One of the most elusive and misconstrued type of killer is the female murderer. It is built into us from a young age that women are harmless and nurturing creatures who wouldn’t dare hurt a fly; the truth is considerably darker, and anything but.
The categorization of female serial killers begins with two types: those who work with others and those who work alone. Women who work with partners or a group tend to be younger and less organized, acting out of aggression and violence rather than with a plan in mind. They also tend to be more sporadic in the locations and weapons they choose for committing their crimes. Women who opt to work alone display more planned out and cautious behavior. They are highly organized and choose to attack at their workplace or homes of victims, and they also tend to stick with one specific weapon.
These broader two categories are then broken down into subsections. Women who work with others includes:
- Team Killers: These individuals tend to kill or participate in the killing of victims in conjunction with at least one other person. Most common in this category is killer couples who work together in their murders. For example, Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka were a married couple who went on to kill three - possibly more - victims, including Karla’s own sister. When caught and convicted Homolka tried to convince the judge and jury that everything was Bernardo’s idea and she was dragged into the killings out of fear for her own life, but a rather gruesome video showing Homolka take an active role in the killings annihilated her claim.
- Question of Sanity: These killers tend to seemingly kill at complete random. Once they are caught, they are generally deemed insane at court. This particular type of female killer is hard to find due to the improbability of an insanity plea being accepted. An example of this type would be Andrea Yates, who was convicted of drowning her five children and laying four of them to rest on her bed while leaving the last one floating in the bathtub. She then called the police begging for an officer to be sent but would not say why. At trial she was found not guilty due to reason of insanity and was admitted to North Texas State Hospital.
- Unexplained: This type of killer is the most baffling as the killer herself nor any authorities can explain the reason behind the killings. These types of woman are infrequent, but a real-life example would be Stella Williamson. Williamson appeared like a typical kind, elderly lady and after recently passing away an acquaintance found a note she had left behind. The letter directed them to a trunk in her attic which was revealed to contain the remains of five human infants. To this day, no one knows why or how she got ahold of five babies and ended their lives or why she felt compelled to keep their remains.
- Unsolved: These are cases much like that of the “Zodiac Killer” which are likely to be committed by women but have stumped investigators and never lead to any convictions. A possible example of this type would be the Prince George’s Hospital Murders. Seventeen patients were murdered, and another seven were injured, by injections of potassium chloride. The perpetrator is suspected to be a female type known as an “Angel of Death” but no convictions were ever made and the case remains unsolved.
- Black Widows: These women are generally over the age of twenty-five and thus bring a lot of organization, care, and skill to their murders. Women in this category will make personal connections with spouses, close friends, and family members only to kill them in an attempt to collect life insurance or inheritance. Due to their closeness with the victim they are normally overlooked as suspects and because of this they can reach six to thirteen victims over the span of about ten years without being on the police’s radar. These women also tend to use poison as their weapon of choice since it is slow acting and can manifest in a way that appears as if a natural or accidental death has occurred. An example would be Amy Archer-Gilligan, who managed to poison up to 48 people with arsenic and collect on their health/life insurance. Many of her victims were trusting elderly boarders who came to her nursing home for care so it was expected that over time some would pass away, however, deaths began to occur too quickly. She was also under suspicion for her first and second husband’s murders and was noted as taking out thousands of dollars on her current husband’s insurance. When she was finally sentenced the community could not believe she was capable of such atrocities.
- Angels of Death: Killers of this type roam nursing homes, hospitals, and clinics where access to life-saving and life-threatening equipment is readily available. They tend to have a power complex where they desire to feel the rush of controlling whether someone else gets to live or die. They usually poison or cause victims to overdose and then either “save” them or allow them to die. In a twist of irony, this type of killer is normally caught due to bragging about their actions. For example, Kristen Gilbert, who worked at Northampton VAMC, was convicted for using the drug epinephrine to cause 80+ deaths and 300+ medical emergencies over the span of eight years. Coincidentally she was charged with calling in a bomb threat to deter the investigation but was only implicated as a suspect of the actual murders when an employee testified saying she had admitted to being responsible for at least one of the murders
- Sexual Predators: This category is so extremely rare that it is commonly questioned whether or not this subcategory should exist because to date there is only one documented case that fits this section in all of US history. This type of killer should be around 30 years old and live a rather mobile lifestyle. Kills are motivated by sexual fantasies, which is a common reason men kill but almost unseen in women killers. About six or so victims over the span of three years is “typical” for this killer. The only women in the US who fits this category is Aileen Wuornos. She was sexually abused as a child and then thrown out as a teen where she later became a sex worker. One night she engaged with a man for money but ended up killing him claiming he was trying to assault her. She would later do the same to five other men, at trial her sanity was questioned, but she was deemed sane and was given the death sentence.
- Revenge Seekers: These women are motivated by rage to such an extent that it borders on pathological anger. Most of the time revenge killings are a one time event, making the depravity of serial revenge murders quite apparent. Their main victims are family members of those who symbolize an object of their vengeance, and they tend to kill three to four victims within five years. These women are liable to get sloppy with concealing their actions which usually ends in their arrest. Coincidentally, they show overwhelming remorse when caught as if to apologize for the deep rage they have given into. For example, Martha Johnson, who killed four of her own children as revenge directed at her husband for the arguments they often had. Each child was killed on a separate occasion following a fight with her spouse. At trial, she confessed her killings were directly linked to her urge to punish her husband.
- Profit or Crime Killers: This type of woman could be an assassin for hire or part of a larger organization that operates to kill and obtain inheritance or insurance money. The sole motivation is typically greed.The killer will have 10-25 victims over a span of ten years and then be able to retire with sufficient funds to live the rest of their lives happily. They usually have a range of weapons and locations used. An example of this type would be, Dorothea Puente, who ran a boarding house where she would often cash in on her elderly tenants checks and kill those who would not allow her to have theirs so that she could claim life insurance. She expanded her killings to several friends as well but in the end a social worker outed her and she fled, but was soon captured and sentenced.
The minds of those who kill can be dark and enigmatic, yet interesting places. The thoughts of a female serial killer are vastly different from those of the male, and in a way they could be considered even more terrifying because most female killers are never caught. So, be aware of those around you and be careful who you trust - you may never know what wicked thoughts swim in the minds of others.
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