that year, he also tore down Dorothea’s garage and replaced it with a cement slab. After the slab was poured, Chief disappeared. Of course, they weren’t the only ones. Social workers and police were looking into the disappearance of an elderly man known to have schizophrenia and arrived on Dorothea’s doorstep. As they searched the house and yard, they noticed a patch of disturbed soil and recovered a body. Since they didn’t think it was possible that the now 59 year old woman had killed the victim in the yard, they allowed her to leave and she bolted to Los Angeles where she was recognized by an elderly man and turned in. Dorothea is suspected of killing 9 people and at the height of her racket, she was making $5,000 a month cashing other pensioner’s checks. She died in prison in 2011.
Kimberly Saenz – A lot of female serial killers take the lives of their children or their patients. The latter are called Angel of Mercy* killers and while there are some documented male Angels of Mercy, most of them are women. Kimberly Saenz was a nurse in a dialysis clinic as well as a drug addict. Authorities confirmed that she killed five patients and suspected that she injected bleach into their dialysis lines. In 2012, she was convicted of killing five patients and injuring five others. Her motives are unclear.
Jane Toppan – In 1901, Jane confessed to killing 31 people. Like a lot of female serial killers, Jane was a nurse. Unlike a lot of female serial killers, we know exactly why she killed. Jane reportedly stated to police that her goal in life had been to kill more people than any other person in history. In other words, Jane killed because she liked it. Jane’s early life is mostly speculation. She started when she was a resident in nursing school by killing people and bringing them back to life and she was arrested for this crime. She reportedly got a sexual thrill from it. In 1895, she began poisoning her landlords and her sister (some say foster sister, some say half sister). Soon she got a job working for a family and the family members began to die. After three (or four) members of the family died, she moved back to her hometown and began killing family members of a man she was trying to woo. She even poisoned herself at one point, possibly to arouse sympathy or throw off suspicion. The family she had poisoned earlier requested to have the bodies of their loved ones exhumed and they were found to have died of strychnine poisoning. Jane was found insane and lived the rest of her years in an asylum.
Theresa Knorr – We’ll end this post with what might possibly be one of the most evil women in modern history. Theresa Knorr might not have the requisite 3 kills to make the serial killer list, but she definitely has the motivation, drive, and gory details for it. She killed two of her children, Suesan and Sheila, and abused the others significantly. The children were tortured both physically and emotionally. Theresa burned them with cigarettes, screamed obscenities at them, locked them in closets, and even held a gun to the head of one of her children. She even forced her children to beat each other. In 1982, she shot her daughter Suesan. Suesan didn’t die, instead Theresa put her in the bathtub and nursed her back to health. In 1984, Theresa stabbed Suesan with a pair of scissors and again refused to let her see a medical professional. After recovering, Suesan demanded to be allowed to move and Theresa agreed, on the condition that she be allowed to remove the bullet from the 1982 shooting. Suesan agreed. She awoke to tremendous pain and died of an infection. Theresa packed up the body and all Suesan’s belongings, Theresa’s sons helped her place the body and belongings in a ravine and set them on fire. Having gotten away with Suesan’s murder didn’t make Theresa rethink her abusive ways and in 1985, she reportedly made her next oldest daughter, Sheila to become a prostitute. Initially, it seemed great. Theresa was overjoyed with the cash Sheila was bringing in. Then Theresa began to accuse Sheila of giving her an STD via the toilet seat. She locked Sheila in a closet and forbade the other children in the family to let her out, feed her or provide her with anything to drink. Sheila died in the closet. After disposing of yet another daughter’s remains, she forced her only remaining daughter Terry to try to burn the apartment building down. Terry failed and using her older sister’s ID, escaped her mother. Eventually, an adult Terry turned in her mother and testified against her. However, there was another daughter, Rosemary, who was found strangled on a dead end road. Police cleared Theresa in the death of Rosemary (even after the murders of her other two daughters), but questions still remain and the case is unsolved. A strange twist in the story is that she was charged with the murder of her second husband and claimed self defense, using the defense that he attacked her. Theresa was found not guilty, despite testimony that she shoot him in the back and her older sister testified that she was a very jealous and possessive woman who would rather kill him than have him leave.
We’ll talk about killer couples later.
*Angel of Mercy is a total misnomer. While some do kill the terminally ill for the fun of it and proclaiming they were helping their victims. Most of them just enjoy killing and will kill anyone, the terminally ill are just easy targets.